Hisham Matar presents In the Country of Men as a national allegory. This is done through metaphors, personification, and characters’ relationships. His purposes for writing this novel were political. A national allegory is any attribution of human characteristics to other animals, non-living things, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations or governments1 of a nation or its people. 2 Fredric Jameson, with ideas more suitable for the novel than Aijaz Ahmad, was first to think of national allegory.
3 Jameson states that third-world literature must be a national allegory because of the state of its embattled culture and society. A political dimension is always present from the nature of the third-world as opposed to capitalism in the first-world, which enables their public and government to focus on luxuries rather than survival. Ahmed argues that Jameson fails to recognize other third-world novels with different forms of literature because he only considers English written novels.
4 In times of war when the government controls the public’s lives, third-world writers can only search to write in a national allegory, otherwise, torture would be eminent. Political dimensions are always present from the nature of the third-world. National allegory writing emphasizes the political situation of the government. 5 Hisham Matar wrote In the Country of Men for a political purpose. The book may be fiction, but it seems to be drawn upon by real-life events. Writers then were tortured by the revolutionary committee and imprisoned, similar to Ustath Rashid.
An interview with Matar reads “Because of the fear Gadhafi inspired in the intellectual community, many Libyan writers turned to allegory to make their work opaque to the regime. But Matar’s own writing is more forthright about political experiences — he says that when he decided to set his novel in Libya in the late 1970s, it seemed inauthentic and insincere to not include the extraordinary details of the time”. 6 Writers created allegories so that their ideas on the Libyan regime would not be transparent. Those who were caught were imprisoned.
Books were gathered from bookshops and burned like Baba’s were, therefore representing a national allegory. The fact that Matar grew up in Cairo influences the ending of the novel and other aspects of the storyline. His father was kidnapped from his home in Cairo and taken back to Libya where he was tortured and imprisoned, corresponding with Baba’s capture. His uncle and two cousins were imprisoned as well. When they were finally released, his uncle would ask him if he remembered things they used to do together.
7 The child memories recounted inspired the innocence of having a child narrator to be an allegory of the younger generation of the nation, therefore representing a national allegory for a political purpose. The mother and son represent two generations of the country. Their intimate relationship and care for one another is a metaphor for how the country should care for their people and their people towards it. Both are inferior in society, Mama a woman and Suleiman a child. It seems that the title of the novel demonstrates that they are controlled by the men of society.
They rely on one another to survive when Baba, the superior figure, is gone. Mama and Suleiman are the only functioning relationship from start to end. The mother cares for her son and compensates him if she does something wrong. Suleiman cares for her and watches after her while Baba is away. They can represent hope for a new and better government in Libya to come. Metaphors and imagery of water compare people and society to actions of the sea, exposing the novel as a national allegory. When Ustath Rashid was hung the crowd responded; “Like a wave rising, cheering became louder”.
8 The crowd flowed together in a solid movement, influenced by the revolutionary committee’s actions. Those who associated with writers against the revolution were suspected of treason. If the crowd of the hanging did not cheer, they may be hung next. Suleiman and Mama were not allowed to talk to Kareem’s family when his father was accused. The revolution moved as one and like a wave, gathering others as it moved forward. Suleiman finds a calming peace with the soft waves of the sea. It was the only hope he could find in the revolution. “I held the sea as my target, my paradise…..
Low wavelets curled their white foamy edges across the turquoise face of the water”. 9 He uses the sea to escape from the heat of the day and the pressures of society. The edges are more subtle than the centre. He stays on the edge of society so he can escape the movement of the revolution. The motions of the sea can be unknown and dangerous, similar to the movement of the revolution. Matar uses personification to dehumanize characters. This shows that this novel is a national allegory. Baba becomes an object once the revolutionary committee release him.
His eyes were described as “tomatoes”10 and his movements as “mechanical”. 11 He was nothing but a “figure”12 and a “monster”. 13 Suleiman did not believe the man was his father. This eliminates any human aspects he once had, being consumed by the revolution. The revolutionary committee controls the public by turning their lives into objects. Therefore, personification shows how Matar wrote this as a national allegory. By analyzing metaphors, personification, and characters’ relationships, it is evident that Matar wrote In the Country of Men as a national allegory.
The interview with Matar provides evidence that his intentions behind the novel, personal and political, were to write it as a national allegory. Jameson’s ideas on the nature of third-world text hold for this novel. The objectifying and dehumanization of characters through metaphors and personification develop a meaning for the novel beyond a struggling family, but a national allegory. Bibliography Ahmad, Aijaz, ‘Jameson’s Rhtoric of Otherness and the “National Allegory”’, Social Text, 17 (1987), 3-25.
‘Anthropomorphism’, Wikipedia (13 November 2012) [25 November 2012]. Jameson, Fredric, ‘Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’, Social Text, 15 (1986), 65-88. Krishnan, Madhu. ‘Contemporary Fiction: Booker Prize,’ (Lecture 1 Given on 13 November 2012). Matar, Hisham, In the Country of Men (80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England: Penguin Books Ltd. , 2006). Montagne, Renee, ‘Hisham Matar On The Power Of Libyan Fiction’, NPR (April 28, 2011) , 23 November 2012. ‘National Personification’, Wikipedia (16 November 2012) [25 November 2012].
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