The Book of Khalid

The Book of Khalid as the First Example of Arab-American Literature

Oct 7, 2020 at Literature Essays

The Book of Khalid as the Foundation of the Arab-American Literature

The representatives of the immigrant literary school in the USA cultivate the literature rich with different literary traditions that may attract the readers by the use of a number of stylistic means peculiar to the English language. However, such pieces of literature reflect the Eastern rhythm, color, and tonality.

In this regard, the contribution of the writer Ameen Rihani to the world literary formation is of a great significance and includes him not only into the number of the Arabic literature classics but also to the world literature heritage. It should be noted that The Book of Khalid by this prominent author is considered to be a good first example of the Arab-American literature which gave rise to the general idea of cultural hybridity.

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Ameen Rihani is one of the most outstanding representatives of the Lebanese Arab-American literature of the 20th century (Diab 43). While being the immigrant, a big group of the Arab writers joined this pen craft in the American literature, expressing their thoughts, ideas and feelings in English. The Arab-American literature is authentic, as its representatives do not break constant communication with Lebanon and Syria and closely adjoin to the Western culture and give less tribute to the old Arab literary traditions. Sometimes, they are totally rejected or interweaved into a fancy pattern of the Western traditions. Consequently, these traditions and origins of the Arab writers affected their literature, which made the Syrian-American school to be an ideal example of the synthesis of the Western-European, American, and Arab cultural esthetic heritage. It considerably influenced the further development of both Arabic and American literature (Bushrui 27).

Ameen Rihani was born in 1876 in the Freike valley, Lebanon in the family of Christian Maronite (Bushrui 29; Diab 43). The Rihani’s biography is closely connected with dwelling in the USA where his family moved to in 1888. After the graduation from the college, Ameen became the student of the Columbia University where he studied law. Rihani absorbed two cultures and changed them in his writing creativity, having taken rich traditions of literature from his culture and embodied them in the American literature, spreading the borders and easing the conservative limits (Bushrui 29).

By no means, literary works of Rihani were influenced by the Arab literature. For instance, the syntax and melodiousness of the Arab language is mixed with the English system, framing the urgent topics with a harmonious form of English. In his book The Book of Khalid, the conflicts between the commitment to traditions and progress, between the East and the West, between the western materialism and humanity are weaved into a close knot (Diab 45).

Rihani’s The Book of Khalid reflects the specific conflicts and challenges facing the immigrant Lebanese community in the United States. Yet it is a measure of Rihani’s greatness that he also captures the anxieties of mankind at large. Because he engages both the specific and the universal, Rihani’s work deserves close and careful analysis. (Bushrui 28)

Amin Rihani was not only a writer but also an outstanding philosopher of his time. The idea of the synthesis of the East and West permeates his creativity. The dramatic nature proceeded from the phenomena of the public life, as well as the internal dramatic nature of human thinking are reflected in The Book of Khalid (Bushrui 29). However, public life remains on the background, while an abstract interpretation in the form of the generalized thoughts is on the foreground. The writer describes not the human relations with different characters or different ways of thinking, but people with the different ways of life and goals.

The novel begins with the found manuscript. This technique also characterizes The Book of Khalid as a good example of the Arab-American literature, as it is widely used in a number of Arab-American literary works. The main characters of the book are two young men Khalid and Shakib, who are immigrants from Lebanon living in the USA (Bushrui 29). The life in the foreign country has a lot of difficulties as well as pleasures. Like all immigrants in the USA, they try to support each other and to help to adapt to the new life:

Heretofore, Khalid and Shakib have been inseparable as the Pointers. They always appeared together, went the rounds of their peddling orbit together, and together were subject to the same conditions and restraints. They even slept under the same blanket, we learn, ate from the same plate, puffed at the same narghilah, which Shakib brought with him from Baalbek, and collaborated in writing to one lady-love!. (Rihani 46)

The author directly addresses the reader, supplying his statements with the philosophical thoughts. He puts his heroes to the environment which is absolutely foreign and unknown for them. In order to emphasize the position of Khalid and Shakib as foreigners in the country, Rihani repeatedly uses the word “foreigner” and “foreign”:

These are sturdy and adventurous foreigners whom the grumpy officers jostle and hustle about. For neither poverty, nor oppression, nor both together can drive a man out of his country, unless the soul within him awaken. Indeed, many a misventurous cowering peasant continues to live on bread and olives in his little village, chained in the fear of dying of hunger in a foreign land. (Rihani 37)

The High Standards in The Book of Khalid

In The Book of Khalid, Rihani put rather high standards the other Arab-American writers should meet. His literary works are often compared to those of the Western writers, such as D. Byron, P. Shelley, R. Emerson, etc., who had a huge influence on the development of the literary method of Rihani. The author is guided by the traditions of the Arab rhymed prose widely applied in the Middle Ages with the motives of the Koran. Rihani often appeals to the hell and paradise in the Koran, using “Juhannam” and “Jannat” (Diab 54).

