In the world today, people like to believe that they have evolved into societies of equality, justice, and fairness. Yet around the world there are many ‘modern’ societies that still treat women as second-class citizens. This is clearly evident in the novel Princess, the story of women in Saudi Arabia, introduced through the life of a Saudi Arabian Princess. Jean Sasson was asked by Princess Sultana to use her life to exhibit to the Western World how primitive customs still determine women’s roles in the Saudi society. In Princess, Sasson argues that lack of change in Saudi Arabian society is the cause of men’s mistreatment of women through her repetition and severe imagery.
Throughout the novel, Sasson continually uses multiple synonyms of the term ‘public’ to emphasize the idea that society is the ruling force of the country. As various situations are described, Sasson uses several forms of this term for Sultana’s reactions, which emphasizes the importance of public input in Saudi life. The first appearance of this term is shown as Sultana talks about the beating of local wife and the response it receives. She says, “it is never the fault of the man in the Middle East…public congratulations are given from the man of the region for the fathers “notable” act of upholding the commands of the Prophet” (Sasson 46). Sasson uses the term “public” to show the reader that acts like this are socially acceptable.
By focusing on this term, Sasson shows the reader how universal and unrestricted mistreatment towards women is. The word ‘upholding’ makes this oppression seem as though it is a recognized and encouraged practice that women have very little chance of avoiding because of society’s approval. Sasson shows that women must learn and keep their place in society because the public will always find women at fault, and defend the men. Sasson demonstrates how Saudi men are certainly the prominent sex in Saudi Arabia, but it is the public that gives them their power by allowing and even supporting their behaviors.
Sasson then looks at a synonym of ‘public’, ‘social order’, to demonstrate the idea of ‘us versus them’, with ‘us’ being Saudi women and ‘them’ being the society at large. As Sultana begins to understand that she will be forced to fight for equality, the idea that the public will keep her in her place surfaces. She says, “I had no doubt that my life as a woman would be a perpetual struggle against the social order of my land” (Sasson 64).
By changing the idea of ‘public’ to ‘social order’, Sasson creates this sense of a group that is in charge of the Saudi Arabian world. By incorporating ‘order’ into society, it makes reader feel as though there is a specific structure or classification that everyone in Saudi society must follow. It shows the reader that there are rules, though they may be harsh or unfair, that must be followed to maintain the integrity and sustainability of Saudi Arabia. By using the word ‘perpetual’, Sasson focuses on the idea that women will always have to battle against the system that gives men their power to keep women repressed. Throughout Princess, Sasson shows the reader how society is a dominating force and that it would first have to change before any other change comes about.
To further broaden her idea of the Saudi Arabian public, Sasson uses the word ‘culture’ so that the reader gains an idea of how much influence the public has over its people. Very early in the novel, Sultana reflects on the history of her country and how it differs from many other sophisticated countries throughout the world. She says, “From my reading, I know most civilized successors of early cultures smile at the primitive ignorance of their ancestors” (Sasson 5). Sasson makes a jab at Saudi society, making them appear to be uncivilized and primitive. Rather than moving beyond the ignorance of past cultures, she represents Saudis embracing the old, obsolete, and nascent ideas.
By including that cultures today ‘smile’ at the past, Sasson makes it seem like other countries in the modern world are amused by how old-fashioned Saudi Arabia still is. Again she points out to the reader that it is the Saudi public that instills men’s basis for their interactions with women. Sasson insets this observation very early in the novel in order to distill the idea that while most civilized countries have progressed beyond how their ancestors lived, Saudi Arabia is still living the way they always have, with men in total control. Sasson also continually uses the term ‘tradition’ to emphasize the continuation of customs in Saudi society. As Sasson looks into the life of her main character, she continually uses this term negatively to emphasize how it is the fault of these traditions that causes the unhappiness of Saudi women.
She muses, “I was beginning to entertain the notion that some women might be happy in my land, in spite of traditions that do not belong in a civilized society” (124). Sasson uses tradition in an unorthodox way by making the readers see it as something damaging. Tradition in this case is not a happy family custom or religious ritual, rather it is an unfortunate habit of society that causes the discontent of Saudi women.
Sasson also uses the idea that these traditions keep Saudi Arabia from becoming a civilized nation. She makes it appear that their civilization continues to exist in a world without advancement, education, or refinement. In order for women to achieve a level of happiness in their homeland, the customs and ideas must first change. Sasson includes this reflection to show the reader that by maintaining the same traditions for centuries, it is hindering women’s progress and allowing the continuance of a male dominated society.
