Stefhaniye GandhinathanMs. FosterENG 4U122 January 2017Title?In Nadia Hashimi’s The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, there are portrayals of female characters, who struggle with their identities and the inequalities between the sexes. In The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, the author explores the lives of the two protagonists, separated by a century, Rahima and her great-great-grandmother Shekiba, who undergo the traditions of becoming a bacha posh struggles to overcome the cultural norms it demands. A Bacha posh is an ancient middle eastern practice in which families without a son pick a daughter to live and behave as a son. This allows for the family and the other sisters to have security and protection against the dangers of men. Although this story is set in 2007, while the rest of the world is progressive, the women within in this novel live in an oppressive patriarchal society. By analyzing the novel through the feminism critical theory, there is a better understanding of the resilience of Afghani women in a culture that does not value females and undermines the roles they play in families. This reinforces the gender roles of women at different stages in their lives as they are confronted with the challenges of finding their true identity as a child, as an adolescent, and as an adult.The female relatives of Rahima and Shekiba live out a childhood restricted from the world by an oppressive Afghani society. From a young age, these girls come to believe they have no say and would always be victims of male dominance. The education of Rahima and her sisters is in jeopardy when they are home past their curfew because they were bothered by boys. Unfortunately, the “main sport for school-age boys was watching girls” (Hashimi 2). Since Rahima lived in a family of girls, they siblings did not have a male to protect them and provide them safety and security. These girls would be kept home “to scrub the floors” (11) in fear that boys would see them to or from school. It’s here that Khala Shaima, their mom’s sister, begins the story of their great-great-grandmother Shekiba, who began the bacha posh practice in their family.  Rahima clearly feels that the gender roles of Afghanistan are unfair. She has the courage and is willing to try and find a solution so that she and her sisters may go to school.  Rahima transitions into a boy and begins her daily life able to wear, act, say and do that of a boy. As Rahima states, “There were not many nine-year-old girls who would walk determinedly from shop to shop.” This was the freedom and confidence the bacha posh practice gave these girls. Rahima finds a sense of identity and comfort when she is a bacha posh. Her true personality and free spirit are more evident when she was with the boys her age. Gender inequality is a prevalent theme throughout, evident in the situation these girls face. Similarly, it is the unfortunate reality that though Rahima and her sisters were interested in learning, it is not supported by their families. Khala Shaima fights for the importance of education yelling, “You’re a fool to think these girls are better off rotting in this home instead of learning something in school. To this, her sister Raisa remarks, “You never went to school and see how well you turned out.”(11) Khala Shaima is very passionate because she is not able to finish her studies and become the engineer of her dreams because her family didn’t find it necessary. They are stuck within cultures norms which allows and encourages for men to go to school, as it is expected they work to provide for a family someday and therefore need a good education. Females are allowed to go to school but it is not encouraged, since it is assumed they will be a mother and housewife, making a formal education unnecessary. Being raised with such idea of their fates and futures pre-planned, it limits the abilities and talents of these sisters. As for Shekiba, she does not become a bacha posh to protect females but rather due to family circumstances. Shekiba accidentally knocks hot oil from the stove, at the age of two, melting the left half of her face into “blistered and ragged flesh” (16). Her survival is considered by her own family to be a gift from Allah, but her extended family avoids her and talks down upon her, treating her as an outcast. Later on, Shekiba loses all three of her siblings within a week, and three weeks later she loses her mother in a wave of cholera going through Afghanistan. After losing his wife and sons, Shekiba’s father Ismail grows distant towards her. Though he’s grieving, they begin working in the farmland together and he finds it easier to think of her as a son. He ignores his past and is ignorant towards the needs of his daughter coming of age, “When she bled every month, he pretended not to smell the soiled rags that she would keep soaking and hidden behind a stack of logs in their two-room home. And when he heard her shed tears, he shrugged her sniffles off as a touch of flu” (20). Her father simplifies his life by treating her like a boy and removing the negative aspects of females. This reinforces the unfortunate reality that women are seen as sensitive, weak, and rational decision makers which portrays them as unworthy in positions of authority that men hold. Over time, from the hard labor she does each day, Shekiba’s features grow coarser, and her palms and foot soles become thick and callused. This allows for her to hold the strength and power to run the farm and be treated as a boy. When Ismail is very ill and on his deathbed, she