Tahar Jelloun’s "A Palace in the Old Village" Critique

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Tahar Jelloun’s novel A Palace in the Old Village follows a fictional story of Mohammed, a Moroccan immigrant trying to fight acculturation by reuniting his family in his home village. The story reveals immigrant experience in the present day struggling to retain their culture and family heritage on exposure to a new host country culture. Mohammed’s forty years stay in France as an autoworker has seen his family assimilated into the European culture. On retiring, Mohammed yearns to reunite his family under his native culture and heritage to remind them of their identity. He decides to spend his fortunes on building a house back at his home village where he plans to pass on his heritage, religion, and culture to the family on reuniting.

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The unfolding tale of Mohammed’s family reunion plan gives a deep insight into the themes of immigration impact, family problems, racism, religion, and social differences contexts that immigrants face. In the novel, Jelloun seeks to enlighten the general audience of non-immigrants on the impact of immigration on family ties and culture to immigrants. A special focus on the immigrant audience is evident in the book through Mohammed whose family depicts the impact of immigration on their traditional beliefs, culture and social setups. Jelloun’s extensive use of literary devices throughout the novel ensures good character development that the audience can relate to and the depiction of the themes of racism, immigration impact on family ties and culture.

Jelloun notably uses flashback as a literary device to build up on the theme of racism depicted in the novel. While Mohammed ponders on the expected implication on housing demand after the arrival of new African immigrant slave, he flashes back to an incident of racism. Jelloun writes, “He found himself remembering an old uncle with business dealings in black Africa who’d brought home to Morocco a Senegalese woman whom the whole village had considered a slave, a nonperson. ” (Jelloun, 1). Although Mohammed was a child, he feels haunted as he understood that the woman was not despised due to poverty, but due to her dark skin. “The entire community banded against her because she was black and they couldn’t understand a word she said. ” (Jelloun, 1).

Another flashback instance is when Mohammed recalls a racism incident in which Kader rants on Brahim’s daughter marriage. Kader is angry at Brahim for marrying off her daughter to a Senegalese so he rants, “Brahim gave his girl to a black! A black went off with his only daughter! Blacks and Arabs can’t mix! Berbers and blacks aren’t meant to marry. ” (Jelloun, 2). Kader’s distaste for blacks evident from this incident also reflects on racism. Mohammed, later on, comes to a conclusion that racism was all over the world and practiced by all races. “Pondering that episode, Mohammed had to admit that although immigrants from the Maghreb were the targets of racism in Europe they, in turn, despised black Africans, whether in France or at home in their own countries.

Racism is everywhere! (Jelloun, 2). It is through these flashbacks that the author introduces new characters who engage the audience to think of racism as an old global vice that affects all ages. Additionally, the flashbacks also show racism affects the contemporary society cutting across all races. Jelloun deploys the use of symbolism as a literary device to emphasize the impact of immigration on social ties, and access to help in host countries. Immigrants face a challenge in realizing their full potential since new cultures, social framework, and seclusion by natives in the host country denies them a fair opportunity in bettering their lives (Held and Yolanda, 524). Mohammed, critical of his future appears hopeless as France has robbed him of social connections to his family as his children are assimilated to the European culture. “Mohammed had been staring at the wall for so long that he began to think he was drawing closer to it or, rather, that the wall was advancing toward him. He felt trapped in that little room, which his children never entered. ” (Jelloun, 1). In this context, the wall symbolizes the hard challenges that Mohammed face in pursuit his family reunion and making it as an immigrant in poor housing and salary. Throughout the novel, he hopelessly ponders about his five children and ends up disappointed believing he will not be able to reunite his family.

There is a notable instance of symbolism in Mohammed’s description of his new life challenges as an immigrant. Mohammed sees his life as a planned routine that he has no control over. The pressure on him as an immigrant is so much that he follows his daily schedule without protest as the new country was complicated in terms of culture. He had given in to the pressure from the challenges he faced that he describes as stones that crush him. “He would see heavy stones piling up on his body, crushing the breath from him as he lay paralyzed and defenseless. He wasn’t in pain but in trouble, pinned down. ” (Jelloun, 2). The crushing of Mohammed symbolizes the ending of immigrants plans and ambitions. This is due to the numerous challenges that face the such as poor wages and housing that limit their ability to exploit their potential. In support to the theme of immigration impact on social life and potential limiting factors. Jelloun effectively uses symbolism to emphasize the toughness of the challenges that immigrants must overcome to realize their goals. Through symbolism, the author is able to give the reader a clearer serious perceptive of the hardships of immigrants. In the bid to creating a vivid and empathic description of immigrant experiences, beliefs, and characters, in relation to the main themes, Jelloun uses similes. For instance, Mohammed is compared to the big buzzing fly that was in his room. “A big buzzing fly roused Mohammed from his reverie and kept blindly bumping into the wall. He would have liked to rescue it but hadn’t the energy. The fly went around and around in that room as if it too were a prisoner” (Jelloun, 1).

In this context, the fly is trying its best to leave the room but keeps on bumping on the wall just like Mohammed’s solutions that do not offer him a breakthrough. The ambitious Mohammed comparison to the fly is used to create a clearer image of his frustrating attempts to fix his situation that do not materialize. The simile, therefore, develops Mohammed’s character as a determined immigrant whose dreams are blocked by the new country challenges in line with the themes of immigration impact theme throughout the novel. In another simile use instance, Jelloun compares Mohammed to a donkey that works in response to its master’s schedule obediently. “If you had any idea what I’d give today to have knowledge, expertise, education, diplomas, but I feel like a donkey, a faithful animal going along the same road every day, doing the same things, unable to vary my routine for fear I’ll get lost, afraid of drowning in a calm sea. ” (Jelloun, 3). Mohammed life has been reduced to working in a schedule that he follows obediently. He does not question or challenge his superiors or those around him. Mohammed is afraid from deviating from his normal schedule in pursuit of a better life as it may lead to his end as a productive person.

The simile, therefore, plays a vital role in building Mohammed’s immigrant character to the reader as a being restricted and uncomfortable thus limiting him from achieving ore. This, in turn, helps the author to establish the theme of immigration impact on the performance of an immigrant as they are restricted to their roles which when failed willy likely lead to replacement In conclusion, Tahar Jelloun’s masterpiece A Palace in the Old Village is an educative, intriguing, good read with an extensive use of literary devices expertly set to build on its main themes of racism and immigration impact on culture and social ties. The use of literary devices including simile, flashbacks, and symbolism makes the story realistic and relatable allowing proper depiction of mentioned themes. Both flashbacks and similes are skillfully focused on character and context development. The flashbacks, on the other hand, provide insightful incidents that stablish character personalities and theme presentation. Jelloun’s fictional novel allows a reader to connect and feel the experiences of an immigrant struggle in bettering his life and interacting socially.

The increase in the rates of immigration due to political instability, search for job opportunities and natural calamities is an indication for the need for improved immigrant care (Zogby, 20). Jelloun’s is, therefore, a relevant write-up to all citizens that provides an insight into the immigrant hardships that can changes one’s perspective on immigration. A Palace in the Old Village is definitely a must read for an audience that seeks a better understanding of immigration. The novel is set to leave the reader with one simple question, “What if I was Mohammed?”

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