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TELLING TALES: AN EXAMINATION OF STORYTELLING IN THREE NORTH AFRICAN FRANCOPHONE NOVELS BY ELIZABETH ADLER CROWELL A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Jocelyn Van Tuyl Sarasota, Florida April, 2013
ii Acknowledgements I would like to thank Professor Jocelyn Van Tuyl for helping make this thesis possible and for providing such excellent feedback throughout the writing process. Without her guidance and input, this thesis would not have been achievable. My committee member s, Professors Amy Reid and Sonia Labrador Rodriguez have also been invaluable parts of the thesis process and have been some of my favorite professors in my time at New College. I would also like to thank my friends Beth Carroll, Mariana Zapata, Sean Kel ly, and Kenneth Lee for their moral support and for the many pages that they read and edited. I must also thank my parents for all their love and support throughout my entire college career and the strength of their belief in my academic abilities. You all have helped bring this project into being, and I can never thank you enough.
iii Table of Contents Abstract Chapter 1: Storytelling and Community Building in La Prire de la peur Chapter 2: Storytelling and Examinations of Gender Roles in Crmonie ... 25 Chapter 3: Storytelling and Individual Identity in
iv Abstract This thesis examines the role of storytelling in forming group and individual identities in three North African francophone La Prire de la peur Yasmine Chami Crmonie sable The se novels present several forms of storytelling: stories that unite communities, stories that contradict each other, and stories that are variations of trauma theory to exami ne La Prire de la peur specifically, the role storytelling plays for a survivor of a terrorist attack, and the way her stories unite her family even after her death. The second chapter focuses on Crmonie and argues that the women in the novel try to use stories to unite against patriarchal authority, but ultimately fail because their stories reflect an internalization of the patriarchal ideals for women. Finally, the third chapter examines positing that Ben Jelloun uses multiple variations of a story to show how individuals can create unique and distinct identities while also maintaining the peace of the larger group.
1 Introduction This thesis will examine the function of storytelling in three contemporary francophone novels from North Africa. While there are many novels that address issues of storytelling, I have chosen these three for the importance they give to the reciprocal nature of storytelling; in these novels, there is not just a storyteller, but also an audience that reacts to and sometimes even dictates the content of the stories. Furthermore, the stories are not static in that multiple variations exist and can sometimes even coexist in these novels. Tahar Ben Jellouns 1985 novel LEnfant de sable for example, tells the story of a young girl whose father decides to raise her as a boy since he already has seven daughters. This narrative, originally told by an official storyteller in a marketplace, falls into the hands of the audience when the storytellers all have to leave the town. Yasmine Chami-Kettanis novel Crmonie (1999) takes place in the time leading up to a wedding ceremony. The novel depicts the women of the family gathering to prepare for the wedding and telling stories about their ancestors and relatives. Latifa Ben Mansours novel La Prire de la peur (1997) centers around a woman recently wounded in a terrorist attack and her desire to collect her families stories, a task that is taken up by her first cousin after her death, only for this cousin to die in a second terrorist attack at the end of the novel. In these three novels, storytelling plays a significant role in the development of group and individual identity.Furthermore, the tales in these novels can be divided into three distinct categories: community stories, competing stories, and coexisting stories.
2 Before delving into an examination of the texts, we must first briefly examine the context in which they were produced. All three authors are from the Maghreb: Tahar Ben Jelloun and Yasmine Chami-Kettani are Moroccan while Latifa Ben Mansour is Algerian. Both Algeria and Morocco were colonized by the French, though they had different statuses under colonial rule. Algeria was considered a territory of France, and therefore its people were citizens of France; Morocco was merely a protectorate. This difference in status in the eyes of the French government partially explains the differences in their pathwaysto independence. Morocco, under the leadership of Mohammad V, successfully negotiated with France in 1955 for a gradual shift from colonial rule to independence (Cohen and Hahn 8485). Algeria, by contrast, engaged France in a bloody war of independence that lasted from 1954 to 1962 (JRuedy 156). While there is obviously much more to say about colonial rule and the influence that France and the Maghreb had on each other during that time, it suffices for the purposes of this thesis to know that these colonizing relationships existed and had a strong impact on the peoples of both countries. The history of colonialism established a dichotomy between Western and non-Western cultures that implied the superiority of Western culture and tradition. It is precisely this issue of hierarchy that post-colonial literature interrogates and criticizes. For our purposes, the most important aspect of colonialism is the literature, and the related theory, that it inspired. In their book The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures ,Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin explain that the term post-colonial, when applied to literature, refers to the
3 entire period from the moment of colonization to the present day so that it covers all the culture affected by the imperial process (2). In other words, post-colonial literatures are not necessarily post-independence literatures. This distinction is crucial because it reveals the continuity of thought and literary practice between pre-and post-independence countries. This continuity is evident when we consider that the effects of colonialism did not stop immediately with the end of the struggles for independence. This continuity does not mean, however, that post-colonial literatures have also remained unchanged since their commencement. On the contrary, while they emerged out of the experience of colonization and called special attention to their struggle against and their differences from the colonial power, post-colonial literatures have gone through several stages of development. Some of the first texts, for example, were published with the permission of the imperial powers, while the direct criticism of later novels shows defiance of colonizers (Ashcroft et al.5). There is no one single,clear motivation behind post-colonial literature. For example, post-colonial literature is a reaction against claims made by many liberal humanist critics that European literature depicted the universal human condition (Peter Barry 185); however, viewing post-colonial literature as a simple reaction to foreign literature would be an oversimplification. Many post-colonial novels reveal a complex synthesis of European and non-European traditions in their content and themes. In the novels I will be examining,for instance, there is a tension between the written and the oral forms of storytelling; while the books themselves are novels, a form that is particularly Western, they depict people who actively
4 participate in their local tradition of oral storytelling.Thus, the novels blend multiple traditions to create a nuanced view of the intersections of these two cultures. Another motivation for these traditional elements such as storytelling is as a way of reclaiming the past and reasserting the power and importance of the indigenous culture. According to Barry, reclaiming the past and exhibiting a nostalgia for pre-colonial times are two important characteristics of post-colonial literature (186-87). To a certain extent, therefore, the silence in some of the novels as to the effects of colonialism can be seen as a way of focusing on the positive characteristics of their culture as opposed to the negative characteristics. While it may seem natural to some to value ones own cultural heritage, the colonial education system sought to inspire people with its tales of the greatness of France. This phenomenon is perhaps most visible in the tradition that had schoolchildren reciting from the book Nos Anctres les Gaulois( Our Ancestors the Gauls ) 1 regardless of their national and cultural identification. As one critic put it: Bound to the highly articulate discourse of colonial hegemony, the account of the Gaulois battle travelled well beyond the hexagon [France] in the late 1800s when Nos Anctres les Gaulois were introduced into schoolrooms throughout Frances colonial empire. For when France colonized in far-flung places, it did so with the sense of both a droit [right] and a devoir [duty] to disseminate Frances greatness As such, the French colonial experience, while based on the asymmetry of the colonizer as the source of civilization, invited its 1 Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
5 newfound pupils to embrace a common ancestor, the Gaulois (Janice Gross 950). This quote demonstrates how the colonial education system effaced the importance of indigenous culture and history by encouraging the children of indigenous people to reject their own ancestors in favor of the superior European ones. Another significant concern in reading these particular novels and in reading much post-colonial literature is that the authors write in the language of the colonizersthat is, French. While some people view this as linguistic treason, there are a number of reasons for writing in French. As previously mentioned, many people educated in the colonies were historically educated in French, meaning that this is the language in which they habitually read and wrote, even though it was not their native language. It might therefore have felt more natural for them to write in French. There are also very practical reasons for choosing French. For one, most publishing houses to which North African writers have access are based in France and are significantly more likely to publish a work in French than in, for example, Arabic. Moreover, writing in French makes it possible to reach a larger (and more international) audience. It is important to remember these concerns when approaching North African francophone literature because they demonstrate how an author might employ the language of the colonizer while not condoning the colonial mission. We must also briefly mention the literary antecedents of these novels, which includes novels in the French tradition that stress the importance of storytelling and the settings in which stories are told. One of the most important of these works is
6 Marguerite de Navarres narrative LHptameron published in 1558. This work, inspired by Boccaccios Decameron collects the stories of various noble people who, because of flooded roads, find themselves stranded in an abbey. To pass the time, they tell each other stories that they have heard, specifying at the beginning that the stories must all be true. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the importance of the response to stories. After each story, the characters briefly discuss the moral and meaning of the tale and one of the characters uses this discussion to launch the next story. This situation highlights the audiences role in interpreting the story and in influencing the way the storytelling will continue. In many ways,the other travelers function as the mediators between the storyteller and the reader, ensuring that the reader examines the story critically. This relationship between storyteller, audience, and reader appears in the novels I will examine, most notably in Crmonie and LEnfant de sable though not always with the same purposes or results. Another work that addresses the issue of storytelling is A Thousand and One Nights The tales in this work have been traced back to at least the tenth century, though they may have been around for some time before then (Dwight Reynolds 77). Antoine Galland introduced the stories to Europe through his wildly popular French translations that were published between 1704 and 1717. The frame story to these tales revolves around two brothers, both kings, named Shahrayar and Shahzaman, who both have unfaithful wives. When Shahrayar finds out about his wifes infidelity, he has her put to death and then decides to sleep with a virgin every night and have her killed in the morning. Scheherazade offers to become
7 Shahrayars latest wife and enacts her plan to prolong her life and save the other women in the kingdom through her talent as a storyteller. In order to ensure that the king hears her stories, Scheherazade asks her sister Dinarzade to come with her to the kings chamber and ask Scheherazade to tell a story. Thus, Dinarzade is ostensibly the person to whom Scheherazade tells her stories, though she actually intends them for her husband. Scheherazade uses the power of her stories to heal the psychological scars of Shahrayar and restore peace to the kingdom. This idea of the healing nature of storytelling is very important to the contemporary North African literature that I will examine in subsequent chapters. Due to the initial success of the collection, Galland added many Arab and Persian tales that were not in fact part of the original manuscript that he translated. The alterations he made, however, mostly affected the tales themselves, and not the frame story; this story, based around the heroic plans of Scheherazade, has remained relatively unaltered since the tenth century (78). While these two examples show how storytelling can be used as entertainment and psychological healing, there are many motivations for telling stories. For one thing, storytelling helps with many kinds of healing beyond just the psychological. In Le Chant du lys et du basilic, another novel by Latifa Ben Mansour, the young narrator must tell her life story in order to help her remember her accident and wake up from her coma. Storytelling can also bring together the storyteller and the audience in a self-affirming, community-building effort. This particular function is important when considering post-colonial literature because of its larger significance for bringing together the people of a former colony and
8 creating a strong and independent nation (both culturally and politically). More generally, storytelling is a method for explaining and understanding the world. This function of stories is apparent in myths and fables from all over the world. These tales can also serve as moral lessons and guides for how to act in given situations. All of these functions of storytelling are present in the four novels I will examine, showing how storytelling refuses to be categorized or reduced to a single purpose, and instead occupies an essential and productive space in society. In Chapter One, I will examine what I label community stories. These are the stories that appear in Latifa Ben Mansours novel La Prire de la peur and involve one main storyteller who retains a certain amount of control over the stories. These stories function as a way to bring characters together and strengthen group bonds. Chapter Two will deal with the competing stories, or stories told by multiple storytellers or groups of storytellers that directly contradict each other, as they appear in Yasmine Chami-Kettanis novel Crmonie The final chapter will examine coexisting stories, or stories that are not exactly compatible, but which are allowed to exist without pressure on the audience or reader to choose between them.These stories feature prominently in Tahar Ben Jellouns novel LEnfant de sable in which they represent the individuality of each storyteller.
