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Frames, Metafiction, and Ambiguity in Woman at Point Zero

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Woman at Point Zero tells the life story of a woman named Firdaus who is being held in the Quantir Prison for the murder of a pimp. The book was written by Nawal El Saadawi: an Egyptian feminist writer who has published a multitude of books about Islam and women. Woman at Point Zero can most accurately be classified as a creative nonfiction piece. Nawal El Saadawi’s use of frames, metafiction, and ambiguity provides readers with awareness of the realities that people in Egyptian society face.

El Saadawi uses chapters one and three as frames to establish herself as a character in her piece. In these chapters, she uses a first person narrative contrasting to the second chapter, which is in the first person narrative of Firdaus. By doing so, El Saadawi is able to make clear to the reader that her work is a creative non-fiction based on real people and places in Egypt. To start and end the book, parallelism is used in the first and third chapters when she states that “the woman sitting on the ground in front of me was a real woman” (8). Referring to Firdaus as a “real woman” emphasizes how she harbors true strength and bravery in the world, as she has faced hardships unlike any others. El Saadawi also highlights how Firdaus’ voice “continued to echo” in her ears. The use of the word “echo” was symbolism to relay that Firdaus’ story now reverberates in the reader, vibrating throughout the world as people read and discuss it. El Saadawi also uses repetition at the end of the third chapter as she is about to leave the prison when she says “I felt ashamed of myself, of my life, of my fears, and my lies” (114). The repetition of “my” provides emphasis to the reader that the impact of Firadaus’ story on El Saadawi affected many parts of herself. This was done in order to put her own experiences into perspective in comparison to the daily hardships that Firdaus faced, so that the reader will be outraged by the idea that the story depicts real events. Therefore, by using the first and third chapters as frames, El Saadawi aims to show the reader how this piece may be fictionalised in part, but the content is based on real people, places, and events.

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El Saadawi uses metafiction in an unconventional way. Instead of using it to draw attention to fiction as representation, therefore making the story unreal, she uses metafiction to reinforce the truth and basis of her story in reality. The book begins with El Saadawi trying to get an interview with Firdaus saying “I met her in the Qanatir Prison a few years ago” (1). This was done to establish that the novel is a representation of real life, as the material for her second chapter was based on events that an Egyptian woman went through. In the second chapter, Firdaus narrates in the first person “I tried to shut the door in his face, but he took out a knife, threatened me with it, and forced his way in” (101). The pimp is characterised as a man who will use the force of utter violence to get what he wants, demonstrating the social hierarchy of male dominance in that society. Using metafiction to establish that the basis of the story stems from truth makes readers aware that it was common for real Egyptian women experience males abusing their power on them. In the book, metafiction is used by El Saadawi to underscore the nonfictional elements, providing the reader with emphasis that this book is not merely a representation, but is something that was real and true to the people of Egyptian society during that time.

Ambiguity in Woman at Point Zero blurs the boundaries between character’s identities, allowing for a broader representation of the Egyptian society. Firdaus talks about a moment in her childhood, exclaiming “but when I used to look into her eyes I could feel she was not my mother” (17). Eye imagery is used throughout the novel as a motif to symbolise love. Prior to her change in attitude towards her mother, Firdaus used her mother’s eyes as a representation of the nurturing transcended to her. However, the shift in her feelings for her mother and the way it was written creates ambiguity and an avenue for two possibilities. The first is that her mother was so thoroughly broken by her father, she is no longer recognizable to her own children. The second is her mother had passed away and her father had found her a stepmother. This stylistic choice was used to be able to represent that these were both likely to occur in an rural Egyptian family of peasants. Firdaus also talks about her father amidst other men saying “sometimes I could not distinguish which one of them was my father” (12). Ambiguous diction was used as her father was blurred with the other men, portraying that her life would not have been much different if any of the other farmers were her father. Furthermore, when Firdaus describes her experience as she undergoes female genital mutilation, what was used on her was “a small knife or maybe a razor blade” and “they cut off a piece of flesh from between [her] thighs” (12). El Saadawi describes the procedure in a brief and dismissive manner to hint at how female genital mutilation was commonly practiced on girls in Egyptian society. The confusion on the household tool used also suggests that the procedure is not performed by a medical professional, ultimately violating the human rights of countless Egyptian girls.

In conclusion, through her use of frames, metafiction, and ambiguity, Nawal El Saadawi conforms to the genre of a creative nonfiction piece in her book Woman at Point Zero. This was for the purpose of readers to gain awareness of the realities that people Egyptian society, especially women in particular, are faced with in their everyday lives.


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