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Arab-American Literature

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Abstract

This analytical essay presents an analysis of cultural identity in the book Dreams of Trespass that has been written by Fatima Mernissi. The Works Cited page appends one source in MLA format.

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Introduction

     The book taken under consideration is known as “Dreams of Trespass” and has been written by Fatima Mernissi, who through her book tries to portray her experience of being raised in the harem of a Moroccan family unit all through the 1940’s as well as early 1950’s.

The book tells us of her world, who is so strict with women that families take up a doorman to put off the women from stepping out of the house without authorization from their husbands. Her world in the harem is that in which she has to live with an extended family of four households, all living under a single roof.

      Dreams off Trespass, is a book which uncovers a very unfamiliar culture on a number of levels. It presents to us information about the beauty secrets of women back in those days, the activities of the family for the sake of enjoyment in the evening, how it feels to live in a house where you know that your father lives multiple lives, the political background of World War II and French colonization, the movies and music Arabic pop lifestyle, and myths.

      Even though it is clear that the book has been written from a very feminist viewpoint, the author still speaks affectionately of her infancy and the era she spent with her extended relatives. The world, about which she presents information in the book, is one which is extremely unfamiliar to the world known to us. If we consider, we can find that perhaps the book is just a mere autobiography of a girl who lived in a distinctive culture and decided to tell us all about her experience. The sketches of Mernissi’s early day adventures are engaging. But then again, from a different point of view, it is a sturdy social interpretation on the civilizing practice of efficiently chastising women in their homes.

Theme

     The first thing that one comes to notice is the fact that the book is written in a rather plain, casual language that can be understood by one and all. It is not a book that is filled with ostentatious scholarly text. While going through the book, one would feel like one is going through the diary of a girl who lives in a completely different world and by the end of it you feel like she has turned into a friend.

     A vast number of books have been written about the restricted lives of Muslim women, but unlike all of those books, this book is presented in a rather balanced point of view. It presents to us information about both the positive and negative aspects. Even though the author of the book has completely spoken out against the restrictions placed on women in her society, the book is still not biased. The book presents information about the fondness for family members and affectionate memories. Even though the book tells us about hardships and sufferings, it still does not seem to dwell on them. It basically provides us with a down-to-earth quick look of Mernissi’s childhood world.

Identity

     In the extremely interesting book written by Fatima Mernissi namely Dreams of Trespass, the plot intertwines around the anecdote of a young girls’ life in a conventional Moroccan harem that is as much captivating as it is reproachful. As we go through the book, we pursue the young girl every single day of her life and occurrence all the little inconsequentiality of her life, we become aware of the fact that she is moderately an intelligent young girl. She keeps asking a number of question, so many that her mother and aunts frequently tell her that she has to refrain from asking question about everything all the time. At first glimpse, it appears that her questions do not hold much meaning and are rather unimportant and are purely things any youthful child would ask as they are getting ready to move out into the real world. But when we think about them in a deeper manner we come to find out that basically, it is the life that she is leading in the harem which she has questions and doubts about. The genuineness is that the frontier is one of the principal components that shaped her life. As she says, “looking for the frontier has become my life’s occupation. Anxiety eats at me whenever I cannot situate the geometric line organizing my powerlessness. My childhood was happy because the frontiers were crystal clear. The first frontier was the threshold separating our family’s salon from the main courtyard” (Mernissi, 3). Her questions always remained unanswered considering that it is believed that in a harem you cannot question so as to get answers. You just accept what is happening and you ask questions to understand it.

     Subtitled, Tales of a Harem Girlhood, this is a most mesmerizing account of the realism of a Moroccan harem. When the word HAREM is mentioned, a lot of people might consider it to be one of the Turkish harems with a vast number of women perched around great tiled rooms, waiting for their turn to be able to serve the lord and master. The author of the book who is a studied sociology in a western school, is a feminist, and intellectual, makes us delve into the living of a youthful girl born into a family in Fez (in Western Morocco) in the 1940’s. The harem in which Mernissi lived was a rather multifaceted social structure of the Moroccan/Muslim family living in the center of this century. Her harem is full of women, daughters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who are confined inside the urban home. We also get to learn about the emotions she and her brother felt (she was very close to her brother) at the time when they come of age when they have to be separated. He has moved on to being a part of the world of the men, while she has to become a part of the concealed world of the harem. But, what is intriguing is that in the book we find that there are women living in Fatima’s harem that truly have the dreams of breaking away from this world and trespassing this world which is dominated by men. The women are basically totally under control of the men and cannot even step out of the house without having permission of their husbands or father, and have a guard standing at the door to make sure no woman escapes.

