Feed on

After eating a piece of chicken dipped in cumin and saffron, which he seemed to have liked, he asked me where I came from. I told him and it was as if I’d opened Heaven’s door. His face softened, his pupils grew bigger, and his irises went deep green like olive oil. Enthusiastically he told me that he’d always wanted to visit Marocco, live there even, and that our hashish was the best of all.

In his short story, I sweep the Sun Off Rooftops, Hanan al-Shakyh uses the Orientalist myth and the metaphor to structure either the narrative or the poetics of this one.

Indeed, the Orientalist myth is defined by Edward Saïd as a misinterpretation of the Orient as a source of fantasms. We can see in the extract that is emphasized in this post that the “English guy” is associating Marocco, which is a country from the Maghreb, to good hashish and to what he thinks this country is. The fact that the narrator’s origins are reduced in this text to a potential resource from her country, and also to her incapacity to speak in English in some situations is significant. But, her way to describe the English boy or her new country, for example, is also a part of the Orientalist Myth. She puts the emphasis on his physical characteristics and we don’t have an access to their conversation and don’t even know if they are really able to communicate. She admits herself in the story that she “chooses” him because of his typical English physic. She also distorts the reality because of her prejudices and we can see her disappointment and incomprehension when she understands that he may be gay and using her to have a place where to sleep.

The differences between the two cultures are presented in the text. We have multiple occurrences of the narrator being choked or surprised by some English customs and also not fitting in them. The simplest example is when she feeds the pigeons and says that the neighbors are mad at her because that is not something people can do in London and when she explains what would happen to this same animal if the scene was taking place in her country.

Finally, what shapes this story is the metaphor and the imagery in general. We have a beautiful imagery that also shows the culture shock when it comes to the sun. English persons are craving for the sun and don’t understand why she left a sunny place whereas she says that she can’t do anything with the sun and is craving for goods. The metaphor between the pigeon and the English guy is really poetic and shows her vision of a satisfying relationship. The final line says everything and can be related to the fact she discovered a part she doesn’t appreciate or expected about her English boy.

You’re not beautiful, you’re not white, or even a nice light brown. You’re gray and black like a big rat, but I love you because you’re English and you wait for me every day.

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