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Distant View of a Minaret

Alifa Rifaat

Important Quotations Explained

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Key Facts

1. She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was.

This phrase is from the last line of “Distant View of a Minaret.” The husband has just died, and the wife is not terribly upset about his passing. Sex for her was simply another one of her daily chores, and because of his inconsideration during intercourse and in talking about other women, his death does not elicit any grieving. After she finds him dead in their bed, the wife continues her normal routine: after sending her son out for the doctor, she sits down for her afternoon coffee. Outside the context of the story, the wife may seem cold, but the husband’s inconsideration and selfishness make the wife’s reaction understandable. Rifaat suggests that within a marriage, a husband and wife have a duty to fulfill each other, both emotionally and sexually. Because the husband completely fails in this regard, there is no love in the relationship, and no reason for the wife to grieve.

2. “Isn’t it better, when he returns, for your father to find himself with a legitimate son [rather] than an illegitimate grandson?”

This quote is the last line of “An Incident in the Ghobashi Household.” Zeinat’s unmarried daughter, Ni’ma, has gotten pregnant. Zeinat’s husband is away for many months for work, so Zeinat will pretend that the baby is hers, rather than Ni’ma’s. She sends Ni’ma away to have the baby in secret and tells her to return in the night. When Ni’ma questions this plan, Zeinat explains that it is best to lie to Ghobashi because of the dishonor he would experience from knowing Ni’ma had an illegitimate child. Though Zeinat is willing to deceive her husband, her decision is rooted in good intentions. However, she must explain herself to Ni’ma, who doesn’t seem to understand the significance of what has happened. Zeinat must convince Ni’ma that her plan is the best solution to this predicament.

3. “Daughter, I’m not crying now because I’m fed up or regret that the Lord created me a woman. No, it’s not that. It’s just that I’m sad about my life and my youth that have come and gone without my knowing how to live them really and truly as a woman.”

This quote is the last line of “Bahiyya’s Eyes.” Bahiyya has faith in Allah, and when she says that she does not regret that the Lord created her a woman, she demonstrates her belief that all that happens in life is in accordance with Allah’s will. However, she laments some of the events that have befallen her: she was abused by her brother, castrated by the village women, forced into an arranged marriage when she was in love with someone else, and obliged to live in solitude after being widowed at an early age.

Rifaat’s message in this story seems to be that Bahiyya’s feeling of hopelessness could have been avoided or overcome if her society granted more freedom to women. Bahiyya was told to endure her brother’s pinching, hitting, and demands because he would be the man of the family someday, and Bahiyya would be forced to obey him then. If women in her society were allowed to choose their own husbands, she certainly would have married her childhood sweetheart instead of the man her father chose. These two examples illustrate the fact that Bahiyya’s life was ruled by men, so she was unable to live fully. Now, in her old age, she feels sad about her wasted youth and life.

4. “Only blood,” he said, “washes dishonor clean.”

These words were spoken by Sayyid in “Mansoura” after his wife, Mansoura, is found dead after falling into a canal to escape Hindawi, Sayyid’s employer, who was trying to convince Mansoura to resume her affair with him. Prior to her death, Hindawi had cunningly employed Sayyid all day and night, and he would sneak into Mansoura’s house while Sayyid was away. Mansoura convinced Sayyid to quit his employment with Hindawi, but Hindawi could not live without her, so he approached Mansoura at the canal. When Mansoura’s body washes up, Sayyid is accused of murdering her in a jealous rage. In the quote above, he is confessing to the crime. The narrator of the story explains that Sayyid confesses out of pride, so that he can serve a short sentence and then find and kill the real murderer.

Even though Sayyid seems to be talking about Mansoura’s blood in this quote, it is Hindawi’s blood that is finally spilled in order to erase the dishonor that has been done against Mansoura and Sayyid. At the close of this legend about the Mansoura Canal, the narrator explains that Hindawi fled the town for fear that Sayyid would kill him. Hindawi joined the narrator, Sheikh Zeidan, as a worker laying pipe in the canal. While Hindawi is working, he sees a vision of Mansoura above a crane that suddenly drops a pipe on him and kills him. Mansoura avenges her death, and Hindawi pays for his dishonor with his blood.

5. “Father, you gave me a real beating tonight.”

Hassan speaks these words at the end of “At the Time of the Jasmine.” Hassan has spent the day at the burial ceremony of his father, Hagg. Just before sleeping, Hassan thinks back on his relationship with his father and regrets not having spent more time developing it. Hagg never even got to meet Hassan’s daughter, Jasmine, nor did he fulfill his wish of making a pilgrimage with Hassan. While reflecting on these things and experiencing anger and grief, Hassan feels as if he has been beaten with his father’s staff. Hagg never actually beat Hassan with his staff—he would simply wave it at Hassan when he was a boy and threaten to beat Hassan if he was insubordinate. Tonight, Hassan is so emotionally devastated that he feels as if he has received a real beating.

Hassan had ignored his emotional life for so long that when he experiences loss and regret over his father’s death, he is completely unprepared. When Hassan says that he has been given a “real” beating, he feels as though he is being punished for his inaction. As a child, if he misbehaved, he would be threatened by Hagg and then be given the opportunity to change his behavior. This situation is different: Hassan does not have the opportunity to alter the past. His father is dead, so it is too late for Hassan to change the fact that he has ignored his father and failed to foster a relationship with him.

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