9 Storytelling and Community Building in La Prire de la peurLatifa Ben Mansours 1997 novel La Prire de la peur deals with many difficult and complex themes, from the alienation felt by exiled people to the painful plight of women to the repercussions of having a growing Islamic extremist community. Storytelling unites these various themes and gives characters a way to share their experiences and knowledge with one another in a productive and encouraging manner. Whether the stories are fact or fiction, the storytelling setting presents an opportunity to share as well as to open the dialogue between disparate groups. Moreover, the content of the stories themselves highlights their commonalities. Ben Mansour uses storytellingas a way to unite and reconcile disparate groups, showing in their reconciliation that there is hope for a new and stronger Algeria. While storytelling may not be capable of defeating religious extremists directly, it serves to unite moderate people and mightassist in the healing processonce violence ends.La Prire de la peur begins with Hanan, a young, unmarried Algerian woman living in France who decides to return to her family in Tlemcen after an extended absence. Terrorists attack the airport shortly after her arrival and their bomb injures Hanan so severely that her legs must be amputated.Her great grandmother, Lalla Kenza, takes care of her after her stay at the hospital and tells her stories that have been passed down in their family so that Hanan can compile them into a manuscript. Hanan soon passes away, and the bulk of the novel centers around the ceremony and celebration surrounding her funeral at which she has requested that her cousin and close friend, also named Hanan, read certain selected passages from
10 the manuscript aloud to the assembled family and friends. Her cousin, henceforth referred to as Hanan II, reads aloud selected passages frommanuscript, most of which come from Hanan Is personal life and experiences during her time in France. Hanan II, who is ill when the novel begins, feels that she is slowly turning into her dead cousin until, at the very end, Islamic extremists attack the people assembled for the funeral and Hanan II dies as well, though her family survives. Storytelling and Trauma Theory Before delving into examples of storytelling in the novel, we should examine the theoretical aspects of storytelling, specifically the relationship between storytelling and trauma theory. The common meaning of the word trauma refers to a specific event that naturally and even inevitably interferes with a persons sense of safety and security, leaving them traumatized. According to the trauma theory model, however, trauma is the human reaction, not the event. Trauma occurs when an event makes people so frightened that they can actually repress the experience of trauma itself (Alexander 5). This focus on the reaction is significant because it foregrounds apersons role in creating their trauma or, to put it another way, it foregrounds their individual reaction. This emphasis highlights how one individual might have a different trauma reaction than another individual who experiences the same triggering events. Hanan I clearly experiences trauma after the terrorist attack and amputation of her legs. While hermedical condition is not definitively described as lifethreatening, Hanan herself seems certain that she will die, and her great-
11 grandmother later claims that elle ne voulait plus vivre[she no longer wanted to live] (Ben Mansour 168). From these statements, it seems clear that Hanan becomes depressed after the attack. Instead ofrecovering and focusing on healing, Hanan wants to bring herself into closer contact with death, requesting to live near the tombs of her ancestors (25). Furthermore, she refuses contact with the outside world with the exception of her great grandmother, Lalla Kenza, who takes care of her and tells her stories. Lalla Kenza is extremely old and near to death, so while she constitutes a live human presence, Hanan reveals a further obsession with death by aligning herself with her great grandmother. Hanansreaction constitutes a withdrawal, a very severe defense mechanism against the trauma she feels. Unable to cope with daily life after losing her legs, Hanan withdraws into aspace where she feels protected from any future attacks and imagines herself close to leaving a world in which such attacks are possible. This trauma reaction demonstrates how Hanan struggles to come to terms with her situation after the attack. In addition to physically withdrawing to a different location, Hanan further withdraws herself from the world by obsessively writing down Lalla Kenzas stories in addition toher own life story. Hanans writing constitutes a form of storytelling, but unlike oral storytelling, writing does not address a present audience who can respond and react to the stories. Ben Mansour does not seem to suggest that written stories are inferior to oral stories in terms of quality; in fact, Lalla Kenza praises Hanan for the novelsshe wrote while she was in France. However, she does imply that in terms of personal healing and recovery, oral stories are preferable. This preference appears when Lalla Kenza requests that Hanan tell stories about her own
12 life and experiences. Hanan replies that her life na aucun intrt[hasno interest] and that she will leave that task to lautre Hanan[qui] a russi l o jai chou [the other Hanan who succeeded where I failed] (48). This statement makes clear Hanan Is sense of inadequacy as a result of her traumatic experience. She feels that her life has been cut short and that she has failed to live the life that she imagined for herself or achieve the things that her family expected, like starting a family of her own. In essence, Hanan rejects the talking cure, a conventionalpsychoanalytic approach to dealing with trauma. Instead of telling the stories herself, Hanan intends for her first cousin, Hanan II, to read the manuscript aloud during her (Hanan Is) funeral celebrations for theirwhole family to hear. The deferral of oral storytelling means that Hanan I does not benefit from the bond people create in an oralstorytellingsetting, and thus she cannot strengthen her connection with life. Furthermore, the obsessive nature of Hanans writing becomes yet another form of withdrawal from the world because she writes continuously, thereby minimizing her contact with other people. Explainingher need to write, Hanan saysje dsire rassembler dans ce manuscrit les morceaux pars de ma vie clate ... Cest ainsi que je triompherai de la mort et de la barbarie [I want to reassemble the scattered pieces of my shattered life in this manuscript...That is how I will triumph over death and brutality] (42). With this statement, Hanan recognizes the importance of storytelling as a method of healing, whether that healing is physical or emotional. She attributes to storytelling the power of reestablishing order and reason by collecting and presenting her life and her lineage in a logical manner. Jane Evans points out that this claim echoes the
13 psychoanalytic theory of scriptotherapy, or writing ones own life story as a method of relieving emotional damage (96) andvalidates this claim by citing Ben Mansours psycholinguistic background. In her remark about triumphing over brutality, Hanan further suggests that storytelling offers a way to overcome the problems presented by radicalized Islamists who attack innocent people. The word barbarie (42) echoes other descriptions of extremists as people whoboivent le sang de leurs victimes [drink their victimsblood] (353) because it implies the kind of vicious savagery which that imagery evokes. Furthermore,while Lalla Kenza suspects that Hanan has no real desire to recover, Hanan herself at least goesthrough the motions of attempting to recover by trying to write order into her life. For Hanan, writing is a way of furthering her withdrawal while still acknowledging the importance of storytelling in shaping the future of the community. She recognizes the necessity of storytelling and remembering stories when she commands her surviving relatives to remember the words of their ancestors:conservez dans votre mmoire ce qui est crit dans les manuscrits [preserve in your memory what is written in the manuscripts] (26). With this order, Hanan reveals the significance that storytelling has for her and for the continuance of her culture. Unable to ignore her perceived duty to communicate with future generations, but powerless to overcome her own defense mechanisms which have isolated her from the world, Hanan resorts to writing her story for another to read after her death. Interestingly, however, at the beginning of the novel, the reader has access only to the stories told by Lalla Kenza and not those written down by Hanan. Later
14 in the novel, Hanans retelling of her life appears to exclude any mention of the attack and her consequent suffering. At the very least, we know that she does not mark any passages about the attack for Hanan II to read to at the funeral celebrations. This unwillingness to write down her experiences suggests a reluctance to share her experience of the suffering she undergoes as a result of the extremist attack. It also provides another explanation as to why scriptotherapy fails to heal Hanan I completely. This issue returns at the end of the novel rather unexpectedly when Hanan II reveals that her cousin had gotten pregnant during her youth; as she was unmarried and the father refused to accept responsibility, Hanan I decided to have an abortion. Hanan II angrily asks Lalla Kenza ta-t-elle une seule fois parl de cet enfant?[did she talk to you even once about that child?](366) and claims that because of Hanan Is pain over the abortion, Morte, elle ltait dj[She was alreadydead] (365). Thus, the failure to share her story killed Hanan even before she was dead. Hanans reluctance to communicate evokes the idea of witnessing trauma. Trauma is not confined to the people who directly experience the event that triggers their trauma. In the foundational text Testimony Dori Laub explains the theory of witnessing in relation to trauma. According to him, there are three levels of witnessing: being a witness to oneself within the experience, being a witness to the testimony of others, and being a witness to the process of witnessing (75). The people surrounding whoever experienced the traumatic event can therefore share their burden and try to have a better understanding of their trauma. In the novel, the trauma Hanan experiences does not end with her, but affects her whole family,