Analysis

      Every single woman in the harem has a defined frontier. She questions the frontier a lot. When she comes to realize the fact that the so-called frontier has the tendency to change everything related to her as well as her surroundings that makes her even more curious as to how it works before she loses everything she has ever known and liked. What we come to realize is that the author of the book has a rather contradictory relationship with the diverse frontiers. The frontier is both a cause of happiness as well as pain for her; it is mystifying to her on the other hand she can also sense how it overpowers her and the other women. Even though in the beginning we see that she is extremely beleaguered by the frontier, but in the end, she will find out the hard way, that basically the truth about the frontier is not as cut and dry and that there particularly exists a symmetry that has been there for generations, making attempts to define the frontier will make her expedition of self-discovery one of confused means.
The most evident frontier for Mernissi perhaps is the harem itself, which is the same for a number of other women in the book. As the book says, “Our house gate was a definite hudud, or frontier, because you needed permission to step in or out. Every move had to be justified and even getting to the gate was a procedure (Mernissi, p. 21).

     Slowly the author of the book comes to realize the fact that during the time that she was having fun with her cousins, the women living inside the harem were gradually pungent in the fusty air. Perhaps one of the strongest women in the book is the author’s mother, who is regularly ready to face her father. One exemplar of the way in which the harem is a restraining border and prickle in Mernissi’s mother’s part is the reality that every single family here have to live mutually, all making efforts to achieve their own eccentricity while persistently being smothered by each other.
Mernissi tells us that her mother had dreams of living alone, outside the harem with just her husband and her children. She used to give the explanation as to how can ten birds be squished into just one single net, and that she believed it was completely abnormal to live in such big groups, unless everyone wished to make the others life miserable. Yet another factor which tells us about the ways in which the harem orders around ones live is the eating sacrament that subsists within the walls. She tells the readers that no one was allowed to just open the fridge and eat something. First of all there were no fridges back in those days, and secondly, “the entire idea behind the harem was that you lived according to the group’s rhythm. You could not just eat when you felt like it” (Mernissi, p. 77-78).

      There are a massive amount of additional frontiers that subsist in and outside of the harem, all compelling their own individual areas. These included the sea among Christians and Muslims (Mernissi, 1), the regulations for women as to how they can and should dress (Mernissi, p. 85), the boundary between children, which is a very painful experience for all of them (Mernissi, p. 241) and lastly there is also a restriction over listening to the radio!! (Mernissi, p. 7).
Even the character namely Yasmina, who supposedly lived a comparatively moderate and contented life had to undergo despondency and has her own description of the meaning of living inside a frontier (basically the harem for women). At times Yasmina said that living in a harem simply meant that a woman totally lost all her freedom of movement. Furthermore, she claimed that a harem intended calamity for the reason that a woman had to share her husband with a number of other wives. Yasmina herself had to share her husband with eight other wives. This meant that she would have to sleep eight nights alone before she would get a chance to sleep one night with her husband. She liked hugging and snuggling with her husband and told Fatima that she was happy that her generation would not have to share their husband with anyone. Yasmina is perhaps the finest examples in the narrative of how every person has an unlike border, all based on the perspective of the individual as well as what is believed to be sacred by him or her. She also makes an attempt to tell Mernissi the truth about harems and the ways in which people live in them and honor them. She believed that the word harem was a derivative of the word “haram” which means the prohibited, the banned. The word is the opposite of “halal” which mean the allowed. The harem was about personal freedom and the rules modifying it. The harem she believed did not need walls, as when you come to know what is not allowed, your carried it within yourself. It was present in your mind, “inscribed under your forehead and under your skin.” (Mernissi, p. 61-62).

      The dilemma this presents on the other hand is that the harem can be long-drawn-out to give more lack of restrictions, but it also has the power to take away liberty. Also, there lies the fact that there is no single power as to who really runs and lays down the boundaries of the frontier.
According to an explanation put forward by Yasmina, Mecca is a harem underneath Allah, and men are the rulers of the harem under them and they lay the rules and regulations. In this way she believed that the mind of a person is also his or her harem. As per explanation, she said that as the city of Mecca belongs to Allah and one has to obey every single command, that is, all of His sacred laws as soon as you enter His territory. The same applies for the harem of a man where you have to follow all of the rules and regulation put down by him.