baths him and does the rituals typically performed by the male heir, “She undressed her father, careful to keep his private areas hidden beneath a rag… she bathed him and dragged him back outside and opened the earth one final time to complete her family’s interment” (21). Her male-oriented childhood allows for her to endure and progress through all the pain and grief she faces. When Ismail’s brothers come looking for him, they find Shekiba in a disinterested state where the home, “smelled of rot and loneliness”(38). Knowing something had happened to Ismail, they took Shekiba to her grandmother, Bobo Shahgul’s compound. Based on her manly physique and capability to do hard work, she is mistreated and her abilities are taken for granted. In discovering skills perfect for farm work, Shekiba goes outside to help her uncles and realizes that Bobo Shahgul had originally come looking for Ismail because Ismail is tilling the most fertile land owned by the family, and Bobo Shahgul and her other sons see fit to at least partial ownership.  Her strength and sense of determination continues even as she lives with her extended family and she is verbally and physically punished by her Bobo Shahgul. No matter how poorly she is treated, she obeys and continues trying to think of a way to get her father’s land back into her possession. During the adolescent stages, Rahima and Shekiba are stripped of their independence and decision making in terms of marriage and building character. Once Rahima reaches puberty, she is forced to transition back into a women and expected to take part in an arranged marriage. Being a bacha posh was within Rahim’s comfort zone. As a son of the family, Rahima and her father are of similar value to the family, holding authority. Her father put Rahima above his wife for his son was working and bringing money for the family. He beats her and questions her motherhood once when Rahima returns home late and there is no food, “My son is hungry! Look at the money he’s brought home! And even with this, you can’t find a morsel of food for him? What kind of mother are you? (88) Later on, once she’s transitioned back into a women, her father, “… looked at me as if he saw a new person… someone he preferred to ignore” (138). She holds so much strength and dominance that having to transition back into a woman had much of an emotional strain on her. On the contrary, the family takes on her transition with such ease. Her mother makes Rahima wear her sister’s dresses, while she hands all the pants and tunics to her aunt for her boys. “You are Rahima. You are a girl and you need to remember to carry yourself like one. Watch how you walk and how you sit. Don’t look people, men, in the eye and keep your voice low,” advised her mother (138). The loss of strength and confidence, as well as her internal confusion in her identity, is not understood by her families. Also, Rahima does not get to choose who she married. She is now a daughter that is going to be leaving the family soon which makes him lose interest in his own daughter. Though she likes a boy, she didn’t get a chance to say anything;  they are focused on marrying her off for the money it will gain the family. Rahima is married off as the fourth wife for Abdul Khaliq, a wealthy man in town. Before the marriage, her mom advises her daughter that “Your husbands will expect things of you. As a wife, you have obligations to your husband.it won’t be easy at first but… you’ll learn how to tolerate these things that Allah has created for us” (148). Here she is hinting at the mall dominance and ruling she should expect from her husband. Also the expectation of having a son and giving the family a male heir. From Rahima’s personal family experience, when Khala Shaima tells their father of taking on the bacha posh tradition and that “The girls need a brother,” Padar-jan angrily states, “That’s what you’ve come here to tell me! That we need a son? Don’t you think I know that? If your sister were a better wife, then maybe I would have one?” (12) The mother does not want her daughters to lose their honour and place as an admired wife amongst the others. Shekiba’s young adulthood goes in an alternative direction and she becomes a housework for a man named Azizullah to which her extended family is indebted to. Though she is hardworking, her appearance makes everyone pick on her and undermine her. Azizullah initially asks for a wife, they do not offer for Shekiba to marry him, they believe it will offend Azizullah since Shekiba is so ugly. Unfortunately, the Afghan community is fast to judge women based on appearance and disabilities. Shekiba’s burn prevents her from having a family of her own, “If only Shekiba had been prettier, something at least pleasing for the eye to gaze upon. Maybe then, her father could have hoped to arrange a proper marriage for her when her time came” (89). They make sure to put Shekiba’s existence to use by paying off a debt with her. Since Shekiba is raised as a boy, she is forced to find a sense of identity and individuality after years of living in disguise. Shekiba feels as though being in this house will be a reprieve from the oppression of her grandmother’s house. The Azizullah’s sons remind Shekiba of her brothers, and each member of the family treats Shekiba with respect, not making comments about her disfigured face. As Shekiba lives life, she overhears a conversation between Azizullah and  Azizullah’s brother, Hafizullah speaking of Shekiba’s fathers land and how it’s been distributed amongst Ismail’s brothers. Shekiba knows the deed belongs to her