Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

Woman at Point Zero

The novel Woman at Point Zero talks about an Egyptian woman who has refused to conform to what the society expects from her. In this regard, she manages to stand by her virtues despite facing many challenges in her life. Various people try to sexually exploit her, including her most trustworthy uncle. She realized that all men are willing to do anything just to gain power. In brief, this paper will discuss the most significant themes, symbolism, and motifs evident in particular passages in the novel Woman at Point Zero.

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There are various important passages in the novel. However, I chose the passage on page 12 of the novel Woman at Point Zero. This particular passage portrays the image of sex, and how Firdaus reacts to its exposure. She used to play with Mohammadain, a neighbor. In one instance, Mohammadain used to pinch her underwater and take her to a small shelter made of maize talk on the nearby farm. She could feel a sensation of sharp pleasure from an unfamiliar part of her body. One line in the passage notes “from some part in my body, where exactly I did not know, would come to a sensation of sharp pleasure (p.12). After some time, she could feel the same spot Mohammadain used to touch her and relish the exceptional feeling. Indeed, she found this pleasurable. The theme in this passage repeats itself throughout the novel. Another related passage to this particular one is on page 13. In this passage, she loses pleasure in being touched at that sensitive spot of her body. Primarily, this is because her most trusted uncle started to molest her. His uncle was doing exactly what Mohammadain was doing to her while they were in the fields. Nevertheless, she did not feel the same sensation as before. This is noted by “but I no longer felt the strong sensation of pleasure that radiated from an unknown and yet familiar part of my body. I closed my eyes and tried to reach the pleasure I had known but in vain” (p.13). These two passages clearly depict the image of sex in the novel.

This passage portrays a theme of sexism. Essentially, most of the events in this passage refer to the sexual exposure of Firdaus. She enjoyed her first sexual exposure by playing with Mohammadain. Later, her mother left her in the company of her uncle who sexually molested her. She did not feel pleasure in what the uncle was doing to her. Thus, felt sexually exploited. Clearly, the theme of sexism is evident in this passage.

Furthermore, there is a motif of sexual pleasure in this particular passage. In her childhood, Firdaus enjoyed some sexual pleasure with Mohammadain. Typically, they played a game called ‘bride and bridegroom’. In this game, they usually took off their clothes and rubbed against each other; thus, Mohammadain touched Firdaus in certain sensitive parts of her body. She really enjoyed this experience as she enjoyed a feeling of pleasure. However, this enjoyment ended when her mother forced her to undergo a peculiar surgery. After the agonizing surgery, Firdaus was not able to experience sexual pleasure again. In other passages of the novel Woman at Point Zero, she does not find sexual pleasure in her sexual encounters with her husband. She terms these encounters as horrifying and worth not remembering. Additionally, she continues to have sexual encounters with her male clients. In most of the cases, she deceives them that she is enjoying sex while she really does not find pleasure in doing it. Essentially, it is only the men who enjoy sexual pleasure. This entire experience has disturbed her mind. For example, when she overhears her uncle enjoying sex with his wife, she envisions having sex. However, she finds it hard to take pleasure in sexual encounters. Manifestly, the motif of sexual pleasure is very clear to the reader.

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Another motif in the novel is the motif of choice. In her entire life, Firdaus has had limited opportunities for making vital choices. For example, she was not given the opportunity to choose whether to have her clitoris removed. In this case, she did not make any choices. Another clear example is when she was married off to an oppressive older husband. No one dared ask for her opinion regarding the impending marriage to the old man. Hence, she did not make any choices. Vitally, she was not given any chance to make a vital choice in her childhood. However, she made the first important choice when she decided to flee from her husband. Being denied an opportunity to make important choices distressed Firdaus. For example, when Bayoumi requests her to choose between tangerines and oranges, she is left confused. Mainly, this is because no one has ever asked her to make a choice in her entire life. This experience clearly illustrated the motif of choice.


Another literary device used in the novel is symbolism. One example of symbolism is birth. It has consistently been used throughout the novel to show the development of Firdaus’ character. There are particular phrases in the novel that have been used to show this symbolism such as “I was being born a second time” (p.20) and “I became another woman” (p.95). These particular phrases have been repeatedly used in different passages to show her fight for freedom. Notably, the author of the novel alludes to the fact Firdaus was born when she became a prostitute. Another significant event is when she made the bold choice of fleeing from her husband. In this regard, he felt like a newly-redefined person. Clearly, birth has been used as a symbol of change in Firdaus’ life.

Another symbol is the use of money. Firdaus grew up in a poor background. Nearly, all her neighbors were poor; hence, it was rare to see someone with a significant amount of money. Throughout her childhood, she did not manage to get her own money. She was forced to rely on financial help from her uncle, Sharifa, and husband because they had money which she badly needed to cater to her needs. All these people recognized the importance of money to Firdaus’ life; hence, they ensured that she does not have an opportunity of earning her own money. Nonetheless, when she started prostituting, she was able to earn some amount of money. This enables her to have control over her own life. Furthermore, she realized she could get more money from selling her body to male clients. Most men prized her body as a commodity and were willing to pay a substantial price just to enjoy sexual pleasure. Even though, she despised all men and admired her new power. Basically, money had given her power and control over her life. What mattered to her is that she no longer relied on men to determine the fate of her life. Evidently, money has been used as a symbol of power and control.

Ultimately, the novel has used key literary devices to develop the character of Firdaus. The symbolism of birth has been used to show the development of Firdaus from a dependent and helpless girl to an independent and free woman. Essentially, she derived the power from earning her own money notwithstanding through prostitution. The themes and motifs of the novel play a significant role in the thematic purpose of the novel.


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