      On the other hand, what about all the further dissimilar harems that can be found in the book? The book does put forward some explanations for this impenetrable question. For instance, Yasmina tells Mernissi that harems have been created by the world for the women and while doing so, the world did not consider fairness and equality at all. She believed that the world did not care at all about fairness to the women. It has created rules in such a manner that women have completely been deprived of every single right. For instance, Yasmina said that both men and women had to work from dawn till late in the night. But, men were paid money for their work, while women were not paid at all. This has to be considered by both of them as an indistinguishable rule. Also, even if a woman worked extremely hard, but did not get paid or appreciated for it, this meant that she was trapped in a harem, even supposing that the walls of the harem could not be seen by her. As the author writes, “Maybe their rules are ruthless because they are not made by women,” was the final statement made by Yasmina. But little Mernissi asks, “But why aren’t they made by women?”, to which she replied, “The moment women get smart and start asking that very question, instead of dutifully cooking and washing dishes all the time, they will find a way to change the rules and turn the whole planet upside down.” “How long will that take?” was the question posed by the author to which Yasmina said, “A long time.” (Mernissi, p. 63).

      An attention-grabbing characteristic of the work of fiction is how Mernissi along with a vast number of other women also see harems being fashioned in the Western world. The fundamental repercussion here was that the “authoritative” countries had an aspiration to construct harems with the purpose of securing their power. There was a general notion that similar to the Muslims, the Christians fight amongst themselves all the time, and the Spanish and the French just about exterminated each other when they made efforts to cross the Muslim frontier. After this incidence, when none of them had the capability to finish off the other, they made efforts so as to cause trouble in Morocco and divide it into halves. Soldiers were placed near ‘Arbaoua and people were told to have a pass from now on so as to go North as for doing so they would be moving into Spanish Morocco. If anyone wishes to go South, they would need yet another pass as they would be entering into the so-called French Morocco. If someone did not wish to go along with these rules and regulations, they would have to stay at ‘Arbaoua, a capricious spot where an extremely big gate was built and was known as a frontier. Previously, there had never been a frontier so as to divide the land into two different parts before. As is written by the author, “the frontier was an invisible line in the mind of warriors…All you need is soldiers to force others to believe in it. In the landscape itself, nothing changes. The frontier is in the mind of the powerful” (Mernissi, p.2-3).

      But on the other hand, it would be erroneous to believe that simply the authoritative be in charge of the harem and frontiers. Even inside the house the children were to follow the rules set down by their mothers even if they had to say something against the rules. As the author of the book writes, the mothers of the children were often extremely busy teaching the children the rules of the harem as well as to respect the frontier (Mernissi, p.17).

       As is evident to everyone, there is a superfluity of a vast number of individuals and characters that generate and endorse the frontiers. Out of all the characters that are very concerned with the frontier as well as defend the harem with all her vigor is Lalla Mani. At the end of the day, she is a symbol of traditional values in the narrative and just about at all times takes the side of the men. Whenever she looks out for the people that she loves, it is all the time under the facade of determining the fact that the hudud is not violated by anyone. Throughout the book, we go through a vast number of times when she makes known that she is completely against every single behavior that is against that of traditional values. Throughout most of the day, she would be found sermonizing atonement from wrongdoing, and envisage hell for every single person who does not follow the commands put forward by Allah in general, and for all those women who wish to get rid of their veils, and indulge in activities such as dancing, singing, and basically just having fun (Mernissi, p.128).

      There are more than a few points in the book where Lalla Mani explicitly speaks angrily to a character for some kind of sacrilegious act. For example we see her getting angry over Chama’s theatrical plays and the improper dancing performed by Mina. Lalla Mani clearly states that theater is an activity that is filled with sins and wrongdoing. She further goes onto say that these activities are not mentioned in the Koran and nobody in the sacred cities such as Mecca and Medina ever heard of them or practiced them. She goes on to say that, “Now, if careless women still insist on indulging in theater, so be it. Allah will make everyone pay for their sins on judgment day.” She believed that only ghastly or half fanatical, haunted men and women practiced such activities in public, which is a statement that was always a source of amazement for the mother of the author. (Mernissi, p. 109, 157).

      Both Chama and as well as the mother of the author enthusiastically dissent in opposition to Lalla Mani’s preaching. Making efforts to overthrow the power of the gatekeeper challenging to be set free on a vast number of occurrences and embellishing a multi-colored drapery with birds that stood out for freedom in preference to long-established tapestries.
nearly every single women portrayed in the novel has her own unique manner of dealing with her particular boundaries, but what is more interesting is that half of the boundaries have been created by themselves. Some are open-minded while others are traditional. Chama repeatedly puts on actings that confront the harem and make fun of traditional values but frequently carries it out in such a way that it is to some extent adequate. The author writes, “Asmahan wanted to go to chic restaurants, dance like the French, and hold her Prince in her arms,” she would say. “She wanted to waltz away with him all night, instead of standing on the sidelines behind curtains, watching him deliberate in endless, exclusively male tribal counsels. She hated the whole clan and its senseless, cruel law. All she wanted was to drift away into bubble-like moments of happiness and sensual bliss. The lady was no criminal; she meant no harm.” (Mernissi, p.110).

