Themes in The Sand Fish

The Sand Fish

Themes

As a matter of fact, Maha Gargash succeeds in discussing a lot of issues from the beginning of the novel till its end. One of the main themes she managed to talk about is marriage and polygamy. Noora has to struggle through her life as she is forced to marry someone she does not love in order to live a rich life. Her brother decides to sell her as a slave instead of listening to her and instead of letting her taking in rule of her life. While she thought her life as a wife would be amazing, he also had to suffer in order to deal with her fellow wives. She also feels that she is always ordered to do things she does not want. However, at the end she feels satisfied after delivering her baby because such baby gives her a new hope.

Moreover, Maha indicates the preparations done to each girl before getting married in the Arab communities as well as the rules of choosing a good wife according to the point of view of people there. Another theme discussed is the Arab customs and traditions represented in greetings like “Assalamu Alaykom”, clothes dressed by the main characters and customs of marriage along with respecting old people and serving them. The author explains how Noora walks with Jassem in the village while poor people get close to her and stare at her. She also talks about how Noora deals with Lateefa and Moza since they are older than her and how she listens to them carefully. Furthermore, Maha talks about how Noora serves his father and helps him with the house works. On the other side, Maha discusses betrayal due to hidden feelings. Because Noora could not allowed to do what she felt and what she needed to do according to her will, she did everything illegitimate and illicit. She let a stranger touch her and she also betrayed her husband by being pregnant from someone else. While some readers could believe that what Noora did was adultery, others feel sorry for her because she was in love and she needed someone to take care of her. Maha also mentions the relationship between brothers and sisters represented in the one between Noora and Sager. Although they quarrel, they still care for each other. Another discussed theme is death as Noora starts to have memories about her mother Fatma giving her advices and recommendations regarding how to act nicely and how to become like a lady. One of the most important themes is metaphysics or superstitions spread between ignorant and illiterate people as they believe witches have forces and they can take control of everything as well as changing people’s destiny through deceiving them.

Despite the fact that the witch told Jassem he would have a baby, it turned out not to be his. In addition, Islamic laws are perfectly mentioned in the story as Maha shows what is Haram and Halal, what is legal and what is illegal. When Noora makes love with Rashid and Hamad, she feels guilty as she violated the rules of her society and religion. Maha depicts perfectly pure love which arouse between Noora and Rashid before her marriage and how she feels secured and safe when he touched her. She also mentions the feeling of relief resulted from the love making between her and Hamad. Besides, Maha indicates in her story the technique of self-monologue as Noora keeps thinking and talking with herself most of the novel in order to share her thoughts with the reader and truly express how she feels as well as reacting according to such feelings. On the other hand, poverty is well explained in the novel of “Sand Fish” as Noora has to deal with this issue and not being able to do what she has the desire to do because she is poor. That’s why her brother feels responsible towards her and that’s why he tells her he cannot afford her things. Therefore, he sends her as a bride to be married in a new house where she can find a bed to sleep and good food to eat instead of living a harsh life of men between mountains. Though Noora gets married, she does not feel happy. However, she manages to survive and adapt at the end.

Characters

There are a lot of characters mentioned in the novel of “Sand Fish”. Here they are as follows:

  • Noora-Al-Salmi: the main character of the story. She is stubborn and childish at the beginning. Nevertheless, she takes good care of her house before and after marriage. She also learns how to become a lady. Although she did a lot of illicit things, she manages at the end to protect herself and her baby.
  • Sager-Al-Salmi: Noora’s friend. Though he is young, he does not want to show his tenderness and feelings towards his sister because he wants to act like a man. That’s why he sent her to get married to a rich merchant in order to live a good life away from poverty and famine.
  • Rashid: a young teenager who falls in love with Noora. Though she finds him attractive and though he touches her, he turns to abandon her at the end in order to achieve his mother’s desire by getting married to his cousin, Aisha.
  • Ibrahim-Al-Salmi: Noora and Sager’s father. Maha describes him as a mad man who lost his mind. However, he is very friendly and he loves his daughter so much.
  • Jassem Saeed Bin-Mattar: Noora’s husband. He is also married to two other wives named Lateefa and Shamsa. Though he seems stern at the beginning, he turns to become soft and tender once he speaks with Noora and shows her his inner feelings. He also becomes very happy when he knows that she is pregnant.
  • Hamad: Jassem’s servant. He falls in love with Noora and makes love with her. That’s why she becomes pregnant with his son. However, when Noora refuses to escape with him, he travels to India. He also steals Jassem’s pearls to have money but Noora takes them from him in order to put them back in the cupboard.
  • Zobaida Bint-Sheer: the witch who lives with her son Dur-Mamad. She is thought to have the ability to speak with Jinn and control people’s destiny. She also prepares potions and other stuff. She succeeds in deceiving people to take money from them by depending on sorcery. That’s why Jassem goes to her and pays her a lot of money in order to find him a solution so that he could have a baby.

