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In “The Keeper of the Virgins” and “I Swept the Sun off Rooftops,” Hanan al-Shaykh deals with the outsider. Both of these characters are either outsiders in a different country or outsiders in their own culture. In “The Keeper of Virgins,” the dwarf believes he does not belong anywhere but the convent where he spends his days outside of the gate reading.  It is not until the dwarf achieves his goal of entering the convent that he finally feels like he is home.  The people in the “outside world” criticize him and cast him to the side, while the nuns in the convent say he is a “gift from god.”  The outsider in “The Keeper of the Virgins” is isolated in his own culture and longs for something different, on the other hand, in “I Swept the Sun off Rooftops,” a woman is lost in the culture of a different place. In both of these stories al-Shaykh wrestles with similar themes: being and outsider and living in a culture different than your own.

The woman in the story is living in London, having moved from Morocco. Unlike the dwarf in al-Shaykh’s other story, the woman in “I Swept the Sun off Rooftops,” comes to accept her new world. Even after walking in on her “lover” with a man and coming to the realization that she has been tricked, the woman in “I Swept the Sun off Rooftops” values her freedom and independence.  She says, “I was happy in London, free, mistress of my self and my pocket.” This is a different type of freedom than in “The Keeper of the Virgins,” but it is also very similar. Both of these characters find solace in cultures quite opposite of their own. They may be outsiders but at least they are free.

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