Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Snake

In “My World of the Unknown,” the narrator/wife falls in love with a snake, which is also a monarch from the spirit world. Traditionally, the serpent is known as the creature that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. When the snake deceives Eve into eating from the fruit of the forbidden tree of wisdom, Eve seduces Adam into partaking as well, and they are both exiled from the Garden of Eden by God. The snake in this short story is also a seducer, but she does not seem evil or demonic. In fact, she tells the wife that their affair is not shameful, because in the eyes of Allah they are now married. The narrator presents the snake as a creature that brings only good to her life and overturns the equating of sex and sin. The snake represents what seems to be lacking in her marriage with her husband. The snake’s shape also renders it a phallic symbol, and it indeed brings the narrator sexual pleasure. The narrator seems to be willing to give up her husband in his entirety in exchange for this single representation of a sexual organ, which she immediately finds beautiful and begins to yearn for. However, in the context of Rifaat’s other stories, the narrator’s desire is natural: an important part of a successful relationship is the sexual connection.

The Canal

In Egyptian culture, water is viewed as a source of life. The Nile River and the irrigation systems it feeds have been vital to the success of Egyptian civilization since the time of the pharaohs. Strangely, Rifaat depicts the canal in “Mansoura” as a representation of death and tragedy. Mansoura dies when she slips into the canal during a confrontation with Hindawi, a man who is obsessed with her. At the end of the story, the canal is a setting for another death. Hindawi flees town to avoid being killed by Sayyid, and he takes a job laying pipe in the canal. The ghost of Mansoura avenges her death by causing a piece of pipe to fall and crush Hindawi. The canal is far from life-giving; Rifaat has turned a traditional symbol on its head.