Another instance of this use of ‘tradition’ occurs when Sasson describes the process Sultana has to endure before her wedding. Even on what is supposed to be the happiest day of a woman’s life, Sultana still has to fight against the traditions of her society; “Muslims are equipped with hot water and soap…we no longer had to use dirt for such purposes. I loudly pronounced that if the Prophet could speak in this new age of modern amenities, I knew he would end such silly traditions” (Sasson 128). Sasson again incases the idea of tradition with something primitive.
She makes them seem barbaric and crude, rather than modern. Her usage of Saudi Arabia’s holy man and the idea that even he would oppose the current practices emphasizes that they are archaic and unsophisticated. By referring to the traditions as ‘silly’, Sasson appears to be laughing at them, showing they are subject to mockery. She points out to the reader that regardless of how long a tradition may have been enacted in society, some need to be disbanded for the benefit and improvement of its people. Sasson inserts this outburst by Sultana to show the reader how ridiculous she finds the traditions of the land, and that even their highest religious leader would feel the same were he alive. As always, primitive customs determine women’s roles in Saudi society.
Sasson uses imagery to further explain the idea that the people of Saudi Arabia are fixed as a society and there is little effort to change. These images are used to convey a picture as to how Saudi society is unchanging in its ways. Sasson shows the idle nature of Saudi society as she describes her reaction to arranged marriages; “This one issue alone proved that we Saudis were like uninspired mules; we trod the same weary track as the mules before is even if it led us to plunge off a cliff” (Sasson 128). As she describes this scene, the reader can see the repetitiveness and monotony that keeps any sort of change from reaching the women in Saudi Arabia.
Describing people as ‘mules’ helps the reader to visualize the idea that Saudi people have no choice in what they do; it shows that their paths are simple and obstinate. Referencing an animal also makes the Saudi people seems like a less developed race. The uses of ‘trod’ and ‘weary’ show the reader how indifferent and oppressed Saudi women are within their society. She adds the phrase ‘plunge off a cliff’ so the reader can clearly see the detrimental effects of having a fixed path. This imagery allows the readers to see the people of Saudi Arabia trudging one behind another with no hope but to fall into the void their society has created. Sasson shows the reader that Saudi society seems comfortable in its ways and is unwilling to change.
Another instance of this imagery occurs when Sasson describes Sultana’s life with her husband. As a married woman, Sultana has to follow both how society expects her to live, as well as her husband; “Our lives were fixed on a carefully charted course” (Sasson 154). This imagery allows the reader to see that it is not just the women who are expected to live a certain way, but the men as well. Sasson uses ‘carefully’ to make it seem as though someone sat and attentively determined the best way for couples to live. A ‘charted course’ helps the reader to see that couples have a blueprint for their life together; it’s as though they are on a voyage that is steering them in the proper direction. Society has established a specific way for its people to live, and they are expected to stay within the customary confinements. Again, Sasson instills this idea that Sultana is stuck, unable to move toward progress for women, emphasizing that she can do nothing but follow those before her.
Sasson further uses imagery to show the consequences of falling out of the line society has created. When a friend of Sultana tries to fight against the rules that oppress her, society is there to keep her in her place; “A woman who had embodied the life and hope of our land, a women now living in utter blackness, without sight or sound to sustain her life” (Sasson 194). Sasson uses the term ‘blackness’ to illustrate that the girl was isolated and her life was in ruin.
The ending clause allows the reader to visualize the complete solitude that this woman endured because she tried to change the set outcome of her life. From the ending clause, the reader can sense the hope this woman had and the desolation created from it. Sasson’s use of ‘embodied’ makes it seen that a single girl is holding the hope for a better life for women, yet that hope is being erased. By embodying life and hope, it indicates to the reader how important one woman’s actions can be for so many others. Society is determined to stamp out all of the women that do not follow the roles that have been assigned to them. Sasson demonstrates for the reader how women see hope for social change while men feel the danger of any change in a society that differs from the way it has always been.
Through the novel, Sasson exposes the causes of mistreatment brought upon Saudi Arabian women in the form of cultural immobility. Her language in the text demonstrates how years of societal reinforcement has led to Saudi men’s rationality for treating women as a lower class of people. Sasson uses synonyms of the term ‘public’ throughout the text to remind the reader that this term is an underlying cause of women’s mistreatment. The usage of the term ‘tradition’ with a negative connotation helps the reader to understand that practices of the past are not always practical in present day and can deter social progress. She uses severe imagery to display the mindlessness of blindly following past generations. Sasson uses these tools to express that men’s oppression of women is due to the stagnant nature of Saudi society. Works Cited
Sasson, Jean. Princess. Marietta, GA: Windsor-Brook Books, LLC: 2001. Print.