15 most notably her cousin, Hanan II. For Hanan II, the trauma she feels through witnessing takes the form of an inability to distinguish between her own life and the life of her dead cousin. As she reads, le texte [sempare] delle Les inflexions de sa voix [sont] devenues plus graves. Son rire [est] celui de Hanan[the text engulfs her the inflections of her voice become deeper. Her laugh is Hanans laugh] (191). At first, this blurring of reality seems bizarre, but relatively harmless. The parallels between the cousins that have already been suggested by their shared first name and shared love of stories are here reinforced to an extreme as Hanan II identifies with her cousin. However, the lack of distinction between the two women soon turns destructive and dangerous. Creating Bonds In fact, the blurring of the two Hanans exemplifies the ways in which storytelling creates strong connections between people. While the two girls were close during childhood and were united by their shared love of their ancestors stories (114-115), they have since grown apart. At the beginning of the novel, Hanan I lives alone in France and writes; Hanan II lives with her family in Morocco. They have minimal contactuntil Hanan I requests that her cousin attend her funeral and read passages from her manuscript. During the readings, Hanan II continually compares her life to that of her cousinand confuses Hanan Is life withher own. The alarming symptoms that Hanan II exhibits, such as wanting to rejoindre [sa] cousine dans la mort[join her cousin in death] (171) are therefore the result of a growing connection and identification with a dead woman. In short, while Hanan I
16 fails to connect meaningfully with another person by telling her own stories, Hanan II connects meaningfully with a dead person, bringing her closer to the world of the dead. Just as Hanan I obsessively wrote the manuscript, Hanan II becomes the obsessive reader who cannot stop even when it may damageher own mental and physical health. The obsessive nature of the reading becomes obvious when, towards the end of the novel, Hanan II begins to bleed from her legs, her wounds inexplicably echoing those of her dead cousin (313). This injury echoes the chronicled experiences offollowers of Christ like Saint Paul who received the stigmata of Christ, creating a connection between Hanan Is death and Christs. This parallel suggests that Hanan also dies for the sins of others and with the hope of saving others from a terrible fate. In this comparison, storytellingacts as a guide to how we can heal from violence and achieve peace. While the comparison of a Muslim woman and Christ may seem far-fetched, Christ still figures importantly in the Quran, though as a prophet rather than the son of God. Thus, the stories of the stigmata are familiar to many Muslims even if they are not as accepted as they are among Roman Catholics. Despite this rather dark interpretation of storytelling as a means of coping with painand trauma, which emerges from Hanan Is story, Ben Mansour presents a very hopeful view of how storytelling builds up and strengthens relationships within a community. There are many other examples of storytelling and its functions throughout the novel. For one, storytelling transcends generational boundaries. Lalla Kenza is Hanans great-grandmother and despite their vastage
17 difference, the two are able to bond over their shared love of stories. One of the first stories Lalla Kenza tells is the story ofhow their ancestors came to North Africa. In her tale, Lalla Kenza highlights the familys importance as the founders of Fs, la magnifique[Fez the magnificent] (32). By glorifying the acts of their ancestors, Lalla Kenza strengthens her connection to her great granddaughter, linking them both to a celebrated past. She further stresses the importance of their shared heritage when she remarks that their family comes from la noble descendance du prophte[the noble lineage of the Prophet] (33). Since this dignified heritage necessarily passes down from generation to generation, Lalla Kenza pulls together the generations by emphasizing their interrelatedness. Additionally, the story itself demonstrates the connection between different generations in the relationship between the ancestor Lalla Kenza and her grandchildren, especially Abdallah. After the death of her son and the father of her grandchildren, Lalla Kenza brings them all together to give them advice before sending them out into the world. The scene is very tender as she feels son cur sarrter [her heart stop](37) andshe says to Abdallah, Bni sois-tu mon fils et bni sois-tu mon Dieu de me donner la force de supporter la sparation dAbdallah [Bless you, my son, and bless God for giving me the strength to withstand separation from Abdallah] (38). In describing a scene that shows such tenderness between the very young and the very old, Lalla Kenza encourages more of this kind of unity of generations in the present. In short, this story bringsthese two women together by highlighting the importance of their shared heritage and encouraging them to think about what they have in common.
18 Storytelling also bridges generational gaps in that many of the same stories continue to be told to children generation after generation, so that Hanan IIs children learn the same stories Hanan II learned as a child (144). This continuity over time creates a link between the young and the old as they share memories of the stories they hear. There is a sense ofcultural heritage that is preserved and passed down. This cultural link is important because storytelling here preserves the traditions of a family and a culture more generally. This preservation acts as a safeguard against the changes that extremists maywish to institute. For example, in the story that Lalla Kenza tells Hanan I about their ancestors, she includes details about how their ancestor Lalla Kenza instructs Abdallah to educate his daughters as he was educated (40). Then, as now, many Muslim extremists condemn the education of girls. This story therefore serves to preserve threatened traditions and to claim them as long-standing traditions that have a right to continue. These stories also reunite exiles with the people who have stayed behind. First, in a very literal sense, Hanan I requests that her cousin Hanan II come and bring her family to Algeria for her funeral and the reading of her manuscript. Thus, a family that has been exiled in Morocco for many years is returning to Algeria to reunitewith their family at a difficult time. Hanan II would not have had to come except for the need to fulfill Hanan Is wish of reading the manuscript aloud. Therefore, the stories Hanan I writes bring together exiles and non-exiles after her death. Furthermore, many of the stories that Hanan I relates are about her life as an exile in France. We know from the context, however, that these stories are intermingled with the stories that Lalla Kenza tells at the beginning of the novel
19 when Hanan I has sequesteredherself from the world. Placing the stories of exiles next to the traditional stories passed down from generation to generation implies that neither one nor the other is better or more valid. There is an equality between stories and experiences that suggests an equality between the people in the stories themselves. Hanan IIs husband Idris is the perfect example of how storytelling brings together disparate groups. In her explanatory letter to her cousin, Hanan I says that she wants her to lire le manuscritprs de [son] poux; il se rconciliera ainsi dfinitivement avec le pays de ses pres et de ses racines[read the manuscript close to your husband; he willbecomedefinitively reconciledwith the country of his parents and his roots] (139). Initially, this request seems to refer only to uniting an exile with his country of origin. It soon becomes clear, however, that Idris is divided from Hanan IIs family by more than just exile. For one, he does not speak Arabic like her family, meaning that a linguistic barrier keeps him from conversing with some of her relatives who do not speak French. In addition, he is from a different socioeconomic background. Hanan Is quote, therefore, refers not only to reconciling an exile with those who remained behind,but also to uniting people of different linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The change in her familys feelings towards Idris as a result of the storytelling becomes clear when Hanan II laments their former prejudice against Idris, remembering their initial reaction: Tu nous as trahis, tu as sali lhonneur de tes anctres et de ton pre! [You have betrayed us, you have sullied the honor of your ancestors and your father!] (263). After Idris tells part of his own life story to the
20 group and listens to his wife reading Hanan Is manuscript, Hanan II remarks that her family has finally accepted him just as Hanan I wanted (262). In short, storytelling completely changesthe opinions of Hanan IIs family and makesthem more tolerant of someone they consider an outsider and a stranger and whom they once considered completely unsuitable for their daughter. Ben Mansour even draws the reader into the community that she constructs using storytelling. Towards the beginning of the novel, Lalla Kenza tells the story of Loundja, the beautiful daughter of ogreswho unwittingly lures men to their deaths as they come to rescue her but are killed by her familyuntil a young prince finally succeeds (57-64). Later in the novel, Idris tells his wife Hanan II that her long hair would have made Loundja pale with jealousy (129). This reference makes the reader feel a sense of belonging and a joy of recognition in reading a familiar name. Thus, even a reader who is not from an Algerian background and who did not grow up hearing these stories joins in the community by learning the stories and understanding the meaning of references to them. This inclusion suggests that the community which Ben Mansour seeks to create through storytelling is not limited to a specific nationality or even a specific linguistic group. Instead, this community remains open for anyone wishing to hear and be heard. Significantly, Idris is the one who makes this reference. As an outsider to Hanans family, he shows thatthe story told by Lalla Kenza is not exclusively hers: itbelongsto a greater body of oral stories that, if they belong to anyone, belong to everyone. Throughout the novel, one and only one group is consistently and determinedly excluded from participating in the storytelling experience: Islamic
21 extremists. Ben Mansour identifies extremists as an outgroup from the very beginning of the novel when Hanans mother Abla lamentsthat the call to prayer sounds horrible when projected through loudspeakers. She switches topics suddenly, saying: Ne les laisse pas dfigurer la religion de lAim de Dieu [Dont let them ruin the religion of Gods Prophet] and condemningces prches qui exhortent la violence et la haine des femmes [those sermons that call for violence and hatred of women](13). Without explicitly naming them, Ben Mansour here establishes Islamic extremists as others, whose views entirely oppose her own. Notably, no extremist ever appears as a developed character in the novel and therefore no extremist ever presents his views or life story within the storytelling setting. This absence potentially suggests that storytelling is incompatible with their forcibly serious and masculine-dominated world-view; the incompatibility is particularly clear because many of the storytellers in the novel are women and the stories are told in mixed-gender settings which an extremist would not tolerate. In the end, however, storytelling triumphs over the violence created by extremists by preserving the traditions that extremists might wish toeradicate and by offering an alternative vision of the future in which life is not dominated by fear and violence. This vision means that storytelling, while not exactly a plan of action in a war against extremism, is a way of envisaging a better future and safeguarding the past from distortion by extremists.