     Through the book we come to realize that the platform given to Chama is not just there to influence her feminist feelings, but it was also a means of being able to let off all her steam. But, what the reader finds out is that this is just not what is needed or at least not enough of what is required as we see that from time to time, the restraining forces of the boundary make her go down in fits of defenselessness.
In the harem of the author, she considered herself lucky that only Cousin Chama was now and again exaggerated by hem, and she was definitely not completely under its spell or effected by it to a great degree. More often than not, she was incapacitated only when she paid attention to a particular program being aired on Radio Cairo related to Huda Sha’raoui and the development of women’s rights in countries like Egypt and Turkey. It was this hem that would grab hold of her and she would come down to believe that her generation has been sacrificed by the rules and regulations. She would cry out that rebellion is invigorating women in Turkey and Egypt, and the women living in Morocco are just there without any rights. She says that they are somehow in the middle of everything, neither a component of the convention, nor completely gaining benefits from modern life (Mernissi, p.148).

     Chama can probably be made out as one of the characters who seem to enjoy maximum freedom. Her attraction for theatrical performances gave her the means to talk about the unmentionable topics and is accepted by nearly all the men living in the harem. Another character that seems to make the most of little moments of freedom in her own unique ways is that of Aunt Habiba. She has to be distinct in her proceedings considering the fact that she holds low status in the house as she is a divorced woman. At the end of the day, she relies on the supremacy of imaginings, fantasies and time and again, the theatrical performances put forward by Chama to keep that sensation of lack of restrictions, however illusionary it might seem.

      Aunt Habiba was convinced that all of us had enchantment inside, woven into our thoughts. “When you happen to be trapped powerless behind walls, stuck in a dead-end harem,” she would say, “you dream of escape. And magic flourishes when you spell out that dream and make the frontiers vanish. Dreams can change your life, and eventually the world. Liberation starts with images dancing in your little head, and you can translate those images in words. And words cost nothing!”. She continuously kept telling all the little ones about this magic that is present deep within us saying that it was our entire liability if we did not make attempts to being out the magic. She made people believe that even the frontiers could be removed away if we put or head to it. (Mernissi, p.114).

       The ability that she had to tell stories to everyone was considered as a blessing both by the children that were given permission to take pleasure in the innumerable stories of a world they would never get to see. There is one characteristic of conventionality that she holds much respect for and totally agrees with. That is the aspect that has given her the authority to live in the harem away from her husband. Aunt Habiba is a character who was sent away unexpectedly for no explanation, that too by her husband who she loved a lot. She believed that Allah sent the Northern armies into Morocco for punishing the males for using women and not upholding the hudud which tells them to protect. She believed that hurting women was against the frontier of Allah. She kept crying for years and believed that it was wrong to hurt the weak. (Mernissi, p. 3). She is grateful for having been able to move into another household, even though she is not regarded much.
Another character that we have a brief look at is known as Yasmina. Even though, there are no physical boundaries that exist on a farm, it is still considered as a harem by her nevertheless with all the equivalent destitution and domineering rules. The most excruciating characteristic of her life for her is the advent of Lalla Thor and the hostility that takes place amongst them. Nevertheless, Yasmina is almost certainly the most sanguine of all of the feminine characters in the narrative and takes advantage of every single moment of her life. For instance, in order to work out her disputation aligned with Lalla Thor, she gives her the name of the “fat white duck”:
Lalla Thor on the farm is exactly like Lalla Mani in Fez, both of whom never laughed. She lived a very serious life which was also apposite, and accurate. She held much importance in the family considering that she was the first wife of Grandfather Tazi. She did not have any household responsibilities and was extremely rich, which were two privileges that Yasmina could not put up with. Yasmina did not care about her money, and believed that Lalla Thor should work like the rest of them. She believed that as Muslims all of them were equal. Basically she did not believe in inequality for it held no logic. (Mernissi, p. 26).
Considering Yasmina’s state of affairs, a number of questions were posed at young Mernissi. To Mernissi, Yasmina seemed to enjoy such freedom which none else could enjoy. But still, her life was considered a harem by her. She believed that if Yasmina’s farm was a harem, even though there were no walls that could be seen, then what did freedom mean? (Mernissi, p. 63). She started believing that she, her mother and her aunts were all fighting a lost battle, if Yasmina was not free without any boundaries, then how could they ever be free considering they lived INSIDE a harem.

