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January 29, 2022, 06:08:50 am

Author Topic: In the Country of Men - Text response  (Read 3521 times)  Share 

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In the Country of Men - Text response
« on: October 16, 2013, 07:36:38 pm »
In The Country of Men – Text Response
Suleiman’s confused understanding of masculinity reflects the complexities of the adult world in the novel. Discuss
‘In the Country of Men’ depicts a totalitarian, patriarchal society in which Matar expertly portrays a nine year old boys struggle to become a man. Under the Qaddafi dictatorship, manly attributes such as loyalty and dignity are admired. However, Suleiman lives in a total dystopia in which even his decisions can have dire, life-threatening consequences. There are few undoubtedly ‘good’ characters in the novel, which is riddled with deceit and betrayal. Gender roles are exposed as old fashioned and women are utterly underrepresented throughout the text. Suleiman’s navigation towards adulthood is discombobulating as his adults around him are forced to sacrifice their own morals due to their suppressive environment.
Faraj, Suleiman’s father is his quintessential role model in developing ideals and beliefs on what it is to be a man. As an enigmatic, often absent father, Suleiman “felt closer to him when he was away.” Faraj, as the leader of a dissident group, prioritises his fight for a ‘’better Libya” over his family, teaching Suleiman at a particularly young age to question “can you become a man without becoming your father?” To further reinforce Suleiman’s struggle to be seen as a man, not a child, Faraj upon his departure states “take care of your mother; you are man of the house now.” Despite Suleiman’s desire for his father’s attention, he feels as though he must protect his mother from Faraj. This is made apparent to Suleiman when he awakes to see his father on top of his mother in bed and “something about what [he] saw disturbed [him] so deeply.” At the age of nine, Suleiman notices, but does not understand why his mother sleeps on the couch when Faraj is home, he just knows that she does. In Faraj’s absence, a man, Shareif, fills the void he leaves in his wake. Shareif gives Suleiman attention, and by referring to him as “slooma” and offering his fathers “English mints” partially gains Suleiman’s trust. Matar depicts Shareif as a direct parallel with Faraj. The two men exhibit similar nature, yet fight on contrasting sides of the Qaddafi regime. As Faraj returns home from ‘interrogation,’ Suleiman expects to see him look like his ideal man “bleeding beautifully…exactly like the heroes [he] saw in film.” However he is disappointed as Faraj returns as a demoralised shell of a man who betrayed his friends and the cause he fought so hard for.
Despite the negative influences on being masculine that Suleiman is faced with, Ustath Rashid and Kareem and excellent male role models. Kareem as Suleiman’s best friend and Rashid as Faraj’s best friend respectively, display highly regarded masculine traits throughout the text. Between “what untied Kareem and me rarely felt like friendship, but something like blood or virtue,” and the way Kareem entrusted Suleiman with his secrets, the bond the boys shared was strong. Rashid and Faraj were close friends, as Rashid followed Faraj blindly in the fight for a “better Libya.” Despite the strength of their friendships, both Suleiman and Faraj betrayed their closest friends. The end of Kareem’s and Suleiman’s friendship is delineated by “you are not a man because you have no word.” Kareem and Rashid share a father-son bond which makes Suleiman envious as Faraj never lets Suleiman “nuzzle into his neck” and Rashid lets Kareem. Rashid and Kareem throughout the novel represent unwavering loyalty, even when under the whips of the Revolutionary Committee. “You can see it in his face how white he is” Suleiman states this in reference to the virtue and pureness that Kareem possesses. However, in the conclusion of the summer, during Rashid’s live television execution, Suleiman’s best example of masculinity, is degraded to a urine stained crotch and echoes of pleads for forgiveness. This sequence of events confuses Suleiman as he no longer has total respect for Rashid and the choices he made as a man.
During Suleiman’s journey to becoming a man, his largest influence is not a man at all. Even though Najwa is a deeply complex and flawed, and has turned to alcohol to cope with her life, she is the novel’s hero. She teaches Suleiman who he does not want to be through her drunken ramblings about her ‘black day’ and the incomprehensible betrayal by her Brother, Khaled. Najwa has lived a life dominated by controlling men, from her childhood under the “High Council” who forced her marriage to the Qaddafi dictatorship that controls her and her home. The extent of the reach of the Guide, Colonel Qaddafi, is represented obviously when Najwa changes the portrait of Faraj, with a larger portrait of Qaddafi. The Guide is represented throughout the text as the sun, “touch[ing] everyone beneath it.” During the nights where the role of main care giver shifts from Najwa to Suleiman, Najwa tells Suleiman of the myth of Scheherazade and how she was a “coward” because she complied with her captor rather than choosing death. The life of Najwa and Scheherazade is parallel as Najwa has lived compliantly under the rule of controlling men her entire life. Matar portrays Najwa as a hero, because she fights for her “white knight,” Suleiman, and his “health is all that matters” to her. Najwa’s decision to send Suleiman to Cairo, utterly destroys her psyche. She fights to “get him out of this place, even if it takes the last of [her].” Najwa is willing to put Suleiman’s health in front of her happiness, which makes Najwa an intrinsically virtuous character despite her obvious vices. As Suleiman departs, she seemingly says to reassure herself “you are no longer a baby.” It seems that no matter where Suleiman is in his life, the pressure to be a man is omnipresent.
Many years past, Suleiman looks back on the events that occurred during the summer of 1979 with regret. He remarks “everybody was getting on with their lives, busy forgetting, willing to forgive.” Retrospectively, he comprehends what actually happened that terrifying summer. Matar expertly uses Rashid in the novel to demonstrate there is no value or grace in death, however he grants tacit approval to those who went against the Regime. It is shown in the novel, and the title, that Libya was in fact a country of men who were all struggling: some for power, others for safety and the chance to keep and gain their masculinity.