22 Hope for the Future The end of the novel, which at first glance seems incredibly dark and disturbing becauseboth Hanans are murdered by terrorists and no distinctive solution to the problems faced by Algeriais proposed, is nonetheless very optimistic as to the future. One of the reasons for this hope is the final story recounted in the novel. The storyteller is Al Hamra, a young friend of Hanan Is and the only one to visit her in her retirement near the tombs after the attack. The story she relates concerns a sultan who falls in love with a fille de joie[courtesan] despite the disapproval of the court, the viziers, and the theologians. When a renowned architect comes to suggest a plan to builda mosque, a school, and a hospital, the Sultan says that he knows the perfect site: the public dump. The court and the theologians all praise this idea, especially happy that they are not asked to give up their own land for the construction. When everything is finished, the Sultan asks the theologians if tout est comme lindique la Charia[everything has been done in accordance with Sharia(Islamic law)]. They agree emphatically that it is perfectly allowedby the Sharia, and the Sultan replies, Dans cecas de mme quune dcharge publique est devenue un magnifique lieu de prire, une cole et un hpital, une fille de joie peut devenir une grande dame respectable. Je vous remercie de mavoir donn raison [In that case, just as a public dump can become a magnificent place of prayer, a school, and a hospital, so a courtesan can become a great lady. Thank you for proving me right](359-361). This story offers hope in thefight against theologians, or in this case, Islamists, who use religion to justify and serve their own desires while denying
23 other people the right to do the same. The story also emphasizes the hope for change and the ability to become something new and better than before. On a national scale, this story suggests that despite the condition of Algeria at the time, there is hope for a more peaceful future in which extremists do not have the kind of control that mass terrorism gives them to ruin other peoples lives. The placement of this story is also extremely significant for the meaning ofthe novel. This story appears immediately before the second terrorist attack in which Hanan II dies. Thus, the depressing scene of Hanan IIs death is tempered by the hope that Algeria will not always be at the mercy of terrorists. Finally, the novel implies that the people and things that remain behind after the death of both Hanans are cause for hope. Hanan I leaves behind several novels and the manuscript that she worked on up untilher death, and the manuscript, and potentially the novels, though we have no in-depth knowledge of their contents, aim at uniting Algeria and Algerians in a largely inclusive community intended to rebuild the nation founded the ideals of tolerance and liberty. Hanan II leaves behind children who represent hope for the futureand a continuation of the tradition of storytelling that promises hope for reconciliation and recovery from years of violence. Storytelling in both written and oral forms thus makes it possible for the hope of reconciliation to live on after the death of an individual. As long as storytelling remains, the acts of the terrorists will fail to convert everyone and bring everyone under their rule. In Ben Mansours novel La Prire de la peur storytelling therefore serves as a means of building connections between individuals in order to build a stronger
24 sense of community and national identity. While the healing potential of these community stories appears very convincingly in the novel, it also highlights the problems that emerge when people fail to employ storytelling. For example,when Hanan I does not write or talk about her traumatic experiences, she eventually dies, andin the case of extremists and moderates, they do not or cannot meet and therefore do not have the opportunity to try to reconcile their differences.
25 Storytelling and Examinations of Gender Roles in Crmonie In her1999 novel Crmonie ,Yasmine Chami-Kettani examines the position of women marginalized by their inability or unwillingness to fulfill the roles traditionally assigned totheir gender. While an early story told by one female character about their ancestors suggests a sharp division between male and female worlds, with women uniting through stories to counteract or contradict the mens beliefs and actions, later stories reveal a more nuanced divide. The womens conflicted feelings about their roles are brought to light in the stories that they tell as they simultaneously try to affirm their own personal power as women while criticizing other women who struggle to fulfill the roles of wife, mother, and homemaker. Chami-Kettani uses these stories to show how women envision an ideal of sisterhood of women unified against men, but struggle to achieve this ideal because of their differing views of femininity and propriety. Crmonie explores the lives of a number of women in a single family who come together to celebrate a wedding. Just like Hanan Is funeral in La Prire de la peur this wedding presents an opportunity for a family to gather, exchange news, and tell stories. In Crmonie however, the family appears to be more traditional in its views on gender segregation and gender roles since most of the stories are told exclusively by women to women. Very few men figure into the story, and not one tells a story to the women, whereas in La Prire de la peur ,men are present and even accompany the womens stories with music. Two of the central characters are Khadija, an architect and divorced mother of three who moves back into her fathers home after her divorce, and her cousin Malika, whose trouble conceiving has left her
26 childless after five years of marriage. Both women struggle to navigate a society that stresses the importance of marriage and childbearing for women. Khadija, forced out of her home by her husband who decided he wanted a different, younger wife, must struggle with the pain of rejection and the judgment of other women who fault her for her failed marriage. Malika, meanwhile, listens more than she tells stories, but provides commentary about the stories informed by the years she has spent living in France and conforming to norms that are more Western. Competing Gendered Stories Marie-Batrice Samzun points out that it is significant that Yasmine ChamiKettani ait choisi dclipser le rcit de la crmonie du mariage dun fils au profit de celui dune multitude de crmonies lies la fminit et initi par une pluralit de voix fminines mimant loralit[chose to pass over the story of the ceremony of a sons marriage in favor of the multitude of ceremonies tied tofemininity and told by a myriad of feminine voices mimicking orality] (40). Samzun points out this preference in relation to her effort to identify a feminine Moroccan literature. While I do not agree with the practice of searching for a particularly feminine style of writing, it is significant that Chami-Kettani makes this preferential move. It indicates that her examination of womens stories and opinions is not coincidental, but a purposeful focus on a specific marginalized group. Furthermore, the novels focus on womens issues of identity gains force with this noted preference. By refusing this potential male-centered storyline, Chami-Kettani highlights the importance of the
27 issues she discusses and she calls attention to the need to overthrow traditional preferential treatment of mens role in the world and their ceremonies. One of thefirst and most important narratives in the novel is the story of an ancestor and his mule.Lalla Rita, who is Khadijas mother and Malikas aunt,tells the story. She describes how their ancestor, who tends to be vain, buys a white mule. He is so proud of this mule that he also buys an extremely expensive saddle for it and becomes plein de sa supriorit manifeste[full of his apparent superiority] (30). He ignores his wifes pleas to give alms immediately after acquiring the saddle in order to counteract the envious glances that it will attract. Furthermore, when the mule slips, causing him to fall and muddy his clothes, his wife says nothing because ily a longtemps quelle a appris se taire[she learned a long time ago to stay quiet] (34). That evening, they learn that one of his grandsons fell into the river and drowned. Blaming her husbands vanity for attracting the evil eye, the woman murders the mule in the night to prevent any further harm to her family. The significance of this story is obvious from its length aloneit spans fifteen pages of this 111-page novel. Furthermore, the storyteller Lalla Rita protests tu la connais par cur, cette histoire, mais bon, cest une histoire qui mrite dtre chaque fois entendue[you know that story by heart; but still, its a story that deserves to be heard over and over] (28). This statement establishes the weight these women place on this particular story before the story even begins. Consequently, the reader knows prior to hearing the story that it has particular significance for them. In addition, its repetition at this juncture is also significant because there must be a particular motivation for repeating a story that everyone
28 already knows by heart. This importance is confirmed later when Lalla Rita interrupts her own story to say je ne sais pas pourquoi je te raconte cette histoire alors que ton cousin se marie demain [I dont know whyI am telling you this story when your cousin is getting married tomorrow] (35). Though Lalla Rita may not be cognizant of her own motivations for telling this story, some strong motivation compels her to tell it at a time when such a story of pain and suffering seems out of place. The importance of the story, and the reason the women tell it so often, lies both in the content and in the storys reception. On the one hand, the story describes a woman who takes control of a situation after her husband habitually ignores her advice. The story therefore acts as an affirmation that even women who are ignored and pushed aside can possess power and control. A concern about the appropriateness (or inappropriateness) of male rule is also clearly present. When describing the womens storytelling shortly before Lalla Rita narrates this story, Malika gives a brief example of women gathering to hear the story of a husbands impotence, laughing and commenting voilde quoi sont faits ceux qui exercent sur nous un tel pouvoir[thats what those who exert such power over us are made of] (27). This remark shows how the women vent their frustration about their inequality through their stories and through shared ridicule of the men who they know to be no better than themselves. The story of the mule epitomizes this frustration because the woman is unable to protect her family from the consequences of her husbands vanity even though she predicts the negative effects.
