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One of the main themes of Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero is power.  Throughout the book, Firdaus fights first to gain, then maintain her autonomy.  Her father is the first character that has power over her.  Firdaus recalls being forced to wash his legs at the end of each day, and how he always had dinner, even if there was no food in the house for his children to eat.  When he dies, Firdaus goes to live with her uncle.  He treats her much better than her father did.  Under her uncle’s rule, Firdaus goes to school, obtaining her secondary school certificate.  While she truly loves learning, attending school is also something that she does because a male authority figure tells her she must.  Once she is finished with school, Firdaus is married off to a much older man, once again a choice of her uncle.  Her father and uncle are the two characters from whom she never truly breaks free – they are removed from her life, but not as a result of her decisions.

Firdaus starts to take more control of her own life when she meets Sharifa, an affluent prostitute.  Sharifa teaches Firdaus how to make herself more expensive, more powerful to the men she serves.  For the first time, Firdaus feels what it is like to have power over herself, as she is able to turn some customers down.  Ultimately, she is still under Sharifa’s control, so she eventually breaks away from her mentor, as well.  For a while, Firdaus is free to do as she pleases, even briefly taking a new, “honorable” job as an office assistant before returning to prostitution.

She loses her autonomy when an influential pimp forces her to accept his services, until one day when she snaps and kills him.  Afterwards, she takes a job from an Arab prince, charging him $20,000 and tearing the bills up in his face.  This rebellious act proves that he has no power over her.  She can’t be bought; she does things of her own volition.

Woman at Point Zero ends with Firdaus’ execution.  When the narrator speaks with Firdaus in prison, she comes to understand that Firdaus is at peace with dying because she is in control of herself again.  Firdaus knows that she is in prison not only for the crime of murder, but also because the men who run the justice system (and by extension, every man in her country) are afraid of her.  They recognize a powerful woman when they see one, and it frightens them.  To those men, she is so great a threat that she must be eliminated.  Coming from a childhood like hers, Firdaus sees this as the best development in her life.

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