but she finds out she cannot inherit the land unless she is a male. She plans to go back home, accompanying the king, and find an opportunity to retrieve the deed, “She crossed the fields quickly, peering over her shoulder every thirty seconds or so to see if anyone was coming after her” (101). In a society where women are valued far less than men, Shekiba finds the bravery and courage to risk all she has to obtain the land’s deed to her father’s land in hopes she will be granted ownership of her father’s land. Once the deed is reached the Hakim he rips up the deed for she is a female and doesn’t have the rights to own land. Shekiba is beat for her indecent act and her destination stages. As a married woman, Rahima struggles to adapt to duties of wife and motherhood. She is overcoming her bacha posh ways and attempting to learn the customs of femininity. Rahima is given a day to adjust to her new surrounding and learn her duties. She is naive towards sexuality and fears the pleasure her husband demands, “I will not tolerate insolence. Yesterday, I let you be. That was my gift to you, to show you I can be kind. Today, things are different… you are in my home… you will behave as a wife should” (161).  The norms of a wife in Afghani society is expected to please her husband and bear a son for the family. To Abdul Khaliq, as his wife, “When I ask for something, you make it happen. In return, you will be given shelter and have the privilege of being wife to Abdul Khaliq” (168).  Rahima is in pain the day following her first taking by Abdul Khaliq, though Rahima’s duties at the house don’t change, “He called for me when he pleased and made me do what he wanted”(169). The dominance and ruling of males are clearly evident in this period of her life. She lives life dealing with a great sense of powerlessness as she is subject to a traditional female role. She also deals with feelings of loneliness and helplessness, as she is isolated from all her loved ones. Rahima is not allowed any family or visitors until she is confirmed pregnant. Even as a pregnant woman, Rahima is more worried about having a son and earning Abdul Khaliq’s acceptance rather than hoping for the baby’s wellness and good health. The pressure that she needs a son to ensure a better life for her and the child is the unfortunate reality of competing with multiple wives. After their son Jahangir is born, Rahima carries on with cooking and cleaning for the family. As a mother, she starts to reflect on her own parents and wants to give them a visit. She asks Badriya to be her assistant to help her read and write. Abdul Khaliq makes it clear to Rahima that she is to follow the guards’ orders, though she is not to speak to the guards. He tells her the guards will watch out for her, but if she does anything wrong they will not hesitate to tell Abdul Khaliq. While in Kabul, Rahima gets the chance to learn how to work a computer. Though Badriya fears her husband finding out, Rahima is fast to volunteer and learn. This shows how much she misses the days of being a bacha posh, having freedom and opportunities. These situations show how men treated women due to the constriction of gender roles. Even at their first parliament session, Badriya is told what to say, how to sound, who to vote for. Abdul Khaliq holds complete dominance leaving them no options or free will. When she returns, she learns her son died of a severe illness. Even while mourning and grieving her son, she is told not to weep out load, which displays how insensitive they were. Shekiba’s adulthood is spent as a guard for the king’s palace. She is turned into a bacha posh, along with other females and left to secure the palace premises. Shekiba learns that her main job is to keep an eye on things, especially not letting anyone in or out of the harem without the guards’ knowledge and approval. As Shekiba fulfills her obligations around the palace grounds, she sees Amanullah and is immediately attracted to the king’s son. Shekiba begins to wonder what it would be like to have children, though she fears they would not look at her, for the scars on her face. As Shekiba watches Amanullah, an idea forms as to how she could change her fate from being, Shekiba the palace guard the rest of her life.  Shekiba approaches Mahbuba, one of the king’s harem women who has borne the king four sons. Shekiba asks Mahbuba how she made sure to give birth to all sons. Shekiba approaches a few women and shares, “Women in our family have many sons. I was the only daughter” (236). Bearing a son is what would get her the life and family she wanted. Shekiba is later given in marriage to Agha Baraan, a wealthy man in town. Though it isn’t Amanullah, she is grateful for the opportunity to start a family. Her behaviour in attempting to arrange a marriage with Amanullah demonstrates her inner courage and bravery to risk her guard position and want to change her fate and start a family. Through the text of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, the female protagonists strive to uncover their identities and overcome male dominance they are victims of. The feminism critical lens helps to explore the experiences of these females through the childhood, adolescent, and adulthood stages of life. It goes through the issues of the lack of identity within women and reinforces male dominance and treatment of women. Both the protagonists endure experiences, which contradict the individuality of females and conformity against male powers, female oppression, and gender inequality.

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