(Re)formation of Female Subjectivity from a Feminine Authorial Perspective

Addressing the non-ending representation problematic of the female voice of the Third World, critic G.C. Spivak is concerned whether the female as a subaltern/marginalized can speak within the structure of literature and history. Influenced by social and ideological constructions that are dominated by the perspective of the male, and homogenized by French feminists who are unaware of Third World Women real struggles within their own historical, political and cultural universe, the genuine voice of Third World women is absent, as asserted by Spivak. She argues that the inability of the female of the Third World to speak her own (hi)story lies, fundamentally, in ventriloquizing her voice by projecting the speaker’s ideas. This leads to omitting the real (hi)story of the Third World woman, thus silencing her.

Spivak continues and sets two conditions for the women to be having a voice: when women speak to correct falsified and politically imposed version of their history, and while speaking they are heard. The rigid dichotomy between speech and silence as presented by Spivak’s theory of the subaltern poses a challenge to every reading of a female character in literature. The theory seems to foreclose the possibility of a space in which the female subaltern can have a voice of her own. Examining the possibility of reading female characters as vital characters in their plots instead of dooming them to silence from the very beginning, previous research by the author extended a middle ground between the binary opposites (silence and speech). By identifying two forms of speech—the literal and the metaphorical—, the study aimed at enabling us to understand the main female characters in novels of the Third World written by male authors. Literal speech is found in the dialogues with other characters, as well as their interior and exterior monologues. Metaphorical speech includes performances or actions based on personal motivations that propel the plot of the novel. Moving forward, this research approaches women fictional voice, but from a female authorial viewpoint. Considering Egyptian women writers of the post 1952 revolution as a case study, Latifa al-Zayyat and Radwa Ashour offer rich medium to study the voice of women.

Latifa al-Zayyat’s oeuvre combines the prevalent themes of the 20th century in the Arabic novel. The dilemma of an Arab intellectual protagonist struggling within a firm nationalist discourse and the disillusioned protagonist who is uncertain of his/her ability to understand the puzzling surrounding world. In her novel The Open Door, al-Zayyat offers a rich palette of encounters that cast light on the woman cause of the mid twentieth century. In The Owner of the House, al-Zayyat depicts a wife who is confronted by a journey of self-discovery that she forced to undergo in order to survive.

Radwa Ashour, so as her 'godmother' alZayyat, is a very conscious writer of the ideological element in her writings according to her own testimony. In Khadiga and Sawsan, the story is narrated from the points of view of two women characters in the first person, a mother and her daughter. In the mother’s part, we follow her development from a child who innocently wonders at the reasons why she is not allowed to practice a summer job at the carpenter’s workshop to a woman who forces her son, to study medicine in order to walk in the shoes of his father, which leads him to commit suicide. In Farag, the story of Nada is defined by her choice to stay by her father’s side in Cairo. Owing to her intercultural upbringing, she adopts a differing attitude towards societal preconceptions of her gender role. 

Moving beyond the historical and the political in both author’s writings, the study offers a close reading of women characters as human beings as they unfold within the narratives, not necessarily as symbols of the nation or carriers/fighters of predefined patriarchal gender roles. The analysis seeks to understand women experiences in its diversity. Therefore, it deems necessary an intersectional deconstructionist reading of the characters' different positions in life, which affect how they and others look at their stories. Indeed, their different classes, cultural backgrounds, and altering roles play part in their embracement and/or rejection of their experiences. Furthermore, the research engages with the following questions: 

  • What does the speech of the fictional characters who have the privilege of voice (performative and/or literal) reflect? 
  • What subjectivities are exhibited in the literary works in question, and what is the process of their creation within their worlds?
  • How can the process of formation and reformation of the self be understood through these works of fiction?
  • Can a critical consciousness be detected? If yes, how does it affect the process of self formation?
  • What do these works reflect about the position of women?