Plot

The story talks about a young girl who is seventeen years old. Her name is Noora and she lives with her brother Sager and her insane father Ibrahim. She belongs to Al-Salmi tribe. Throughout the story, Noora finds herself forced to do things she does not want to do including being unable to marry the person she loves named Rashid, not having the ability to choose her destiny and refuse to marry someone she does not know and finally being helpless because of not being capable of escaping with the person she loved after her marriage. She also finds herself responsible for things she believes that she is so young to do such as taking care of the house work and looking after her father and brother. After going through many ups and downs and after facing a lot of issues, Noora decides at the end to stay with her husband Jassem and takes care of her baby.

Setting

The events of the story take place in the middle of the nineties at the Gulf countries. The characters move also from one place to another through the entire story as Maha Gragash mentions a lot of venues such as Wadeema, Leema and Nassayem. Furthermore, she talks about the life in desert and between mountains as well as the life of tribes and how they manage to survive in this harsh life. She describes the usage of wells and the dependence on dates along with exports from other countries like India and England so that they could be able to have a normal life. Some of these exports are spices and fruits such as turmeric, pomegranate and mangoes. Eventually, Maha talks about the activity of pearl diving and how Arabs used to rely on this trade in order to earn money.

Narrative voice

Maha depends on the self-monologue as mentioned before. In addition, she explains her story using the technique of the third person. Such technique is used in order to explain how Maha knows the deep secrets of every single character and how she predicts and expects their reactions. Furthermore, she successfully shows their emotions including their fear just as when she describes Noora’s fear that someone might reveal her secret of betraying her husband. On the other side, Maha depends on the technique of flashback as she tells the events of her story and suddenly, she talks about old memories and events in order to attract the attention of readers as well as providing them with information she thinks it is necessary so that they could be able to know more about their favorite characters.

Language

Maha Gargash manipulates words perfectly as her choice of language and her well explanation of characters shows how perfect she is in using English though she is an Arab writer. Her excellence in language can also be represented in the implementation of many verbs in order to describe voices, scenes and reactions of faces as well as gestures. Finally, many readers could find some words difficult for them especially Arab ones but Maha manages to attract their attention and make the story appealing to their tastes.

Summary

The author Maha Gargash chooses a very unique name in order to call its story. Such name symbolizes the actions done by the main character is the story Noora Al- Salmi. As a matter of fact, Noora is a young girl whose mother is dead and she lives with her brother Sager. In addition, her father is an insane man that does not show any kind of commitment towards his children. Because Noora and Sager live a poor life, Sager, just like any other man in an Arab family, wants to let go of his sister by getting her married in order not to hold the responsibility of becoming the breadwinner of the family.

That’s why he brings two sisters named Gulsom and Sakina to the hut where they live in order to find a rich husband for Noora so that she could enjoy a wealthy life away from poverty. In other words, Gulsom and Sakina work as matchmakers. After they arrive to Noora’s house, they start to give her advices and recommendations about how to become a good wife as well as checking every single detail and aspect in her body from head to toe in order to make sure that she would be perfect for the awaited bridegroom. Therefore, they start to hold her cheeks and touch her skin as well as looking at her teeth. They also find out that she has a scar on her chin because she fell when she was playing between rocks. So, they become sad. However, they say that it is not a big deal and that they would find a solution for all the imperfections in her body through depending on the usage of a mixture of cardamom and milk. In addition, they begin to talk about their experience in making young daughters ready to become good brides and they tell Noora that she is lucky because they are here to help her. They also say to her something very important; she must abandon her pride and dignity in order to live a good life. This is because of the fact that if she decides to speak or talk, her husband would kick her out of home and she will find no place to go or to live. That’s why she must be silent.

Noora is very scared and she hopes that Sakina and Gulsom would find something wrong in her body which would not qualify her to get married. However, her hopes are in vain when she discovers that both sisters are happy. That’s when Noora starts to feel like the sand fish after becoming sad and alone in the hut. In the next chapter, Noora is wandering between the mountains of the Arabian Desert in which the desert is very hot when she hears and sees a strange lizard. Because she is scared, she starts to call her brother Sager to come and help her. Then, they discover that this lizard is a sand fish and it begins to move quickly. That’s why it hurts itself and starts to bleed. Noora asks Sager to hold the sand fish in order to help it; however the lizard tries to escape. Then, suddenly it jumps into the air and lies on the ground. Noora and Sager think that it is dead but it survives.