Traditionally, the Arab-American literature is divided into two periods: nostalgic and post-nostalgic. The first is characterized by the complexity of assimilation in immigration, melancholy, revision of the current values and the critical evaluation of new ideals. Certainly, this discrepancy is shown in the language of The Book of Khalid, where the words different in style, the syntax of the native Arabic language penetrates into the English syntax, and complex literary traditions find their reflection. The author rises to the unattainable height with the archaic or highly-poetic words like, for example, “adumbration”, specific for the Western literature. Then, he goes down, using the vulgar speech “to piddle among the knickknacks”, specific for the Arabic literature (Diab 56).

The Book of Khalid belongs to free verse since it is rhythmically organized by means of the sound, lexical and syntactic repetitions, parallelisms, synonyms and antonyms, anaphoras and epiphoras. The poetic nature is reflected even in the specific arrangement of lines. The ideas of the author are revealed not in the form of a polylogue or dialogue, but in the form of a monologue. Such style is more widely met in the works of Eastern writers than in those of the Western ones meaning that Ameen successfully combines the traditions of the Arabic countries with those of the West.

The works of Ameen Rihani serve as the example for the other Arab-American writers such as Khalil Gibran, for instance. During his work in one of the newspapers in the USA, Gibran was greatly influenced by the pieces of literature of Rihani, who further supported him and directed his creativity. Ameen praised the works of Gibran, criticizing at the same time those Arab poets, who wrote only for the sake of money.

Cultural Hybridity

According to the theory of multiculturalism, didacticism gives an authentic character to The Book of Khalid, at the same time alienating it from all European and Western values. The hero of the book could not get used to the American image created by societ, which led to the impossibility of integration (Diab 53). At the same time, Rihani, being a Christian, uses the attributes of the Islamic religion as the idea of unity in Islam is reflected at the highest level, in the undistorted form and in accordance with the spirit of romantic poetry (Bushrui 34).

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For Rihani, the movement from the East to the West, or from the West to the East had two ways leading to the uniform ideal - synthesis, hybridity. The spirit is considered as the symbol of East and the reason - the symbol of West. Rehani also distinguishes the other perspective of division, considering it as the opposition of the material and spiritual. He is the citizen of two worlds - material and spiritual (Bushrui 31).

Eloquence is another feature of the cultural hybridity reflected in The Book of Khalid which in the Arabic eastern tradition is a kind of symbol, an indicator of the level of culture, education and refinement. The reader may trace eloquence throughout the whole novel. It is obvious, because a writer was one of the most famous educators who expanded the range of genres in literature, mastered the art language of the Arab prose and gave the development to the new literary forms - a novel and a story. The fancy form of leading a dialogue with the reader in the work The Book of Khalid expands the borders of the traditional Arab prose and changes the western traditions, representing the intricate cultural hybridity.

Thus, the problems of the spiritual life of society and its aspiration for materiality composed the most discussed topics in the Arab-American literature at the beginning of the 20th century. Probably, the problems of the interrelations between the spiritual perfection of a human being and the material environment did not always lead to the polarization of two sides and the emergence of a dilemma “East-West”. The main idea of the whole creative activity of Ameen Rihani represents the opposition of the spiritual and material. Rihani transfers this difference and opposition to the plane of the peoples and civilizations where he tries to estimate their destiny. Moreover, being one of the most outstanding representatives of the Arab-American literature, the writer succeeds to represent the cultural hybridity and the life of the Arabic immigrants in the USA.

Conclusion

To sum up, The Book of Khalid serves a good first example of the Arab-American literature which gave rise to the idea of cultural hybridity. It opens the new perspectives for the better synthesis of the Arabic and American traditions in literature and the successful combination of the Western and Eastern customs and traditions. Therefore, the analysis of this piece of literature revealed the vivid features of the interconnection of two cultures, allowing the new generations of the Arabic migrants to adopt the traditions of the West with renewed vigor.

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