In the Country of Men Course Notes

Categories: Country

Thorough and insightful understanding of the ideas, characters and themes constructed and presented in the text. Complex discussion and critical analysis of the structures, features and conventions used to conduct meaning. Complex analysis of the ways in which social, historical and/or cultural values are embodied in the text. Construction of a sophisticated interpretation, which demonstrates an understand of ways in which the text is open to different interpretation by different readers. Considered selection of significant textual evidence and highly appropriate use of relevant metalanguage.

Highly expressive, fluent and coherent writing.

Hisham Matar
Born NY 1970
Returned to Libya as a 3yo
Father a diplomat
Accused of opposition of Gadhafi’s revolution
In 1979 family escaped to Egypt
Father kidnapped by Egyptian security in Cairo and handed over in Libya Never heard of again – 2 letters in 1996.

Matar biographical details
Personal experiences provide a real link to the events of the novel Father of young Libyan captured by security forces and detained for his opposition to a regime which he claims oppresses freedom This novel is NOT a biography, rather a reflection of his own experiences, particularly his relationship with his mother.

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Matar’s messages uses his own experiences, or memory of these, to illustrate ideas about family and, to a lesser extent oppression.

Where is Libya,
North of Africa, surrounded by Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Algeria.
Near Turkey and Iran.

The Problems with Libya
Libya was often occupied during its history – Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans all colonised Libya in ancient times – archaeological sites still there 7th century Arabs introduced Islam religion and culture

early 20th century Italy colonised Libya after an agreement with British and French to carve up north Africa Italian influence still strong in Libya – evidence in text – Signor II Calzoni, Faraj reads and swears in Italian Post WWII Libya divided up between French and British

Given independence by them in 1951
King Idris 1 ruled 1951 onwards
Oil discoveries in 1959 made Libya a very strategically important and potentially wealthy country

1969 Muammar el Gaddafi (Qaddafi), a military officer, headed a military coup against the autocratic King Idris – popular uprising Gaddafi known as The Leader Of The Revolution or The Guide
Erratic Ruler, became more and more autocratic himself

Strange man
Formed in the 1980s – Amazonian guards – personal bodyguards – all women Gaddafi claimed that they would be the perfect guards because Arab gunmen would not fire at women Many claimed that the guards were an example of his eccentric showmanship and that he enjoyed being surrounded by beautiful young women He always travelled surrounded by the Guard

Women were very well trained in martial arts and were apparently hand picked by Gadhafi himself They had to take a vow of chastity
After he was deposed, many claimed they had been raped by him

Shades of 1984
Living in Libya, under Gadhafi
Most industries and media were controlled by state
Most aspects of peoples lives controlled
Telephones tapped, sometimes tapper intrudes on conversations ITCOM Easily identified secret police roam the streets watching people ITCOM Extensive surveillance systems – 20-30% of people worked in surveillance for the
Revolutionary committees which oversaw and infiltrated every part of Libyan Society.

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They are able to walk into people’s homes and look for evidence of ‘disloyalty’ ITCOM Press was silenced

University students silenced
Public excecutions of ‘enemies’ of state, often televised ITCOM People lived in fear of being accused of crimes against the revolution Gadhafi had dissidents living overseas assassinated. His power is evident not just in Libya but also in Egypt where the Matar family escape to, but Gadhafi’s supporters in Egypt capture the father and hand him over to Gadhafi’s regime. Libya was known as a pariah state for many years – one which acts in a brutal way against its own citizens Libya often shunned by other countries because of active promotion of, and sanctuary given to, terrorist groups.

Big Brother
Cult of personality built around Gadhafi (Recall 1984)
Referred to himself as The Guide of Libya, rather than the leader. Called himself a socialist, an Arabist, an African and a Muslim at various times in his rule. He changed according to which way the political wind was blowing and his actions were always about maintaining power.