      The chief male character of the narrative is Mernissi’s father who upholds the hudud and conventional frontier, but not as much as others. He is not hungry for power neither does he wish to suppress women in actual fact, he is frequently quite pleased to listen and put up to their needs. As the author writes, “Although father said that he was not really sure how the birds lived, he still sympathized with Mother, and felt torn between his duty towards the traditional family and his desire to make her happy. He felt guilty about breaking up the family solidarity, knowing only too well that big families in general, and harem life in particular, were fast becoming relics of the past”. (Mernissi, p. 76).

      He had practical reasons for upholding the frontier, but basically he wanted to keep his family together. Another fact was that he considered the harem as a shelter for women who do not have a place to stay, like Aunt Habiba. He also believed that protecting the frontier meant protecting the culture of Morocco. So in actual fact, Mr. Mernissi is not as conventional as his mother Lalla Mani. His grounds for keeping the frontiers are  considered by the standard of the women as satisfactory and levelheaded. But what is surprising in the book is the fact that all the way through the book the young Mernissi does not take a tough attitude as to whether she supports or does not support the frontiers and as an alternative takes on the responsibility as an conciliator or exploratory reporter. She fundamentally, has fun in all that it means to be a youngster and that is to meander without direction al across the day, concerning herself only to inconsequential and unproductive matters. On the uncommon juncture when she does go through a flare-up, it is usually under the regulation of a grown-up and time and again, she is just reiterating something she has heard the adults talk about. “I would make them cry over wasted opportunities, senseless captivities, smashed visions. And then, once they were on the same wavelength as I, I would, like Asmahan and Chama, sing of the wonders of self-exploration and the thrills of adventurous leaps into the unknown”. (Mernissi, p. 110).

     Whenever she goes back to being her normal self without outbursts, it is due to the fact that an impediment has risen up and expelled her from doing whatever that she had wanted to do. She is often told by the adults to not even bother and make attempts to solve problems that did not have solutions. No one wishes to answer her considering the fact that women and children living inside the harem did not have the right to question anything. They just had to live with whatever has been thrown at them without  questioning it. She is told that the more she questions, the more she will discover which would lead to further questions. (Mernissi, p. 61).

      Eventually, at the end of the book we find the author asking the right questions, which is where we see the culmination of the book. By the end of the book we see her questioning why she has to be separated from her lifetime playmate Samir all of a sudden, and why suddenly the adults have a problem with them being together the way they used to. As she writes her opinions, “Suddenly, it all seemed so strange and complicated, and beyond my grasp. I could feel that I was crossing a frontier, stepping over a threshold, but I could not figure out what kind of new space I was stepping into… “From now on, you won’t be able to escape it. You’ll be ruled by indifference. The world is going to turn ruthless.” (Mernissi, p. 241, 242).

     This is the part when finally our youthful central character namely Fatima Mernissi gets to experience and be aware of what she has previously only heard of in the stories that were told to her by all of the women living inside the harem. This was the day, that for the first time in her life she felt that she was being discriminated against.

Conclusion

      In the light of the above discussion we can hereby culminate that the book under consideration namely Dreams of Trespass has been written by Fatima Mernissi. The book has been written by the author so as to provide us with the knowledge of the Moroccan culture back in the 1940s and 1950s. We find that women were treated with a very discriminatory behavior and had to live inside the harem, upholding the frontiers even when they wished to move ahead and gain some rights. The women were not even allowed to step out of the house without the permission of the husband, while the husbands were allowed to have numerous wives. They could not question the males. In the closing stages, all the query and misinterpretations that Mernissi was making attempts to comprehend, was absorbed in one day when she had to let go of her play mate Samir. As is evident in the book, the frontier, the hudud are without a doubt fabricated from a vast number of unusual state of affairs, acknowledged by various persons and are generally controlled by different authoritative figures, but the major filament that runs all the way through them is the idiosyncratic domination that has the ability to divide every single person into different categories. The characterization that Mernissi had always wished to find out, eventually, was nothing but discrimination.

Works Cited

Mernissi, Fatima. Dreams of Trespass. United States of America. Addison Wesley Publishing Company. ISBN-10: 0201489376.

 

Cite this Arab-American Literature

Arab-American Literature. (2016, Jul 08). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/arab-american-literature/

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