29 Another reason the women must frequently repeat the storyis because the men challenge it with their own version of the events. This challenge essentially amounts to a denial of the womens version. The male part of the family claims that the purchase of the mule and the death of the grandson happened years apart and were completely unrelated. The story of the mule therefore becomes a part of the battle over what men can and cannot control as they try to discredit and suppress a story that shows men in a negative light. By continuing to tell the story, the women not only pass on a story of retribution against men for their wrongs, they also actively defy the mens attempt to control their understanding and interpretation of an event. In short, the story becomes a way to exercise their own powers of reasoning. For the women, the truth of this story is uncontested, and they stand united against their male relatives to protect a female truth about the past which the men are trying to erase. Just as the stories told in La Prire de la peur unite the listeners and storyteller and exclude extremists, the story of the mule unites the women and excludes the men from the group. This exclusion parallels the gender binary and draws attention to societal customs of gender segregation. Thus, while the story of the mule can be seen as a way for women to celebrate their own strength of action in a male-dominated world, the story also reinforces some gender stereotypes by accepting a strict segregation of the genders. The negative aspects of the idea of a single-minded group of women become clear in the stories that follow. This story of the mule also exemplifies the way women interweave one tale with another, responding to one story with another, sometimes even interrupting a story to tell another. These surrounding stories can help reveal the womens main
30 concern and their motivations for telling the original story. For example, the stories around the tale of the mule draw upon the gender inequality that it suggests. Lalla Rita stops the story in order to mention her brother lequel me prcdait toujours dau moins trois pas[who always walked at least three paces ahead of me] (30). Specifically, she tells of a time when she was pregnant and struggling to cross a stream on her own and he could not even see that she needed help because he was ahead. This small inserted story reveals that Lalla Rita connects the story of the mule with the idea of men lacking compassion for women. Moreover, reacting to a story with another story shows how important stories are as a method of communication. None of the women feels compelled to explain or examine the stories for their deeper meanings, but their response stories indicate the directions their thoughts are taking. Since many of these response, like Lalla Ritas, are personal memories, recounting them adds weight to the present story by giving proof that it is not an isolated incident. Competing Womens Stories While the story of the mule implies a certain degree of camaraderie among the women as they unite in their frustration with the power men hold over them, later stories reveal that the women do not agree on all the ways gender functions in their society. An excellent example of the lack of unity occurs when Lalla Rita tells her niece Malika the story behind her own daughter Khadijas failures. The story is full of instances when Lalla Rita places the blame for Khadijas marriage on Khadija herself. For example, she explains that there was an original suitor who made la
31 meilleure impression, mais dont Khadija na pas voulu [the best impression, but whom Khadija did not like] (43). Furthermore, this young mans mother sen porta garante, il tait homme faire de son pouse la maitresse de sa destine [guaranteed that he was a man who would make his wife the mistress of his destiny](44). These quotes from Lalla Ritas tale demonstrate her disapproval of her daughters decision to marry a different man, one that she chose for herself. In fact, the story reads like a story of triumph for the mother who knows better than her daughter, with Khadijas divorce as the ultimate justification for her mothers views. This story undermines the view of women as a unified group. Instead of offering mutual support or compassion, the women judge each other for entering into destructive relationships and for failing to maintain unsatisfactory relationships. Furthermore, Lalla Rita uses this story as an opportunity to attack her daughters femininity. For example, Lalla Rita has never had vraiment confiance dans lescapacits de sduction de [Khadija] [real confidence in Khadijas powers of seduction] (47). The proximity of this statement to the story of Khadijas failed marriage shows how Lalla Rita believes seductiveness is necessary for a woman to be happy in marriage. Lalla Rita furthermore refuses to compter sa fille au nombre des lues auxquelles elle reconnat une fminit pleine et entire[consider her daughter one of the elect whom she acknowledges as possessing a full and complete femininity (47). Thus, in addition to not being seductive,Khadija fails to meet her mothers standards of femininity. This view, in addition to being incredibly insulting to her daughter, demonstrates how seductiveness and femininity are inextricably
32 linked according to Lalla Rita (and presumably others). Thus, because Khadija fails to make herself an enticing object for men, she is scorned by women. Chami-Kettani thereby reveals the way women internalize the requirements of their society and criticize all who do not successfully meet them, regardless of their own personal struggles to fulfill impossible ideals. As a contrast to Khadijas marriage, Lalla Rita offers her own story. Disappointed with her husband, she claims that she becomes a woman at seventeen and [renonce] avec sa premire maternit ses rves de jeune fille, mais [elle endosse] dun coup tous les attributs de la fminit[renounces her childhood dreams after her first pregnancy and suddenly adopts all of the characteristics of femininity] (46). Embracing all the trappings of femininity, she therefore suggests, would have improved her daughters failing marriage. Lalla Ritas attitude also suggests that unhappy marriages are, if not expected, at least not surprising. What is more, her comments reflect her belief that a woman should change in order to make an unhappy marriage succeed; she does not believe a woman should try to prevent an unhappy marriage by taking a more active role in choosing a husband. Moreover, even though she fulfills many of the requirements of femininity established by her society, Lalla Rita is not immune to the problems caused by gender roles. After Lalla Rita finishes her story about her daughters failure, Malika, the sole listener, reflects on the stories that she has previously heard about the rivalry between Lalla Rita and Acha, her unmarried sister. Acha was their fathers favorite daughter, and as such, her father was more concerned about the worthiness of her suitors and rejected them all as inadequate. Meanwhile, Achas sisters,
33 including Lalla Rita, were married to whoever asked for them. This story reveals the capriciousness of the system of male control because one daughter, as a result of her fathers preference, has a completely different life from her sisters, who all were forced to marry men they did not like. In short, there is no way to escape the need to impress a man in order to succeed, whether that man is a father or husband, and so Lalla Rita is also in a sense a victim of the patriarchal system. This story also suggests that Khadija, even if she hadbecome seductive, would have had no power to keep her marriage from failing because the system functions by caprice and not by rewarding efforts and merit. The uncontrollable and unpredictable nature of marriage according to Chami-Kettani does not preventmany women, such as Lalla Rita, from having strong opinions as to the proper way to find a husband and the dangers of methods other than her own. In her interpretation of the story of Acha, Samzun links the rejection of Achas suitors to the toute-puissance du pre [omnipotence of the father] (40), maintaining that Achas father robs her of the opportunity to marry because she is his favorite; furthermore, his actions resemble those of un amant attentionn[an attentive lover] (41) rather than a father. This description captures very well the lecherousness of Achas father whom Malika one day catches spying on Acha bathing, ogling le corps inerte de sa fille[his daughters motionless body] (ChamiKettani 100); Samzun takes this lecherousness asa sign of the wretchedness of Achas life. What Samzun fails to consider is the fact that marriage did not improve the lives of Achas sisters and was unlikely to improve hers. The problem is not, therefore, that Achas father robbed her of a chance toimprove her life, but rather
34 that none of the sisters had a chance to improve their lives because of their position as women in a male-dominated society. Just as Khadija has no choice but to live in her husbands or her fathers home (an ironically limited choice for an architect who builds homes for a living), Acha and her sisters have no options but to live under their fathers or their husbands control; this option is even more limited than it initially seems since they do not even have the power to choose their own husbands. Khadija, like Lalla Rita, engages in critiques of other womens fulfillment of gender roles. She recounts the story of the secretarys shoes, in which she vents her envy of a secretary she knows who has so many nice things like shoes and bracelets that Khadija judges too expensive for someone on her salary. When Khadija says that prostitution is the only explanation for the secretarys flashy shoes and jewelry, Malika notes that ce qui indigne profondment Khadija, ce nest pas la prostitution en soi[what outrages Khadija isnt prostitution itself] (64). Instead, Khadija is upset because she cannot imagine having those nice things herself. This story reveals that Khadija, despite or perhaps because of her inability to meet her cultures expectations of a woman remaining married, feels compelled to criticize other women for their failure to conform to their cultures standards of feminine propriety. Malika, the married but childless cousin of Khadija, views all of these stories very differently from the other women thanks to her time spent living in France, showing that experience and perspective divide the womens opinions and keep them from forming one cohesive group. The best example of these different interpretations and opinions is Malikas reaction to Lalla Najias comments about
35 the trouble of finding good servant girls. Lalla Najia complains that after she brings them in from the country and clothes them, the young girls all run off with their first loves. These comments remind Malika of one particular servant girl that Lalla Najia employed, Leila. When Malika and Leila are both ten years old, they secretly play with a doll together in the basement, though it is clear that Leila, as a servant, is supposed to work, not play. The disparity of their positions does not bother the young girls, though Malika, now an adult, recognizes that Leila had a difficult time as a servant under Lalla Najia. Several months after the fact, Malika hears that Leila has suffocated in that same basement in which they played. After being sent down there on an errand for Lalla Najia, she lit a lamp to warm the frozen room and the gas slowly suffocated her (61). Malikas memory essentially refutes Lalla Najias complaints by showing the other side of the story; she implies that Lalla Najias difficulties keeping a servant are not proof of her victimhood, but rather proof of her harshness as a mistress oblivious to the needs of the young girls displaced from their families in the country. This memory-reaction shows how one woman might disagree with other women, thereby shattering the idea of a unified group of women. Notably, Malikas reaction-story remains a private memoryshe never voices it to the other women. As a function of narrative, this silence brings the reader closer to Malika by suggesting that these are confidences which Malika can make only to the reader. Unvoiced stories also suggest that not all opinions will receive equal consideration in the circle of women. Her silence also raises the possibility that many more stories are suppressed, perhaps because of fear of the kind of harsh criticism of women by women examined earlier.
36 This story additionally shows how women partake in the oppression of other women. Lalla Najia, who feels insignificant because her boys have failed to match the greatness achieved by their cousins, in turn makes young girls feel unloved and insignificant. Malika remarks that she cannot believe aucune des pripties domestiques dont [Lalla Najia] est la victime[any ofthe domestic incidents of which her aunt Najia is the victim] (61) as Lalla Najia tells her stories to the family, exhibiting her scars as tmoignages de son courage au long des batailles[proof of her courage in battle] (61). Malikas description reveals the absurdity of her aunts stories of victimization. This distrust of another womans stories of struggles shows how women do not always unite behind stories to form a unified group. Stories of the Other While the novel focuses primarily on the struggles of women, the womens stories also reveal the difficulty that some men can face as they try to fulfill their own strict gender roles. For example, Fatma feels compelled to explain the absence of her son through a story. Her son Moulay is not absentbecause of work, but because of his newfound Islamic fundamentalism. Fatma accounts for his beliefs by explaining his marginalization in society because of his failure to succeed in the way his brothers have succeeded. Moulay never becomes a chasseur [hunter] (68) of women the way his brothers did; he never marries; he leaves his insignificant job to help his father. This list of Moulays failures clearly makes him feel inadequate, forcing him to find another way to fulfill his gender role and make his family proud. Notably, his plan succeeds at first, as his mother indicates when she describes her
37 joiequand Moulay a fait lacquisition dun tapis de prire et sest mis se prosterner rituellement devant la toute-puissance de Dieu[joy when Moulay bought a prayer rug and began to ritually prostrate himself before God the Almighty] (67). His initial success in gaining respect leads to his ultimate radicalization as he turns to Islamic fundamentalism as a way to improve his selfimage. Fatmas story indicates how gender roles are restrictive for men as well as women. For men, dominance and control are the ideal traits, and in a hierarchical society, not all men can be dominant. Some men must necessarily fall short of the ideal andlive a difficult life because they cannot conform to the role expected of them by their families. With Moulays story, Chami-Kettani thus reveals the pitfalls of a strict set of expectations for men and women that does not allow for variation and individuality, thereby leaving a large segment of the population marginalized and unhappy, easy targets for the rhetoric of extremism. Moulays mother laments this move towards extremism which distances her son from his family, particularly his female relatives, lamenting how he no longer chases his cousins, takes his nieces around the town, or even eats dinner with his family (67). This description serves as a gentle and understanding explanation of how fundamentalism gains support among marginalized people. It presents a sharp contrast to the treatment of fundamentalism in Ben Mansours novel, where no one tells any stories that feature fundamentalists. Instead of viewing them as terrorists with nothing in common with the storytellers, Chami-Kettani depicts them as loved family members who have gone astray. This difference is significant because it suggests that the problem of extremism is in fact a problem that is close to home
38 and therefore relatively easily resolved. By giving the extremists names and faces andtracing their route to extremism, Chami-Kettani suggests that extremism is preventable. It is not just a fact that must be lived with and struggled against; it is an understandable phenomenon that everyone can work to avoid by creating a society that doesnot marginalize people for failure to live up to the expectations of others. In short, the women in Crmonie attempt to use storytelling to unite them against the tyranny of male control, but ultimately their other stories reveal that many of them have internalized the ideals of a male-dominated society and criticize other women who fail to embody those ideals. Chami-Kettani demonstrates through storytelling how strict gender roles act destructively upon a society, making individuals feel discontented and marginalized, leading to problems such as Islamic extremism. Thus, while storytelling in La Prire de la peur is a tool that fairly successfully identifies commonalities and brings people together into a cohesive group in opposition to extremists, storytelling in Crmonie ultimately fails to unite women as a positive force or give them any power in the gender struggle against men.
