How does the author use literary techniques to enhance her theme in the story ‘Sandpiper’?
“Sandpiper” by Ahdaf Soueif is a story about the narrator, who is a European woman that is recollecting her relationship with her husband and family, which shows the reader her feelings and how the husband has affected her life. The antagonist is the speaker itself as she experiences an internal conflict with herself. The writer uses literary techniques such as metaphor, personification, imagery, repetition, juxtapose and rhetorical questions to help enhance the main theme in the story, which is cultural difference. The author also describes her relationship with her husband to reveal how they drifted apart from each other and his influence on her.
The author describes the beach and sea in the beginning of the story and portrays the movement of the waves as a metaphor for the speaker’s relationship. The author uses the speaker’s actions and descriptions to reveal her personality, which is passiveness. We realize this through the line, “I did not want one grain of sand, blown by a breeze I could not feel, to change it course because of me.” This tells us that she didn’t take control of her own life and allowed things to remain unchanged, whether she liked them that way or not. The author writes in first person narrative giving the reader a direct view of the character’s feelings. The story moves between past and present along with the emotions of the speaker. The tone of the story seems to be melancholic as it shows us the speaker’s sense of aching and dejection.
As the story moves on, the speaker describes her marriage with her husband and her lifestyle in her new home in Egypt. The reader notices a repetition of the phrase, “I should have gone”. This displays the speaker’s sense of guilt and passiveness as the “serrating thought” of leaving constantly cut into her because she felt her husband “pulling away from” her. Color imagery is used to describe a Pakistani woman, “deep yellow silk” “flowers in purple and green” “gold bangles” “gold in her ears, her left nostril and around her neck”, to make the narrator’s life seem dull and grey in comparison.
This also reveals that the narrator might be feeling a sense of envy as the color depicts that the Pakistani woman has accepted the culture of the place surrounding her, while she fails to adjust to the lifestyle and culture. This shows the theme of cultural difference. The repetition of gold gives perspective that the child that the woman is holding is “all her world treasure” and is even more precious and valued than gold.
Soueif reveals cultural conflict by the usage of alliteration to depict that Lucy “crunches cucumbers and carrots” straight out of the basket while Um Sabir disinfects all the fruit and vegetables in red permanganate for the narrators benefit so that she doesn’t fall sick. This shows that Lucy has amalgamated herself with the culture around her because now she belongs there whereas, the speaker still not learnt and adjusted to the lifestyle.
This tells the reader that now she regrets not taking Lucy away when she was small because now, the daughter belongs to her father and to her lifestyle in Egypt. We get a sense that the mother and daughter will grow apart as well. The author uses repetition to display the theme of love and ache when she writes, “I am sick” “I am sick for a time, a time that was and that I can never have again”. This communicates a tone of hopelessness and distant as he can never come back to her.
The writer creates a metaphor of her love for her husband, “A fairy godmother, robbed for an instant of our belief in her magic, turns into a sad old woman, her wand into a useless stick”, to depict that the love and magic in their relationship has vanished leaving the narrator to become remorseful and dull. She lists a series of aspects that caused him to “slip away, recede” such as “inability to remember names, my struggles with language, my need to be protected from the sun, the mosquitoes, the salads, the drinking water”. This shows the difference between her life in England and in Egypt and the cultural boundaries. She hadn’t adjusted to the difference in climate, people, culture or food.
Initially, her cluelessness may have seemed charming for the husband, but after a while it got insulting and irritating. The reader realizes that now she’s feeling hopeless and has made a conscious decision to not be active in a relationship with him because she feels lost. Love on the surface seems perfect like a “glitzy commercial for life surface or a two-week break in the sun” but once you experience it, you realize that love is not the only thing that sustains a relationship. Even practicality and understanding is required.
Towards the end of the story, the narrator refers to a near death experience she faces in a plane crash. Through this whole period, his name constantly flashed in her mind, “his name, his name, his name became a talisman”. The repetition of his name tells us that it is an epiphany because in the extremity of death, one’s life flashes in their mind therefore; the reader realizes that her life was only him. A ‘talisman’ is something that is inscribed, hence it shows the permanence of her husband in her life and heart. Even though they drifted apart, her memories of him still stay with her. Juxtapose is used in “my treasure, my trap” that refers to Lucy to reveal that she is both sides of the coin. There’s no limit to how much she values Lucy but Lucy’s also holding her back and keeping her in the husband’s home, in her depressing lonely marriage. This creates a contrasting effect and shows the relationship between mother and daughter.
The writer creates a nature atmosphere by using personification and metaphor to show the movements of the water and sand on the beach. “With each ebb of green water the sand loses part of itself” is a metaphor as the sand is referring to the narrator while the water is referring to the narrator’s husband. The narrator is meant to adapt to her surroundings and lifestyle in her husband’s home but, with each value that she learn, it takes a part of her own values. This communicates the theme of cultural conflict. “The white waves that whip it, caress it, collapse onto it, vanish into it” is a personification that depicts the narrator’s relationship with her husband as they meet, caress each other but they don’t have a long lasting and deep relationship as they part as quickly as they come together.
They have a give and take relationship. “But what do the waves know of the massed, hot, still sands of the desert just twenty no, ten feet beyond the scalloped edge? And what does the beach know of the depths, the cold, the currents just there, there- do you see it?” are rhetorical questions that give a comparison and cause a realization that both, the husband and narrator, do not understand each other’s thoughts, feelings or cultures fully as the sand had no idea about the ‘depths’ of the sea because it could never see “where the water turns a deeper blue”. These rhetorical questions question life and relate to a theme of cultural boundaries as well as destiny.
Ahdaf Soueif seamlessly uses the imagery of waves and sand on a beach to portray the narrator’s feelings and relationship with her husband throughout the story. She uses metaphor, personification, repetition, comparisons to convey understanding to the reader of the speaker’s viewpoint and feeling. The husband’s name is left anonymous to create the distance between them both while, the speaker’s name remains anonymous to communicate her loss of identity and loneliness. The story doesn’t have a linear plot and keeps switching from present to past to reveal the entire outlook of the speaker and display her complete emotions. Love, cultural differences and hopelessness is conveyed through the language and tone of melancholy in the story. It leads the readers to sympathize with the speaker, as the author does not provide the point of view of the husband.
Courtney from Study Moose
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