A reading in Nadra Lewaiti's novel
"The Woman Who Rendered the Nature Speaking"
by : Ahmed M .Ash-Shilabi
The novel issued in 1983 and it was the first novel of the authoress. This reading is an attempt to analyze the novel in terms of the psychological approach focusing on one theme of it which forms a salient feature in the work. It is always said that the feminism is the axis of most Libyan novels written by female novelists. It is also said that frustration can no be better apparent than in the image represented in the woman in subjugation which is considered “the clearest example of compelling position in all its aspects, dynamics and defenses in the left behind society”(1) and woman is the “best spokesperson of powerlessness and inability”(2)
This essay will concentrate on two profiles in surveiling the question of subjugation, namely the aspects of such subjugation as well as the psychological reaction resulting therefrom.
In the overt structure of the novel, there is a phenomenon of defense mechanisms*. Aspects of Subjugation are represented in two successive generations. The first one is by the rustic woman (the mother) belonging to illiterate generation and the second is represented by the educated one (the daughter).
The aspects of subjugation in the old generation and the psychological reaction:
Mabruka, the mother of Naema and the wife of Hamad, stands for the old generation and belongs to a “class” different from the one Naema, the daughter, belongs to. Accordingly, the types of subjugation imposed on both of them, the ways and behaviors against them are different.
Mother, Mabruka, works willingly and unceasingly on the farm all day long. This faithful wife is faced by so many aspects of aggression by Hamad, the husband: “uncustomarily, Hamad got up active, performed the ritual ablution, said his prayers, put his new national dress on, checked his documents and suddenly called out to Mabruka. On his face there was an unfriendly and frowning glance. He set up his mustache and lowered his eyebrows and shouted at her in a critically serious way asking her to give him all her jewellery and money.
He did not let any space for her hesitation or thinking, even if he did, it is not of her habit to be reluctant at all against his question to the extent of putting her neck in the hangman’s cord.”(3)
Apparently, the text seems to be an exploration of the social reality relating to the status of woman in the Libyan countryside. The woman there, is absolutely subject to the authority of the male and the husband who possesses the power to dispose in complete absence of mutual dialogue or talks between the members of the family. The relation between the man and his wife in the rustic Libyan family is based on the implementation of orders not on mutual understanding (4). Accordingly, the novel portrays the subjugation forms taxed upon woman to draw up tensive relation between man and woman. Such relation seems entirely based on absolute compelling. Woman, in such kind of relation, loses her personality and entity. Besides, she is being dehumanized and consequently, in the eye of the man, she is save a passing figure in the population as the novel states it “if a passerby passes our farm and saw Mabruka at a glance, soon he would think her another figure added to the illiteracy of woman in our country.”(5)
One aspect of subjugation is portrayed when it is said that Hamad has no fixed affective relation with his wife, Mabruka. She is mostly being insulted by him and that he would have another wife. This threat is sometimes lowered according to the home services she offered him. This situation renders Mabruka to a machine-like figure. She has an over feeling that she is responsible for everything: man, animals, birds, plant.. etc(6).
The subjugation the mother subject to seems chronic and comprehensive. It is chronic for it starts since childhood and it is comprehensive for it covers all the roles Mabruka does. This status pushes the woman belonging to the old generation unconsciously to seek many defense mechanisms. She confronts an injurious status and she must keep her psychology balanced in order to coexist with the subjugating position to avoid falling in collapse.
The most prominent defense mechanism she adopts is identification. She unintentionally tries to identify the subjugator, the husband. She dissolves herself in Hamad`s personality and becomes not only the speaker of his view points but also the faithful advocate of these views even when such view points are aggressively addressed to her. The mechanism can easily be noticed from the narrative. Naema, the narrator and the main character, reports Hamad’s marriage of another woman, to be a fellow wife of polygyny and once Mabruka hears the news she defends her husband and so the reader becomes astonished of this defense. Instead of expressing severe reaction, she is so quiet. So, Naema says: "I followed the steps of my mother inside; I initiated expressing my deepest sorrow and the strongest protest against the erroneous behavior of my father. She raised her forefinger warning us in a decisive motion that ends the talk and said: I don’t want to hear a single word with respect to your father. He is the master of this farm and the master of you all.”(7)
The mother’s behavior is extremely opposite to what Naema expects. She wants her mother to react differently and guesses that she would be very angry and leave working on the farm in which she uses up all her youth for the sake of the family. The natural reaction of mother as Naema expects is that mother would become rebellious or at least this is the way Naema wishes her mother to react.
In her unexpected reaction, mother urges her adult children to blindly obey their father and to yield to his will. That is why she warns that they should not protest or show any sign of embarrassment against him. The Husband, for her, is the master of all even if his behavior affects her personally or suggests a clear degrading of her. Mother in such circumstances does not only develop the introjection mechanism but also tries to implant in her children what is so called the "dogmatic alienation", a case in which woman adopts behavioral values and a vision to the world parallel to the subjugation imposed on her, justifying it as a part of woman's nature and fate. (8) Mabruka seems suppressing her reactions to her husband and prepares herself internally to accept his actions and to justify them as good deeds.