Mainly a Muslim nation. People called to daily prayers from loudspeakers in mosques. Drinking and eating of prok prohibited. Often women are required to cover up in public. Like all religions, followers range from strictly observant to those who are Muslim in name only. Suleiman’s mother drinks when father is away but doesn’t go out when she drinks because alcohol is prohibited (ITCOM) Alcohol is prohibited by both the Koran and the legal system. Arranged marriages (ITCOM) blood feuds, arguments common, particularly in underdeveloped areas

What ideas are these covers trying to convey?

Cover 3 bleak, dark, tree represents shelter mulberry tree, tree of knowledge. Storm clouds suggest bad luck is coming etc. again the contrast looks very western Cover 4. Plain white and blue almost white and blue collar shirts, the smart and the dumb, the rich and the poor. and the boy being in the middle almost a shadow, not 100% there. Red the colour of anti revolutionary. How are the colour font and other visual aspects used to convey meaning here? The white colour reflects the hotness of Libya and the shadow of the boy reflect that he’s not entirely there, the colour use of red is anti revolutionary, symbolic of blood.

Why do you think that the author chose the title IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN for this book? Muslim way of life, women are almost lesser important, symbolizes no freedom or mention of women at all, almost symbolizes the WWI as WWI was for men only and women didn’t fight at all. What questions are raised about concepts of country, manhood and humanity? The country of men means its really a man dominant country, there is no such thing as a woman almost. Very sexist society How does the title tie in with the themes of the novel and the position of the characters as they struggle in their environment?

How does the author use contrasting imagery in the opening passage to set the tone of the book? How does the image of people seeking mercy from the heat reflect the broader condition of the characters?

How is betrayal shown to be a strong force in the lives of the characters in the country of men? In the country of men suggests that people cannot avoid brutality in a country under a dictatorship. Discuss.

What forms of imprisonment are depicted in the novel? How do the characters experience and react to a lack of freedom? Through the mothers alcohol, women are imprisoned by men, in the country of men, means no voice for women. What can we infer about the lives of women in Libya during the time period represented in the story? They are in a mans world with no control.

Throughout the novel, Suleiman refers to his mothers alcoholism as her ‘illness’. How accurate is this observation? Do you feel it is a reflection of Suleiman’s naivety in youth or a kind of wisdom about her actual

In the Country of Men Themes

Narrative voice
The novel is written in first person narration, largely through the eyes of 9 year old Suleiman, but with comments at times from him as an adult. Much of it is internal monologue, one of the reasons that matar created Suleiman as an only child. As he had no one to talk to he internalises his experiences, hence making for a more reflective novel. The child-like commentary allows for readers to understand things that Suleiman does not: for example, Mama’s ‘medicine’ and her ‘illness’. Names

Names and naming are important in the text. Interestingly, Suleiman’s name can be traced back to Suleiman the Magnificent, the emperor of the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century who expanded the empire significantly and instigated enormous social and cultural developments. He is also known as “Slooma” a family name which is appropriated by Sharief and ‘habibi’ by his mother which means “my darling” “beloved” or “baby” (Innocence)

The setting of Lepcis Magma is used symbolically as a fallen civilization, an example of how every society will one day decay and die. The concerns of its people have long disappeared into time.

The heath/summer is a motif running through the novel. At times it represents hell, as Suleiman tries to avoid hell by practising running over the bridge to paradise. Other times, its glare stupefies the people and pushes them indoors, leaving only the children to jostle each other outside. The long days of summer without school also allows for Suleiman to have the freedom where he observes the adults more than usual. The sea is also another motif, the beautiful blue ocean just at the end of the road. At times Suleiman swims in it looking to be cooled and cleansed from the dirty activities he faces day-to-day. He tries to take Kareem into it to seek some solace from his grief but Kareem resists. Interestingly, it is here where he almost drowns Bahoul the beggar, exerting his power and giving into the base urges that he sees in his society

The symbolism of replacing the picture of Baba with an enormous picture of the Guide in the reception room, shows loyalty to the regime and the strains on family relationships. Also showing that they have nothing to hide to show loyalty. Shows their not related to what Baba did, and the guide is now their father and father of Libya.

