Father Figures Arabian Asian Literature Essay

Pages: 7 (3208 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] He would never give up his morals, no matter how pressing the issue. Nabil is obviously irked by his father's righteousness, but even he cannot deny the fact that his father, in his irksome ways, is beyond respectable. The reader by now learns that the father plays the role of an adviser, prophesying the looming outcome.

The story progresses when the protagonist and his friend set out to do what they had deemed ever so necessary. They face their fears, or mask their fears at least, and in spite of getting cold feet, carry on. Upon finding the targeted grave, the comrades start the heavy manual work of excavation. This is followed by a momentary clash of interest as to who would be audacious enough to lower their hand into the pit and feel around for the presence of a credible corpse. And the unexpected climax ensues when Suhail, being leaner than Nabil, pries the hole dug out in the grave, and erupts in blood curdling screams upon touching what he believes were the corpse's eyes. The thin ice of Suhail's composure cracks, and despite Nabil's efforts to calm him down, he flees the scene.

Consequently, Suhail resorts to narrating his spooky account to anyone and everyone. This continues until people start believing he is stark raving mad and he is expelled. Nabil on the other hand, drops his idea of becoming a medical practitioner altogether and instead switches to studying law. Once again, the reaction of Nabil's father serves as the moral of the story when Nabil narrates, "My father on the other hand, praised God at length, and observed to my sister that the thieves had received their due reward from the grave and the dead man. Thus he came to believe that the grave which we had desecrated was that of a saint and took to visiting it every dawn to receive blessing from its earth and sand and pray beside it." (Kanafani, 430).

The above account shows that his father was not only a devout man, but a strong believer of the adage 'what goes around comes around.' He was not the least bit sympathetic towards his son's ordeal and genuinely credited fate for realizing his prophesy.

In the end, many years later, the graveyard is revealed to be nothing but a "kind of wasteland belonging to a Turkish peasant who, during the periods of famine, had taken the trouble to construct earthen graves which were actually no more than covers for small storage spaces where he kept wheat and flour to avoid its being stolen or confiscated" (Kanafani, 431). This is not meant to make Nabil or the reader regret not having gone through with the original endeavor. It is instead more a last laugh that Nabil's father gets to have, thereby proving that he really did know best.

In this extremely fascinating story, the father figure is presented as someone who is all knowing. The father is a pious man, who believes in destiny to the extent that he can rebuke his own son to teach him a worthy lesson. He does not let his fatherly concern make him shirk away his duties of being a disciplinarian and a teacher, more so than anything else. We can interpret Kanafani's sense of father figures as strong and unbreakable characters, who ultimately get to deserve saying 'I told you so.' His sense of what his right is admirable in its intention as well as execution.

Of course every person is not the same, and understandably, every father figure is not the same either. Although the intentions of a father may resonate, the execution can be incredibly diverse. This is proven by another case in point of Asian literature, where we meet a peculiar father, Mr. Bhowmick, who tries to juggle his family life, his fatherly duties, his religious convictions and his sense of perpetual culture shock. Bharati Mukherjee's "A Father" is a controversial short story that raises many questions with just a few words. It is the story of a man's perception towards the life he chose for himself. A citizen of Detroit, and a native of Ranchi, he is perplexed when trying to stay true to his religious and cultural roots. His small family bears the brunt of this confusion every single day.

Deeply immersed in superstition, Mr. Bhowmick is unable to balance the abstract world with the concrete. His balancing act invokes both sympathy and exasperation. He inwardly resents his wife for being the practical "Americanized" woman that she is, and for having dragged him out of his hometown into an alien land with alien customs. Similarly, he is secretly disappointed of his daughter Babli, who although successful, is detached and crude. His life is therefore, a constant struggle to match his reality with his expectations. His belief system in fact, can best be explained by his devotion to the Hindu goddess, Kali, who is the bearer of vengeance upon sinners, and in other words the upholder of karma.

The story evolves when Mr. Bhowmick second guesses his decision to go to work one morning, one account of his neighbor sneezing, which he fervently considers a bad omen. He constantly relates this small and seemingly insignificant event to his goddess, anticipating the absolute worst. As Mukherjee narrates, "Mr. Bhowmick was also a prudent enough man to know that some abiding truth lies bunkered within each wanton Hindu superstition…He had choices to make. He could ignore the sneeze and so challenge the world unseen by men…Or he could admit the smallness of mortals, undo the fate of the universe by starting over, and go back inside the apartment, sit for a second on the sofa, then restart his trip" (Mukherjee, 661).

In a peculiar way, which can be regarded as karma at its best, he comes inside to undo the bad omen, to stumble upon a daunting realization when he hears his daughter vomiting. He draws the conclusion that his daughter is pregnant, which at first seems a ludicrous jump, but later his apprehensions make him quite sure of his initial inference. This shakes his entire being, because for him it is the cause of great disgrace to his family and religion. He weighs all his options, trying to come to terms with the horror of an illegitimate grandchild the whole time. He blames his wife for having wriggled out of their conventional belief system, and bringing such ignominy upon them. Once his discomfort subsides, his primary instinct in dealing with this conflict is to accept his daughter's actions. "Compromise, adaptability, call it what you want. A dozen times a day he made these small tradeoffs between new world reasonableness and old-world beliefs" (Mukherjee, 661).

But this concession is put to the test when, in the climactic episode, Babli is confronted by her mother about her pregnancy and she reveals having chosen in-vitro-fertilization. This proves to be too much for Mr. Bhowmick to bear, and his initial attempts to assuage the altercation, are turned into great anger, as he ends up attacking his daughter violently. The shocking ending portrays that try as he might, Mr. Bhowmick could adapt to only so much. He could look past the humiliation, he could ignore the lack of premonition, but he could not rid of the thought that his new life was unnatural and hence a sin. And sinners, he believed, were meant to be punished. He took the principle of penalty into his own hands and lost all equanimity that he had only barely maintained all this time.

"A Father" is in essence, a tragedy in the simplest form. You cannot help but sympathize with the protagonist for having put up a surreptitious fight against his better judgment for all his life. And at the same time, you cannot help but reprimand him for his tedious myopia. The course of life's events cannot be governed, altered or undone. And Mr. Bhowmick's rigidity proved to be his prime antagonist. He was of course, right in wanting to stick to his roots, but his helplessness had cornered him into exacting his beliefs by lashing out the way he did.

In this example, we see the father figure as a defeated man, but one with an intention similar to the father figures discussed above. It is fair to claim that all these fathers are sources of one's sense of origin. They represent a foundation which can be challenged, broken, disobeyed but not denied. With time, one garners enough wisdom to see, as Ramanujan saw, his father in his own reflection as if finding him in every gesture and every action. With experience, one discovers, as Kanafani did, that a father's morality is an indisputable source of counsel, and even his admonitions conceal a lesson of holding fast to all that is right. With fate, one realizes, as Mukherjee did, that you can only go too far when trying to forget where… [END OF PREVIEW]

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