She is unable to face the compelling reality and therefore adopts some kind of adjustment. She adopts a kind of coexistence and adjustment to this critical atmosphere. She is an illiterate woman and does not possess the required consciousness to revolt against this aggravated reality or to face it. It is also noted that she projects this way of confrontation onto her children asking them to settle for and accept the reality and tries to instill the justifying way of thinking in their minds (9). So here we are before an other defense mechanism which is introjection.
Mabruka, instead of turning away from work and expressing a hostile attitude, acts differently from what Naema expected. So since early morning "she planted herself via the field working hard with high spirits as though she was receiving the joyful life in a wide gate, as if she, the day before, was being praised and flirted by the man, as if she was in the presence of a faithful partner who fairly admired her deeds" (10).
The silence and passiveness against the compelling and aggressive situations may be interpreted as a kind of psychological defense showing itself in a form of the subjugator. So, by acting in a way like this, mother seems to be granting herself safety and solidity. She is reluctant to initiate the natural reaction expected by Naema, in order to keep the consistency of her existence. She might express such behavior unconsciously, but what she manifests reflects such psychological defense mechanism. So we read: "The deep monologue in the mind of my mother is not undoubtedly that what she shows… but she preferred endurance to keep her internal front firm and give her sons stability"(11).
Mabruka's apparent behavior does not seem to be a reflection of her inside feelings. This contradicted process also seems to be an conscious trial to avoid collapse, concussion and cracking in her psyche.(12).
It is also noted that Mabruka in her involvement in the strenuous farm -house work, performs some kind of psychological defense and, consequently in practicing this continual activities appears seeking preserving her internal equilibrium. She looks for an evacuation of emotional charges boiling inside and so she finds an emergency exit represented in full involvement in strenuous work and drowning herself in it in order neither to give herself a span of time thinking about nor to contemplate her sorrows, pains or ruminating her cruel experiences. The narrator tells about her mother "My mother's face is as congested as a black mulberry; her heart is glowing like a stove firebrand …..feigning patience and tranquility… doing her customary house works which she practices every evening as if she is getting herself ready to Hamad's return.
She milked the cow, heaped up the fodder for it, prepared bread in the kiln and the supper, turned off the irrigation pipes, prepared the empty wooden boxes for tomorrow use"(13).
Such defense mechanisms are seemingly what makes woman externally firm. Some think that adopting such mechanisms by this category of women is "one of the reasons that make them succeed in confronting a social system which tries to depress them continually."(14).
The aspects of subjugation in the youth generation and the psychological reaction:
The subjugation Naema subject to looks different from that of her mother's. Naema is a figure stands for the new generation, possesses some kind of awareness by which she can pass the compelling status experienced by mother. Subsequently, her defense mechanisms should vary in accordance with the type of subjugation she is subject to.
Naema is a teacher, a graduate from a secondary institute and is married to Hassan, a friend of her brother.
In the novel, she seems subjected to some aspects of alienation, domination and compelling all result in subjugation.
The most prominent aspect of subjugation Naema suffers from is the total loss of identity before husband for being guided by fearful of and yielded to him and, above all, his ill manners are being justified. Naema then, adopts rationalization as a defense mechanism and appears to be subject to and lead by her husband and never thinks of disobeying his instructions. She might, sometimes discuss some family affairs with him, but she remains such weaker party of the relation. Although she holds relative freedom, she is still a side shadow of her husband. The margin of freedom she enjoys is not a gift by this very husband, but seems as a result of the "middle class" consciousness for both genders. So the source of the minor gains harvested by women is the contemporary feminism movement, and therefore a woman in this category has been allowed to "get out of her traditional imprisonment, obtain a deal of knowledge, start a producing life and share the burdens and responsibilities with man inside and outside the family. Besides, the man himself starts to comprehend the actual status of woman and the importance of her participation, the growth of her personality and the construction of her own identity as a precondition of his own growth in turn."" (15).
As said above, the character of Naema is different from her mother's. They belong to two different generations. That is why she introduces herself as a first person single narrator saying: "I am from a generation who knocked the door of schooling and found it widely open, easy to enter and obtained the study it wanted without paying any valuable price" (16).
Naema supposingly possesses some kind of consciousness that guarantees her some "iathrgy" against the direct and clear subjugation in which the subjugated identifies and interjects the subjugator. Nevertheless she is subject to another type of subjugation: for there is the general anxiety Naema preoccupied by. Such anxiety is imposed by the social environment in its entirety, for the degrading vision to woman issued by most male individuals, those who are educated, like Hassan and those who are not, like Hamad.