39 Storytelling and Individual Identity in LEnfant de Sable Whereas the previous two chapters focused on how storytelling establishes, or attempts to establish, cohesive social groups, this final chapter examines how storytelling helps build individual identities. These individuals, while not necessarily in agreement as to the truth of the story they are telling, and often doubting the veracity of their fellow storytellers, manage to peacefully express their differences and create individual identity without disrupting the equilibrium of the group. In La Prire de la peur the point of the view of the other, which is to say the extremist, does not appear; a cohesive group based around and extending from Hanans family emerges and grows in a way that seems all-encompassing. In Crmonie the voice of the other appearsin both the mens alternative narrative of the past and in the mothers explanation of her sons move to extremism. In Tahar Ben Jellouns 1985 novel LEnfant de sable however, no group becomes the Other. The lines between dichotomies like man and woman,truth and fiction, and East and West blur until all that is left is individual identity and interpretation. Consequently, at the end of the novel, the reader has only contradictory but coexisting stories, which is to stay stories that do not require the reader to decide which version is the true one. The frame story of this novel involves a storyteller who has come to the market with a journal given to him by its owner so that he may share the story. The tale, which begins with only occasional interruptions from the storyteller or the audience, relates the story of Ahmed, the eighth child in a family of only daughters. Ahmeds father decides that no matter the sex of this eighth child, he will be raised
40 as a man in order to keep his fathers money from going to his greedy brothers. Even though the child is female, he grows up as Ahmed and receives a traditionally male education. Ahmed comes to accept manhood as an empowering escape from the submissive role assigned to women as embodied by his mother and sisters. After his fathers death, he even decides to marry, choosing his invalid cousin Fatima as his bride and thereby taking his fathers scheme further than his father had ever intended. Fatima, however, dies young, and her death leads Ahmed to sequester himself in his room. When Ahmed eventually decides to leave his seclusion, his transition into the world is painful because he is wrestling with his identity. After examining him, an old woman named Um Abbas takes him to join the circus, and he becomes the woman Zahra, Amirat Lhob or princess of love (123). At this point, the storyteller disappears, and some of the listeners decide to remain and continue the story among themselves. Salem, a black man, is the first to give his version of the story. He describes the brutal rape of Zahra by Abbas, the man in charge of the circus, followed by Zahras decision to take revenge using a strategy that would result in both Abbas death and her own. Next, Amar gives his version of the story in which Ahmed leavesthe circus, visits Fatimas grave and then returns to his room to die in peace. Finally, Fatouma recounts her version, a retelling of the entire story, in which she claims to be the inspiration for Ahmed because she adopted the habit of disguising herselfas a man. After Fatoumas story, a blind Argentinean man joins the group and tells the story of meeting a woman with a deep but shrill voice, a seemingly contradictory description which suggests that the visitor is
41 Ahmed/Zahra. This storyteller once againattracts a large audience, but he falls asleep. The original storyteller returns and shows the audience that the manuscript is blank, claiming it has been erased by the rays of the moon. The audience no longer listens to him, however, and he describes being imprisoned by characters he thought he had invented. He finally claims that a woman told him the story in Alexandria and he adapted it for his country. One important aspect of the blurring of the gender dichotomy in the novel is the freedom with whichthe narrators switch between pronouns when referring to Ahmed/Zahra in different contexts. For the purposes of this essay, I will preserve this switching, referring to Ahmed as he when appropriate and referring to Zahra as she. This switching is not away of splitting one character into two; rather, it is meant to show how two aspects can be combined into one being. The blurring here indicates not only the fluidity of gender boundaries, but also the artificiality of any such dichotomies. Ahmed/Zahra occupies a transitional space in which a person can have [une] identit sociale masculine et [une] identit biologique fminine [[a] masculine social identity and [a] feminine biological identity] (Bourget 733). The best way to approach gender in the context of this novel is, I believe, to adopt Judith Butlers notion that gender is the cultural meaning that the sexed body assumes (9). This definition is useful because gender becomes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one (9). These quotes directly mirror Bourgets interpretation of Ahmed/Zahras gender issues inpossessing supposedly conflicting social and
42 biological identities according to a binary definition of gender. Furthermore, this definition allows for a more complex understanding of gender than the oversimplified dichotomy traditionally permits. Blurring Boundaries The idea of blurring dichotomies appears throughout the novel in relation to contrasts such as Eastern and Western cultures. In particular, the transitional state of Ahmed/Zahra reflects a nation situated somewhere between colonialism and independence. This connection is clearest when the storyteller says: Tantt homme, tantt femme, notre personnage [avance] dans la reconqute de son tre [Sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, our character [advances] in the reconquest of his being] (126). The use of the word reconqute links issues of self-definition and gender identity very clearly with issues of political self-determination and a retaking of control. This connection suggests also the comparison of having to be either an oppressing man/colonizer or the oppressed woman/colonized. The figure of Ahmed/Zahra demonstrates that the delineation is not always so clear, and that a new identity might be forged in which we can avoid both extremes. More than the other two novels, LEnfant de sable is a post-colonial novel about the difficulties and problems surrounding decolonization. While the novel is rather difficult to place historically, Rebecca Saunders suggests that the line ceux qui ont t chasss des campagnes par la scheresse et les dtournements deau [those who were forced out of the countryside by drought anddiversion of water] (Ben Jelloun 168)indicates the year 1937, a year when Morocco was wracked with
43 drought; another section later in the novel, which describes young people rioting in the streets, bears unmistakable resemblance to les semaines sanglantes[the bloody weeks]that followed French arrests of Istiqlal [Independence] leaders in January 1944 (Saunders 137). These points of reference suggest that the novel takes place before Moroccan independence, which was negotiated in 1955. One of the only references to politics in the novel confirms this placement: in his childs birth announcement, Ahmeds father writes Vive le Maroc! as the last line, and the narrator comments that La police franaise naimait pas ce Vive le Maroc![The French police did not like that Long live Morocco!] (Ben Jelloun 30-31). The reference to the French police places the novel firmly in the pre-Independence era. This hypothesis also fits well with the general outline of the novel as it follows Ahmed accepting his fathers decision, internalizing it, and finally, after his fathers death, questioning his own identity and building a new one that matches his own decisions and vision of himself. Read in this light, the novel becomes an allegory for the states struggle to rediscover itself after years of oppression from a foreign power. As in the other two novels, storytelling appears as a link that brings people together. While we do not know much about the members of the audience, it seems to be a mixed group of men and women, and even children since the storyteller mentions that un gamin lui [remet]un pain noir et une enveloppe[a small boy [hands] him a loaf of brown bread and an envelope] (Ben Jelloun 14) after he finishes telling his story on the first day. Additionally, both men and women remain after the storyteller disappears. After the storyteller leaves, moreover, the narrator
44 remarks that the audience has dispersed because le fil de cette histoire qui les runissait sest rompu[the thread of the story that brought them together has been broken] (135). This large audience recalls the funeral scene in La Prire de la peur in which all the relatives gather to hear Hanan II tell the stories of Hanan I. In LEnfant de sable however, the group-building power of storytelling seems even more pronounced because the audience is not also united by either blood or friendship. Furthermore, it takes huit mois et vingt-quatre jours[eight months and twenty-four days] for the audience to stop waiting for the storytellers return (135). This dedication indicates the listeners hunger and need to learn the rest of the story, and also their desire to hear the story from the person they perceive as the authentic source. This emphasis on the power of stories to unite is directly contrasted with a series of dichotomies that Ben Jelloun establishes in the same scene as the disappearance of the storyteller. Ben Jelloun describes that the storytellers departure is a result of a new initiative by jeunes urbanistes technocrates[qui ont] [nettoy la grande place] pour y construire une fontaine musicale [qui joue] la Cinquime Symphonie de Beethoven [young technocratic town planners [that have] cleaned up [the grand square] in order to build a musical fountain [that plays] Beethovens Fifth Symphony (135). We learn that in fact any number of stereotypically eastern or oriental things like snake charmers, donkey trainers, herb peddlers and fortunetellers have been forced out for this fountain in the new, clean square (135-136). This scene also contrasts the old and the young, since we know that the town planners are all young and the remaining members of the
45 audience are all elderly (136). These contrasts suggest dichotomies along the lines of old and Oriental versus young and Western. However, several factors undermine these sharp distinctions. One the one hand, the very stereotypical nature of the things that are banned from the square seems suspiciously like a Western imagining of what might be in a Moroccan market square. Thus, the clearing of the square reflects a more Western perspective in which the negative or non-Western aspects of Moroccan culture are cleared away to turn Morocco into a civilized outpost of Western Europe. I would argue that the people and things Ben Jelloun mentions, particularly snake charmers and fortunetellers, are not meant to be a realistic description of a Moroccan square. Instead, they are a reference to the exoticizing view of the Westerner. The idea of a dichotomy therefore breaks down as the East becomes simply an idea created by the West. The scene of the square reflects Western ideas about colonization. The justification for Frances imperial ambitions generally included a reference to the civilizing mission of the colonizers. The idea behind this concept is that Western states should share their superior culture with the primitive people they colonized. Ben Jelloun thwarts this concept by suggesting in this scene that Westerners are trying to eradicate their own fantasy of the otherness of the Easterners. We can also see the breakdown of the Eastern vs. Western dichotomy in relation to the new musical fountain. Beethovens Fifth Symphony, the song that the fountain plays, is a strong symbol of the traditions of Western Europe. However, the piece has particular significance as concerns the meeting of these two cultures since
46 it was played at the beginning of Free French radio broadcasts during the Second World War. The piece was chosen because its first four notes are Morse code for V for victory. Ben Jelloun could be using this symbol from the Second World War to equate the struggle for Moroccan independence with a war against fascism, racism and oppression, a comparison that was often made at the time. This comparison seems particularly relevant because World War II and the subsequent conversation about self-determination of states led many colonies toquestion their situation of subordination to outside rule. One of the most important aspects of this cleaning up is its impact on the story of Ahmed. The narrator unexpectedly adds that le conteur [meurt] de tristesse[the storyteller dies of sorrow] after the square is cleared and that [q]uant au manuscrit, il [brle] avec les habits du vieux conteur[as for the manuscript, it is burned along with the old storytellers clothing] (136). Consequently, the story plunges into even more uncertainty as the storyteller and his manuscript disappear, though they later return to add to the confusion. While the veracity of the manuscript has already been challenged by an audience member claiming to be Ahmeds brother-in-law, the shock of losing the initial source of the story is very strong, since even if the storytellers tale was not completely accurate, we were certain that this was his version. At this point, it seems as though the story cannot entirely belong to any one person since parts of it have been told and retold by others. This twist in the story ultimately indicates that there is no figure of authority to trust or to follow; it is up to the individual listener to claim authority and narrate the story in their own fashion.