The games played by the boys, games such as ‘My land, Your Land’ where they try to take power by gaining more land, represents the political ‘games’ of the older men around them. The squabbles and fights are also a microcosm for the violence in the country in which they are growing up.

Much is made of the power of words in this novel. In an act of resistance to the dictatorship. Nasser is seen running through Martyrs’ square after Faraj, clutching a typewriter used for producing subversive pamphlets. In another scene, Najwa and Moosa burn all Faraj’s books to save him from incrimination; however, the image of books burning is redolent of violent regimes trying to rid themselves of intellectuals who might question them. Moosa is a poet and lover of language; he is also closely tied with dissident acts.

Linked to this idea, is the power of storytelling. Ironically, Najwa condemns Scheherazade for being ‘a coward who accepted slavery over death’ pg15. She berates her for not standing up to her husband, for staying to look after her children, for being thankful for her life. The irony is that Najwa appears to be restricted as Scheherazade was and she also seems to fall in love with her husband over time. To Suleiman though she is a hero; that she managed to keep telling tales without giving in to fear amazes him. Also, he is a storyteller too, as is Mama.

Loyalty and Betrayal: the novel addresses the issue of loyalty. How do the characters experience loyalty and betrayal? Discuss some examples. What do you think is the main cause of some of the betrayals that occur?

In chapter 5, Moosa says “its our obligation to call injustice by its name pg53” Suleiman’s mother replies “go call it by its name in your country. Here it is either silence or exile, walk by the wall or leave. Go be a hero elsewhere.” What does she mean? Who is right? How do the different characters in the novel face injustice and what are the consequences?

Point of view?
How does the point of view of the story affect the way that we see the injustices represented in the story? How might this be different if the narrator were an adult? Hisham Matar has much in common with Suleiman. Both left Libya where they were children, although unlike Suleiman, Matar was accompanied by his parents. In 1990, Matar’s father was kidnapped while living in exile in Cairo and was returned to Libya, where he was tortured and imprisoned. He has not heard from him since. How does knowing the similarities between the author and protagonist affect the way you think about the novel?

Role of women
Do the women in Suleiman’s life have any true power, and if so, from where is it derived?

How has Suleiman’s opinion of his mother changed by the time he reaches the novels closing scenes?

Insight into the text
What is the effect of reading about this episode in history through a child’s point of view? What clarity does it bring? In what ways do a child’s impulses muddy the truth?

When the students visit Lepcis Magna, Kareem states, “Children are useless in a war.” Do you think this is true? What might the authors point of view be?

What profession does Suleiman ultimately choose? Why do you think the author decided to have Suleiman choose this profession? Pg 232 He chose the profession of medicine, being a pharmacist. It reflected the influence his mother had on him with her illness and helped him to understand what it really was.

Gadhafi is the most important character in the novel, despite his absence. Do you agree?

The novel examines the futility of resisting oppressive power. Discuss. How does Matar use both tension and narrative point of view to engage the reader?

How is tradition shown to be a powerful force in the lives of the characters in In the Country of Men?

How does Matar develop a sense of time and of place in his novel?

Along with confusion, pain and despair, there is a strong message of hope in Matar’s novel. To what extent do you agree?

Corruption is not only isolated to the Libyan dictatorship.
To what extent do you agree?

In the Country of Men suggests that life demands a choice between resistance and surrender.’ Discuss

In the Country of Men demonstrates that it is a man’s actions that define him.’ Discuss

In In the Country of Men, Matar shows more sympathy for women than for men. ’Discuss.

“Why does our country long for us so savagely?”
Matar’s love of his country and his fears for it permeate his novel In the Country of Men. Discuss.

How does Suleiman’s view of the world change during the course of the novel?

‘Despite the horror of the political regime, this is still a novel about the power of love.’ To what extent do you agree?

Updated: Jul 06, 2022
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In the Country of Men Course Notes. (2016, Apr 01). Retrieved from

In the Country of Men Course Notes essay
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