Hassan's views, for instance, to the rural women are contemptuous and disdainful and they reflect some kind of inferiority. "rural woman has dull feelings towards man"(17).In addition, Hassan, directs his talk to Naema and the narration says "Has your mother bound your father by a perpetual purchasing contact and he is accordingly banned from knowing an other woman" (18).
So the existence of woman in this social structure is diagnosed with tension which starts at home "our family atmosphere has been disharmonized, disputes, occasional discrepancies about all matters, as if we drowned ourselves in fuel oil and ignited the spark" (19).
Maema achieves a financial independence to keep herself a way from total subordination to the man whom she chooses. But she still does not enjoy the freedom and equality she wishes. She is enforced to leave job after the increase of her husband's income. She is also under an unknown fear after she discovers an amour between husband and an other women called Narjis and when she surprises him of the matter, he gives a very weak justification saying! "She (Narjis) is just a hot cup of coffee drunk by any tired man wandering on the pavement of life…"(20)
Subsequently the stability she seeks with a husband of her choice is lost. Woman in this middle "class" chooses her own husband, however she is never far away from alienation and subjugation.
Although she belongs to a different generation along with her husband both of them are still bound by internal restrictions built in their characters"(21) and Hassan accordingly cannot go beyond the environment view to woman.
The defense mechanisms adopted by women of this "class" are, as previously stated, varied from those adopted by women in illiterate "class". This is the reason why Naema is very angry with Hassan due to his affair with Narjis and consequently she shouts at him and becomes very rebellious because she deeply believes that anybody "who once absorbs an insult would never be able to answer it in subsequent times"(22) Hamad gets married for the second time in accordance with a very familiar and legal polygyny system but Hassan does not behave by the virtue of this socially approved way. On the contrary, he makes an illegal affair and by practicing such behavior he, indeed, seems to be more subjugating than Hamad. Hassan betrays his wife, Naema, and seeks a sinful relation out of the legal frame of the family. Naema is completely aware of such traitorous behavior and she compares between her reaction and her mother's, saying:"if my mother has faced the deeds of my father with passivity and silence, I would confront Hassan's behavior with rebellion, uprising and challenge" (23). But as narrative continues we discover that she does not keep up her word. On the contrary, she faces her critical situations using passive mechanisms and that is why she resorts to patience and Fantasy and employs phantasia instead of protesting and throwing the gloves. That is why she makes a dialogue with the sea asking for an advice from the mystery: And the sea answers: "I advise nothing but patience. My experiences taught me that anger is the worst solution"(24)
Besides, she gets herself ready to accept the justification submitted by Hassan changing it into a psychological rationalization, i.e. into a defense mechanism and this is evidence that the status of the subjugated woman does not allow her to behave naturally.
Instead, she adopts other solutions to avoid disequilibrium of her existence.
This is not to say that defense mechanisms are directed only to husbands but a psychological critic could easily detect that the relation between Naema and her father implies the ambivalence mechanism. So Naema keeps contradicting feelings in connection with the father. These are a mixture of obedience and love duty feelings and hatred and dislike ones.(25)
Denial as a mean of defense is also manipulated when mother receives the news of her husband's marriage. (26)
The heroine shows sympathy towards her father's second wife replacing her mother .She also expresses forgiveness to her opponent, Narjis.Here, it can be suggested that Naema seeks sublimation adjustment device as a safe weapon against the depressive states.
Once again, this is not to claim that this is the only or the most apparent theme, but surely one of the prominent themes. The manipulation of defense mechanisms include: identification, rationalization, introjection, denial, ambivalence, fantasy and sublimation and they, whether consciously intended by the authoress or not, are not mysterious to clear and to trace.
*For the meanings and concepts of the italicized terms see:
Kamal Dasouki, Thesaurus of Psychology, Cairo.
1) Mustafa Hijazi, The Social Retardation, An Introduction to the Psychology of the Subjugated Human. Arab Growth Institute, Beirut,1976, P. 307
2) Ibid, p. 307
3) Nadra Lewaiti, The woman who rendered the nature speaking, Public Establishment for Publication, Distribution and Advertisement. Tripoli, Libya – 1983, p. 19
4) Ahmed Ali Al-Fanish, The Libyan Society and its difficulties, Annour Publications, Tripoli, Libya 1967, p. 45-46.
5) Nadra Lewaidi, P.15.
6) I bid, P.16.
7) I bid, PP.59-60.
8) M.Hijazi, Ibid, p. 39.
9) Ibid, p39.
10) Nadra Lewaiti, p60.
12) Ibid, p27.
13) Ibid, p58.
14) Hisham Sharabi, An introduction to study the Arabic Society. Al -Ahliya publications, Beirut, 1977, p34.
15) Mustafa Hijazi, p318.
16) Nadra Lewaiti, p17.
17) Ibid, p56.
19) Ibid, p51.
20) Ibid, p80.
21) Mustafa Hijazi, p319.
22) Nadra Lewaiti, p69.
23) Ibid, p69.
24) Ibid, p81-82.
25) Ibid, p18-19.
26) Ibid, p20.