47 In a further destructionof the dichotomies Ben Jelloun sets up, the homogeneity implied by saying that all of the audience members that remain are old breaks down when their diverse backgrounds become known. Salem is described as un Noir, fils dun esclave ramen du Sngal parun riche ngociant au dbut du sicle[a Black man, son of a slave brought back from Senegal by a rich businessman at the beginning of the century] (136). Amar, meanwhile, is an Arab and a father who is not interested in religion but does worry about thehypocritical nature of their society. Finally, Fatouma is peut-tre lunique vieille femme sans progniture [maybe the only old woman without offspring] (161). These vast differences in background demonstrate how the simplification of these characters into the category of older people ignores other distinctions such as ethnicity, gender, and class. Individuality The fragmentation of Ahmeds story at the end of the novel demonstrates the importance of individuality in storytelling. With the disappearance of the official storyteller, the audience changes from a large, indiscriminate mass of listeners to a few named individuals: Salem, Amar, and Fatouma. As we have seen, each one has a distinct background, and their very different personalities come through in their stories that are respectively violent, contemplative, and sociallyconscious. Notably, none of these stories is portrayed as the correct story. Of course, each storyteller presents his tale as the true version. In his version, Salem tries to establish himself as a discerning, careful researcher who puts together the story by saying [o]n dit
48 mme que Mais l, je ne le crois pas[some people say But I dont believe it] (138). This phrasing is intended to inspire the listener with confidence since we learn from it that Salem does not believe just anything that people say. He also adds at the end of his story, je ne voulais pas vous raconter la fin. Mais, quand je lai apprise, jtais tellement boulevers que je cherchais partout quelquun qui la transmettre[I didnt want to tell you the ending. But when I learned it, I was so overcome that I looked everywherefor someone to tell it to] (144). This statement further suggests that he received the story from someone else and did not create it himself. The other two people, however, can question the veracity of the other stories, as when Amar objects to Salems story and remarks, Je suis sr que tu as tout invent[Im sure you made it all up] (144). Clearly, the characters do not feel compelled to accept each others stories. The listeners ability to reject another storytellers version indicates a certain degree of freedom and autonomy. No one compels them to accept a single version of the truth, so they may interpret, analyze, and determine the truth however they desire. This kind of contradiction is most evident while the storyteller still maintains most of the control over his story, but an audience member claims that he has the real copy of Ahmeds journal and that the storyteller is only reading an old copy of the Koran (70). Outright contradictions like this one shake the readers previously unquestioning belief in the storyteller and highlight how each individual interprets, invents, and creates a story to suit his needs and desires.The novel therefore teaches us to be wary of the storytellers claims to truth.
49 This freedom to choose and interpret mirrors Ahmed/Zahras reconquest because each person has the autonomy to make their own decisions and reach an ending that best suits them. In short, the act of storytelling becomes a form of selfexpression; the storytellers are free from the oppression of an insistence on a single, universal truth. Odile Cazenave describes the effect of this freedom saying that the reader may feel overwhelmed with the many directions offered by the narrative; She further suggests that the reader possesses a magic Rubic [sic] cube with which he can play endlessly (448). I find this description particularly valid because it approaches the difficulty of multiple versions playfully. These contradictions are not like the mens contradiction of the womens story of the mule in Crmonie; no one feels threatened or invalidated by another persons story since the stories are simply individual expressions; there are no groups teaming up against groups to prepare for battle. The storys power to unite these diverse audience-members-turnedstorytellers seems to be more than an indication of the quality of the storytelling in this case. Since the tale continues inthe hands of amateurs, Ben Jelloun suggests that much of the power comes from this particular story of Ahmed/Zahra. Indeed, whenever the narrator is a storyteller by profession (like the first storyteller and the Argentinean), a large crowd gathers to hear the story, suggesting that skill merely heightens the interest of an intrinsically fascinating story. This particular storys power seems to come from the way each listener appears to see himself in Ahmed/Zahra, whether the female or male incarnation of the character. The adaptability of the Ahmed/Zahra character to any variety of situations and lives as
50 imagined by the various storytellers is significant because it allows each person to express individual concerns in a format or story that everyone wantsto hear. For example, Salems story in which Zahra is kept in a cage and treated horribly evokes images of slavery and imprisonment; this interpretation of the story seems appropriate for Salem, therefore, because it brings to the forefront issues that he may find important to discuss and examine. Fatoumas story likewise reflects her own difficulties, namely the place of an educated woman in a patriarchal society. Her story is also interesting because she is the only female character who narrates the story. Furthermore, she is the only one to adopt Ahmed/Zahras identity as her own, claiming that the storytellers tale is an interpretation of her own life since she is a well-educated woman who sometimes passes as a man to get more respect and freedom. Herdecision to identify with the story, or rather the refusal of any male narrator to do the same, further demonstrates how women have something to gain by disguising themselves as men, while men only lose power and prestige by enacting female gender roles. What unites all of these stories and allows them to coexist in the readers consciousness is their focus on reconquest. For Salem, this reconquest takes the form of a murder-suicide in which Zahra, who has already rejected her fathers definitions of herself, further rejects the circus-masters control over her body by making his lust for her the direct cause of his death. She accomplishes this feat by placing razor blades wrapped in a rag between her buttocks when she suspects that he is about to assaulther; Abbas bleeds to death from the resulting wound, but not before strangling Zahra. For Amar, Ahmed achieves a reconquest of his being by
51 returning to solitude and coming to terms with the things he has done and been in his life as a sort of double person. Fatouma, as previously mentioned, achieves reconquest by adopting Ahmed/Zahras story as her own to gain agency, since dressing as a man opens many possibilities for her. In all three versions, the important point is that Ahmed/Zahra rejects any imposition of identity, opting to decide on his/her own terms what his/her future will be. Religion In both La Prire de la peur and Crmonie religious extremism becomes an important issue in the lives of the characters. In LEnfant de sable, Ben Jelloun makes no direct references to Islamic extremism; however, in the scene of Ahmeds circumcision, religion does become important. While the circumcision is not a true circumcision because Ahmeds father cuts his finger in order to draw the blood that will convince the guests that a circumcision has taken place, it nonetheless is significant as a way to understand the role of Islam in Ahmeds gender change. The importance of circumcision in convincing everyone that the child is a boy calls attention to the ways Islam is responsible for or makes necessary this ruse. Ahmeds uncles desperately hope that the child is a girl because under Islamic law, they will inherit their brothers wealth if he has no male heir. Thus, Islam is the indirect reason that Ahmeds father feels that it is necessary to force his child to be a boy. This circumcision scene also establishes connections between the father and colonial forces by demonstrating how a powerful figure can manipulate and control someone under his power. Ahmeds father becomes a representation of the paternalistic colonizing forces because he tries to control every aspect of his childs
52 life for his own purposes and without reference to the negative impact his actions will have on his child. With this circumcision scene, Ben Jelloun means to highlight how colonizers are not the only ones who wish to force a certain identity on the Moroccan people. For if we read Ahmeds father as a sort of paternalistic colonizer who dictates the acts of his subordinates and children,we can easily forget his position as a member of Moroccan society. Ben Jelloun stresses the fathers Moroccan identity from the very beginning, as when he states that in the birth announcement, Ahmeds father includes the line Vive Ahmed! Vive le Maroc! [Long live Ahmed! Long live Morocco!] (30). For one, this links Ahmed and his struggles to the independence movement of Morocco; furthermore, his father, as the writer of these lines, is also tied to Morocco. Consequently, the struggle between Ahmed and his father can also be viewed as an internal struggle between two Moroccans. Thus, Ben Jelloun shows that the struggle to be an independent individual is not entirely an external struggle between colonizer and colonized, but an internal one as well involving people who might wish to play a controlling role similar to that of the colonizers. Ben Jellouns perspective on Islam seems in fact to tend towards the other extreme of the scale, which is to say it doubts or questions Islamic practices. Particularly in the chapters containing the stories of Salem, Amar, and Fatouma, a certain distance emerges between the characters and true belief. For instance, Amar states that after listening to Salems story he goes to a mosque non pour prier, mais pour essayer de comprendre ce qui nous arrive[not to pray, but to try to understand what is happening to us] (146). He adds, furthermore, la religion ne
53 mintresse pas vraiment[religion doesnt really interest me] (146). These remarks suggest that Amar leans towards the opposite end of the spectrum of religious fervor,expressing lack of interest in Islam or any religion rather than strict enforcement of religious law. Fatoumaexpresses a similar lack of interest when she describes how she traveled to Mecca plus par curiosit que par foi[more out of curiosity than faith] (164). We therefore have two very sympathetic characters in the novel who do not adhere strictly to religion. In fact, Ben Jelloun critiques Islam particularly as regards the treatment of women on several occasions, beginning with the circumcision scene in which Ahmeds femininity is in some ways removed or at least concealed by his father. The critique continues and is particularly noticeable in the blind troubadour chapter. In this chapter, Zahra spots a Koran and says, Il y a dans ce Livre des versets qui ont fonction de loi; ils ne donnent pas raison la femme[In this book are verses with the force of law but that dont encompass the womans point of view] (Ben Jelloun 180; Sheridan 141). In the mouth of a character who has experienced both sides of the gender divide and the way Islam treats both sexes, this statement is a harsh criticism of the inequality suffered by women. Amar gives a similar critique in his version in which Ahmed says, on ma appris agir et penser comme un tre naturellement suprieur la femme. Tout me le permettait: la religion, le texte coranique, la socit, la tradition, la famille, le pays et moi-mme[I was taught to act and think as though I were naturally superior towomen. Everything let me do it: religion, the Koran, society, tradition, the family, the country and me] (152). This
