Eyes are part of the human body that creates diversity and uniqueness within the society. They are known to repel emotions and thoughts. In the novel, Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi, the protagonist Firdaus is born as a woman in an Egyptian society where men are considered superior than women. Although she struggles to gain respect as a proper woman, she ironically receives respect by becoming a prostitute at the end of the book. Through her journey to gain respect, Firdaus encounters many eyes, which Saadawi uses as symbolism for love, Firdaus’ personality and hidden intentions within the man-powered society of Egypt.
Firdaus receives amorousness and nurture, which is conveyed in the text using eye imagery. She describes her mother’s eyes as “two eyes to which I hung with all my might” and “two eyes that alone seemed to hold me up”. The diction in this quote is significant, as the word “hung” and “hold” seem to connote opposite meanings of each other. The diction gives a visual image and symbolize how Firdaus has to cling on to the love that her mother gave her, in order for her to feel fostered, safe and held. The diction also creates a visual image of an infant clinging on to his mother while she carefully holds him up. This image of eyes holding and clinging on is symbolic for the love of the mother for Firdaus. It is repeated again on page 17 when Firdaus notices that her mother’s eyes were now “not the eyes that held me up each time I was on the point of falling”. It is interesting to take note of how this phrase repeats; yet now her mother’s eyes are no longer emitting love, making it an immediate juxtaposition. This symbolizes how nurture and affection does not last long in her life. Firdaus also states that all she could remember about her mother’s eyes were that they “are two rings of intense white around two rings of intense black she only had to look into them for the white to become whiter and the black to become blacker, as though sunlight was pouring into them from some magical source”. Here, nature imagery is combined with eye imagery and is used to symbolize love, and how sunlight nurtures plants is ultimately metaphorical for how the mother nurtures and loves Firdaus. The phrase of the “intense white around two rings of intense black” is repeated multiple times in the book. This repetition of eye imagery shines light to the idea of how Firdaus encounters care and love multiple times in the novel, yet never goes far enough to actually receive true intimacy. This idea can also be represented by Firdaus’ teacher, Ms.Iqbal and when “suddenly, the light in her eyes went out, and again and again they started to shine after a moment, went out, like flames snuffed out at night”. This flickering image of the eyes, similarly like the intensity of the eyes on page 17, is repeated in the text on page 84. The flame is being paralleled and symbolizes affection or love Ms.Iqbal has for Firdaus. The simile symbolizes Firdaus’ desperation to keep the “flame” lit and her yearning to feel cared for. However, the flickering of the lights is symbolic for how Firdaus does not get a lot of warmth from people in her life. The eye imagery is one of the reasons why the readers are able to understand that Firdaus has loving figures in her life, yet their love for Firdaus quickly ceases.
The eye also symbolizes Firdaus and her personality. Saadawi describes her eyes as "eyes that killed, like a knife, probing, cutting deep down inside, their look steady, unwavering". The simile used in this quote describes Firdaus' soul that is cold and hard due to her previous experiences. The diction shows her mentality and her emotional state, which is "steady" and "unwavering". It could also give visual imagery of Firdaus as a predator. The author states that Firdaus had a "stern look [in] her brown eyes". The word "stern" may be a possible foreshadowing for what is to come up in the novel. The harsh words that are connected with the eyes could trigger readers to question the contents of the book and what is to come up next. Furthermore, the eye is a homonym for identity and represents Firdaus' identity as a prostitute. On page 58, she figures out that she has “black eyes, with a sparkle that attracted other eyes like a magnet" and that she has eyes that "sparkled like diamonds". These two quotes mentioned can be a foreshadowing of Firdaus' future decision to become a prostitute. Her decision can be foreshadowed from the word "diamonds" which symbolizes materialistic goods and services one may get when one follows that path to prostitution. It could also be related back to how Firdaus’ short-term pimp, Sharifa’s tooth was golden, which also represents materialistic goods. The simile "like a magnet" and the diction, "magnet" can also foreshadow her path to prostitution. The simile gives a visual imagery of how attractive her eyes are and how the attraction is strong to pull anyone in. Additionally, the color "black" could symbolize the sultry and provocativeness in her eyes, which again could foreshadow later events in the novel.
As mentioned before, Firdaus connects with various eyes in the novel, which allows her to read hidden intentions in other people's eyes. When she is asked for a ride from an executive official, she "[looks] into his eyes. They clearly said, 'you're a poor, miserable employee, unworthy of esteem, running after a bus to catch it. I’ll take you in my car, because your female body has aroused me" and she refuses to ride with him. This scene is significant as it allows the readers to understand Firdaus' ability to probe into another person’s intentions by looking into their eyes. This may be to emphasize the eye motif and to express its importance, however also to show how much Firdaus has been dealing with eyes in her life. One could also relate back to how Firdaus perhaps feels unsafe looking into people’s eyes and tend to doubt them after her mother’s eyes were “not the eyes that held me up each time”. Furthermore, it has a cultural context of how women were viewed as sex objects in the 1970s Egypt. Firdaus also experiences a moment when "a shudder passed through my body, like the fear of death, or like death itself" when she is alone in the streets after running away from her husband. In this scene, Firdaus senses the danger; his eyes symbolize lust and the intentions of sexual abuse. The use of simile is important as death is being used as a symbol of sexual abuse, which brings up the idea of anyone who experiences sexual abuse is half- dead or experiencing it is on the same level as dying. Death imagery may also be used as one may argue that this is one of Firdaus’ nadir- her lowest point in the book. Frequently, at the climax or the turning point of the novel, the protagonist’s devastating state of being will be accompanied by death imagery to aid in bringing out the atmosphere and mood. The death simile can also connote the vulnerable state she was in and the darkness that surrounds her character. The eyes hiding intention is demonstrated when Firdaus is arguing with another employee about her unrequited love. Although "his eyes sparkled in the sunshine with a strange new brilliance" they look different to her, "Like the eyes of another man" and later she realizes that he was only pretending to love her. In this scene, Firdaus is able to visualize the hidden intention of the opposed gender. Paralleling the eyes of her love to other men in society can be read as possible foreshadowing of the conclusion of her unrequited love.
In conclusion, the recurring eye imagery symbolizes the love in Firdaus' life, her personality and identity, the true connotations behind the false ones of the male individuals in the Egyptian society. The eye imagery lets the readers understand the desperation Firdaus has in order to receive warm affection from specific figures in her life. Furthermore it also allows the deepening of the understanding of the cultural background in relation to the text. Women at Point Zero written from the eyes of an Egyptian woman exposes the harsh reality and encounters of one unfortunate soul.