Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist Essay

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¶ … Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist" as a work of Palestinian Fiction

Emile Habiby's 1974 book "The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist" puts across an account involving both tragic and comic elements, making it possible for readers to have a better understanding of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the influence that they have on individuals. Just as Saeed, the central character in this novel finds it difficult to discover his cultural identity in an environment dominated by controversies, it initially seems difficult to determine whether the writing is meant to be a work of Israeli or Palestinian fiction. Even with that, considering the protagonist's condition and the fact that he went through great efforts in order to express his Palestinian beliefs in a setting where Israelis dominated the political scene, it is only safe to assume that the work is essentially Palestinian in character.

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Habiby's novel concentrates on presenting readers with the way that Palestinians felt in regard to the fact that they were left without their lands. It appears that the writer wants to emphasize the fact that one of the only things that one can do in such conditions is to use humor as a weapon. The fact that the book starts by depicting supernatural events is not as shocking as the exile of Palestinians from their territory, but it succeeds in having readers understand the gravity of the situation and acknowledge that this is no laughing matter.

Essay on Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist Assignment

Whereas the writer puts across elements belonging both to the Israeli and the Palestinian culture, the character of Saeed appears to be focused on simply being human. The protagonist struggles to find a cultural identity that would benefit him, but fails in doing so. Not only does he fail to be a Palestinian freedom fighter and a puppet controlled by the Israeli government, as he also fails in life in general. Habiby refrains from putting across an account filled with cliches regarding Palestinians and Israeli individuals in order to express his personal viewpoint concerning people who are in a similar condition to the protagonist. It appears that the writer wants to highlight the fact that it is impossible for a Palestinian hero to exist in present day Israel. One can reach the conclusion that it is more important to try to be human than to try to identify with a particular ethnic group.

"The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist" is a piece of Arabic literature that differentiates itself from mainstream texts written by Arab individuals. While most novels produced by the Arab world present a hero as he goes through several stages when he needs to prove himself, Habiby's manuscript goes against the general trend and puts across a comedic story where the protagonist fails in most activities that he gets involved in. One might actually be inclined to consider that the humor that Habiby uses throughout the novel is the result of his life experiences, as "literary irony allowed Habiby to comment on the larger irony in which he lived: he was born in a country, under foreign (British) rule, in which Arabs were a majority, and halfway through his life and without ever having moved, he became a member of a minority in a state that, in its early years, did not acknowledge the existence of Palestinian identity" (O'Neil 531).

Saeed's hilarious adventures are generally meant to criticize the injustices of a system that made it impossible for an individual to follow his or her dreams as long as the respective person did not fit in the group controlling the system. The novel is basically a bittersweet story that perfectly succeeds in depicting the life of Arab individuals in the state of Israel. The central character shares his experiences with the novel's readers as he wakes up in a country that is no longer his and that holds people who are generally unwilling to support individuals like him.

The word pessoptimist is likely to refer to a wider Palestinian public, especially considering the feelings experienced by Palestinians throughout the second half of the twentieth century. "Diaspora Palestinians since 1948 have had no identity or a state to provide them legitimacy or shield them effectively from harm or difficulty. Except for those in Jordan, they carry identity cards issued by host governments that identify them as refugees" (Farsoun, and Zacharia 161). These people were confused regarding their cultural identity as a result of the fact that the international public expressed lack of support regarding their cause. The Israeli state was reluctant to acknowledge their existence as a state and in spite of this they were categorized as a minority in this country. It is practically impossible for someone to ignore the irony related to this concept.

Saeed experiences appear to be caused by factors that are not necessarily related to an ethnic group, given that the man is simply unlucky. Irony and humor as a whole are the elements that make it difficult for people to understand the general context of the novel. Whereas the protagonist is Arab and puts across thinking favoring Palestinian concepts, he gradually expresses lesser and lesser interest in serving a particular ethnic group as he realizes that he simply needs to improve his condition. Given that some consider that "laughter particularly from a sense of irony, has become an illegitimate or untenable response to the problems of the Arab world" (Khater, XXIV), it seems that the novel is not Palestinian in character. One can be inclined to consider that the novel has been written by using multicultural concepts as the author was influenced by Palestinian ideas and by Israeli beliefs. Habiby successfully managed to extract humor from situations that influenced other people in writing accounts filled with despair and pessimism.

While some can consider that Habiby's work is less passionate in comparison to the works of other Arab writers who wrote in regard to the Palestinian exile, others are likely to understand that Habiby overcame the moment when he felt infuriated and simply accepted his fate and the fate of his people at the time when he wrote the novel. It is not that the writer is unable to understand the complexity of Palestinian-Israeli affairs, as he simply wants to ignore it through employing irony as a means to have his readers understand that conditions are critical. It is very probable that Habiby believed that there was nothing more that a person could do in order to save the Palestinian state and thus resorted to using irony with the purpose of raising people's awareness concerning the gravity of the problem. The writer does not refrain from relating to how the condition of Palestinians is critical, but his perspective concerning the matter is concentrated on presenting people with humor because he knows that this is one of the only tools that Palestinians have been left with, as the international public appears to share less and less interest in the bleak nature of Palestinian-Israeli relations (Khater, XXIV).

Irony is a very complex concept in this novel, especially considering that it advanced greatly in the twentieth century and Habiby came to appreciate its ability to depict dark concepts. The writer practically came to use it with the purpose of putting across his perspective. Although there are a series of elements that point toward the belief that this novel is not Palestinian in character, the writer was, in fact, focused on putting across a Palestinian account and used modern techniques in order to underline Saeed's suffering.

Many are probable to consider that Saeed's attempt to collaborate with the Israeli government made him less Palestinian. However, this is not true, as he was simply a Palestinian individual who struggled to survive in an environment that made it impossible for him to follow his ideals. The situation is ironic as Saeed is shown as he tries to act against his principles because his life experiences coerce him in doing so. The Israeli state seems to be unwilling to accept Palestinians, even when they express particular support regarding the state of Israel.

Confusion dominates most of the book and it is very probable that the writer intended to have his readers go through great trouble in order to understand its meaning. Palestinian identity is glorified at some moments in the novel and trampled on at other moments in the book. It appears that the writer wanted readers to understand that ethnicity is no longer important in desperate times and that an individual is capable of doing everything in his or her power in order to survive, even if this means that he or she needs to deny his background.

Habiby intended to have readers actively involved in understanding Saeed and thus resorted to using confusing elements throughout the novel, leaving readers unable to make connections between particular elements and having them employ complex thinking in interpreting various passages in the book. The Palestinian condition itself is confusing, considering that Palestinians are "stateless refugees in the very place of their… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist.  (2012, January 11).  Retrieved March 3, 2021, from

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"Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist."  11 January 2012.  Web.  3 March 2021. <>.

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"Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist."  January 11, 2012.  Accessed March 3, 2021.