54 statement speaks to the unequal place of women in Moroccan society, but more specifically to the way religion can be used to sanction such inequality. In addition to examining problems faced by women, Ben Jelloun examines the effects of marginalization on an individual. His treatment of the consequences of isolation or marginalization offers some interesting comparisons to the similar concerns raised in Crmonie In Crmonie, isolation leads to religious radicalization. Ahmed, in response to the isolation caused by his unique and secret situation, takes a completely different route from the extremist Moulay.Rather than embracing a radical form of Islam as the cure for isolation, Ahmed begins to question the religion of his family. Many times, this questioning takes the form of small rebellions or distortions of Islam. For example, young Ahmed says that: La lecture collective du Coran me[donne] le vertige. Je[fausse] compagnie la collectivit et [psalmodie]nimportequoi. Je [trouve] un grand plaisir djouer cette ferveur. Je [maltraite]le texte sacr. Mon pre ne [fait] pas attention. Limportant, pour lui, [cest] ma prsence parmi tous les hommes.[The collective reading of the Koran [makes me] dizzy. I [break] from the group and [intone] anything that [comes] into my head. I [enjoy] thwarting all that fervor. I [mistreat] the sacred text. My father [pays] no attention to me. For him, the important thing [is] my presence among the men] (38). This heretical statement indicates that Ahmed enjoys subverting the religion which guides his family, particularly his father, and which connects Ahmed to the world of men. Once again, therefore, Ben Jelloun links Ahmeds masculinity (or rather his lack
55 of femininity) to Islam. Now, however, Ahmed is old enough to flout the laws that confine him to a single, masculine identity in order to embrace an identity that surpasses the gender binary. In this passage, Ahmeds distortion of Islam seems to have little to do with the religion itselfhe is not pointing out a specific doctrine that bothers himand more of a matter of rejecting authority. The Rejection of Realism Ioana Rosenburg employs the term anti-realisme[anti-realism] to describe Ben Jellouns oeuvre and its departure from entirely realist descriptions. In LEnfant de sable Ben Jellouns anti-realism consists mainly of magical descriptions such as the storytellers claim that the words of Ahmeds journal were erased by the moon. Rosenburg notes that [le] refus du ralismedans luvre de [Ben Jelloun] a t justifi par la rsistance aux pratiques discursives et littraires du colonisateur[the rejection of realism in the works of [Ben Jelloun] has been justified by the resistance to the discursive and literary practices of the colonizer](167). The rejection of a single truth exemplifies the post-colonial struggle to reject the single truth imposed by the colonizers, for example the colonizers beliefin Western superiority. When considering the novels tendency to wander away from perfectly realistic descriptions, we must examine the influence of Jorge Luis Borges. In the seventeenth chapter, entitled Le troubadour aveugle[the blind troubadour] (171), Zahra meets a character who closely resembles the real-life Borges both in physical appearance (he is tall, blind, thin, wears dark glasses and a dark suit, and does not carry a cane) and in the things he says (for instance, that he amuses himself by
56 falsifying and distorting other peoples stories) (Fayad 292). Borges, like Ben Jelloun, is an author whose works push the limits of realism. How to categorize Borges writing, however, remains a matter of debate. Magical realism is a genre in which magical details or events are accepted as natural by the characters and the narrator when they appear in a narrative that otherwise adheres to the rules of reality. Angel Flores 1955 essay Magical Realism in Spanish America is one of the first works of criticism that applies the term magical realism to Spanish American literature, and he cites Borges as one of the most important magical realist authors (188). Borges himself, however, would probably have disputed this title. Seymour Menton points out that inhis epilogue to the 1949 edition of El Aleph a collection of short stories, Borges claims that his stories belong to the genre of the fantastic (411). Menton questions this claim, linking Borges more to the movement of magical realism than to the genre of the fantastic. Part of the confusion surrounding these classifications comes from the lack of clear distinctions between different styles. Seminal works such as Tzevetan Todorovs Introduction la littrature fantastiquefail to take magical realism into account in their definitions, leading to some overlap in the way people define such genres as the fantastic, the marvelous, and magical realism (Menton 411). Stephen Slemon states that magical realism never successfully differentiated between itself and neighbouring genres such as fabulation, metafiction, the baroque, the fantastic, the uncanny, or the marvellous (9). What is significant, however, is not the exact definitions of each of these genres, but the similarities of anti-realism between the works of Ben Jelloun and Borges that indicate a link between these two non-
57 European writers. Furthermore, because Borges can be seen as a predecessor of magical realist literature, if not a practitioner of it himself, the established connection between magical realism and post-colonialism becomes an important reason for Ben Jelloun to reference Borges. Magicalrealism in literature is directly linked with post-colonial thought and non-European cultures and characterized by certain elements of anti-realism or the improbable. Slemon suggests that magical realism contains within it a concept of resistance to the massive imperial centre and its totalizing systems (10). As a literary style, it seems to appear mostly on the fringes of mainstream literary tradition and it furthermore seems to appear in post-colonial contexts outside of Latin America (10). Thus, Ben Jellouns decision to include elements of improbability or anti-realism reflects the novels concern with the post-colonial struggle, and the allusion to Borges connects the situation of Morocco to that of the larger community of former colonies. In short, LEnfant de sable is a novel about individual autonomy and personality gaining strength despite oppression, and storytelling is an integral part of establishing individuality. The novel is similar to the other two novels examined insofar as it highlights the role of storytelling in building a society, though Ben Jelloun stresses that his is a society of individuals, notof groups. Unlike the other novels, this novel presents several variations on the original story which, while contradictory, do not need to be resolved into one greater truth because they are representations of individual expressions rather than competingversions of a single historical truth.
58 Conclusion This thesis has examined the ways in which storytelling helps build community or individual identity in the works of three North African writers. In these novels, telling stories becomes one of the clearest indications of how successfully people form groups and who is allowed into these groups. In Latifa Ben Mansours novel La Prire de la peur, storytelling unites Hanans family as they cope with tragedy, but the extremist perpetrators of the attack that killed Hanan are not given a voice The novel therefore presents storytelling as a manner of including and excluding people in the formation of a group. Storytelling can, however, indicate a breakdown of group solidarity, as with the women in Yasmine Chami-Kettanis novel Crmonie As the women try to form a unified group to combat the mens contradictory version of events, the discrepancies that appear among their own stories indicate their trouble coming tougher. In Tahar Ben Jellouns LEnfant de sable storytelling becomes a means to express individuality and variation without causing excessive friction between storytellers. Many dissimilar characters obtain the opportunity to tell their tales, even their contradictory tales, thereby demonstrating the ideal of a diverse but peaceful group. Thus, the community, competing, and coexisting stories in these novels demonstrate how storytelling serves to establish individual and group identity, and how it can indicate tension within a group. These novels raise significant issues beyond the question of the role of storytelling in identity formation. Both La Prire de la peur and LEnfant de sable for instance, question the differences between written and oral stories through the
59 presence of a written text. The written texts in both cases are journals of isolated individuals. It appears in both novels that the characters turn to writing in the absence of a confident or friend, and thus writing becomes marked by solitude and loneliness. Oral stories, on the other hand, require an audience and indicate a certain degree of social integration of the storyteller. This comparison becomes more complicated, however, when considering the tradition of oral storytelling in contrast to the Western tradition of written literary texts. As novels, these texts conform to more Western standards of literature, but they attempt to recreate the storytelling experience by drawing attention to the interactions between storytellers and their audience. These novels are also notable for the importance they give to women and womens issues. Not only do these novels center around female-bodied characters, they also center around the search for empowerment. This focus on womens role reflects the changing place of women in North Africa, a change that is apparent in light of the fact that two of the novelists I examine are educated women who have been able to publish novels successfully. Furthermore, Ben Jellouns work, which predates the seminal Gender Studies work Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, probes problems raised in the book. Ben Jelloun, for example, questions the gender binary and interrogates the role of socialization in the formation of gender identity through the character of Ahmed/Zahra. While Ben Jelloun writes before the emergence of Gender Studies as a field, he follows in the tradition of such works as Virginia Woolfs Orlando and George Sands Gabriel that also question societal interpretations of gender.
60 The issue of storytelling in these novels has relevance far beyond the boundaries of literary scholarship. To begin with, storytelling is an important tradition in many cultures, and it is particularly important now as a means of preserving tradition and culture. This preservation has become increasingly important with theeffects of globalization and with the domination of the Western worldview in the media and film. Just as the women in Crmonie use stories to counter the mens suppression of their version of the past, storytelling today can be a form of resistance against the Westernization of the colonized world. These novels are particularly important in this quest for preservation because they are descriptions of North African life by North African writers. While this may seem mundane or insignificant, the power to self-describe and self-define is important in a part of the world that has experienced cultural censorship and repression by Western countries. For me, these novels reflect the natural desire to retake control of self-image in order to present to the worlda more accurate or appropriate image of North Africa. The authors, I believe, are all conscious that writing in French not only gains them a larger audience but also gives them the opportunity to present a new image of their native countries to the world. Furthermore, the role of storytelling in these novels suggests that building bonds with stories is a potential method of resolving conflicts. While the characters in La Prire de la peur and Crmonie struggle to resolve their conflicts, the storytellers in LEnfant de sable demonstrate that listening to multiple versions of the story does not have to result in intense arguments or violence. I believe Ben Jellouns novel raises the possibility that storytelling can be way to show a
61 willingness to understand another persons perspective, even if that willingness does not lead to agreement. Unfortunately, the current unrest in North Africa exceeds in many ways the scope of violence depicted in these novels. Nonetheless, I suspect that the healing nature of storytelling as depicted in Latifa Ben Mansours novel will continue to appear in the literature coming out of this region. Thus, while storytelling is certainly too little, too late in terms of the current problems faced by countries coming out of the Arab Spring, it has the potential to help in the recovery process as nations try to rebuild and redefine themselves for a new age.
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64 Samzun, Marie-Batrice. Crmonie de Yasmine Chami-Kettani, ou lmergence dune parole solennelle. ExpressionsMaghrbines 8.1 (2009): 39-49. Web. 28 Dec. 2012. Saunders, Rebecca. "Decolonizing the Body: Gender, Nation, and Narration in Tahar Ben Jelloun's L'Enfant de sable ." Research in African Literatures 37.4 (2006): 136-60. JSTOR Web. 16 June 2012. Slemon, Stephen. "Magic realism as postcolonial discourse." Canadian literature 116.1 (1988): 9-24. Web. 27 March 2013.
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