At the same time, Sager tells Noora that he wastes his time with her as he has a lot of responsibilities. When Noora hears this word, she thinks that her brother says her in order to feel important and in order not to allow her to reply. Then, when Sager and Noora carry buckets of water to bring them back home, Noora rolls up her dress so that she could be able to walk. That’s when Sager becomes angry and asks her to cover her legs. Noora tells him that she does not do anything wrong and she has the right to act whatever she likes. Then, Sager replies by saying that she is now a woman and she cannot do actions of little girls. She is now a grownup lady. Noora becomes upset and starts to remember the advices her mother Fatma used to give her such as combing her hair and putting kohl in order to look neat and clean. Noora also notices that Sager is starting to abandon his boyhood and act like a man. However, she is sad because he does not show his feelings towards her and begins to push her away. When she returns to the hut, she finds her father Ibrahim preparing food. Ibrahim does not exactly separate between the roles of men and women as he believes these roles have to be interchangeable. He also starts to talk to her about their tribe Al-Salmis and how the leader of this tribe named Ahmed contributes in the destruction of the tribe because he was selfish. Ahmed, in fact, violated the rules which state that tribes must not touch or drink from wells that do not belong to them.

However, Ahmed drank from the well of the Hararees tribe and they killed him. That’s why no one from the tribe of Al-Salmi is left except Noora’s family. After that, Ibrahim starts to hear the voices no else hears and begins to talk to Noora as if she is someone else as well as spitting at her face. Then, Noora takes him inside the hut to relax. Sager tells his sister that he could ask someone to help their father get better. This person is Zobaida Bint-Sheer and she is a witch. She is able to talk to Jinn; the spirits mentioned in the Holy Koran and made of fire. Although Noora disagrees at the beginning, her brother manages to convince her.

While they are going to Zobaida, they pass by Mazoolah, a small village where their relatives from their mother’s side live. After discussing the issue of their father with their aunt Moza and their friends Saif, Abdullah and Muhammed, Sager and Noora tell them that they are going to give Zobaida money to cure their father. However, the friends say to them that Zobaida is busy with a new rich client who comes from a far distance. Then, Moza suggests that Noora and Sager must give Zobaida honey instead of coins in order to be able to meet and talk to her. Fortunately, they manage to find some bees after leaving the village and catch them. When Noora asks Sager about his behavior towards her and who the rich man he and his friends are talking about is, he tells her that he is sad because he is not able to feed her well and he is angry of their father because he does not allow her to get married. He also adds that he cannot hold the responsibility of both of them and that’s why she must marry a wealthy man in order to have a good life. Finally, Noora and Sager reach Nassayem where Zobaida, the witch, lives. However, boys who were playing there from which was Faraj Al-Mugami, the youngest son of Sheikh Khaled the leader of the tribe, attack the two protagonists leaving them without any wood or honey.

Now, they will not be able to go to Zobaida. In fact, those boys tell them that Zobaida has a son and she had turned him into a dog. They call him Dur-Mamad and they start to attack him. Later, Dur-Mamad, the young boy, come to Sager and Noora and kisses their donkey as a sign to follow him. After they meet Zobaida, she tells them that they did something special as they defended her own son. She also tells them that she can help Ibrahim by preparing a potion that would make him a gentle man. However, he will still be mad. Before they leave, Noora and Sager are very surprised as Zobaida says that they have another problem needed to be solved. She tells Sager that he is worry about his sister because she is old now and he becomes the man of the family. Therefore, she tells the protagonists that the only solution is to find her a husband in order to get married. Noora, of course, becomes angry and waits outside the hut till Zobaida and Sager finish their conversation.

Then, Noora goes to stay with her aunt Moza and finds out that she has a chest where she keeps a lot of amazing fabrics. Then, Noora decides to sew some clothes for her instead of storing them without any purpose. Moza is very happy because she finally finds out that these fabrics will be useless. At the same time Noora thinks why her brother did not come to get her as she believe two men at the same house will not be able to survive without a woman. While staying with the old woman, Noora hears the footsteps of someone but she does not have the ability to see him or her due to the snore of Moza. However, she finally discovers that he is a man, but she keeps asking herself why he sneaks at night and why he does not show himself.

Eventually, she manages to see him and talk to him. He tells Noora that he knows everything about her and that he feels sorry for what happened to her and her family. In spite of the fact that he refuses to tell Noora his name at the beginning, he finally agrees and says that his name his Rashid. Noora believes that Rashid looks familiar to her and then he tells her to meet him at the far well tomorrow. He also says to her that she does not have to stay with the old woman the whole day because no one will notice her absence and she can say that she will go for a walk. Then Rashid fades away in the shadows. In the following day, Noora starts to think whether to go or not to go. She begins to talk with herself regarding the reactions towards her if she decides to meet Rashid at night and if people of the village manage to catch her.

She wonders if they will send her home to her brother or beat her or lock her up. This is because women always take the whole responsibility for everything. She thinks that nothing will happen to Rashid because he is a man while she will have to suffer and bear the consequences of her actions. Finally, Noora takes the risk and goes to meet Rashid. She is excited and scared at the same time because she figures out that Rashid is one of her brother’s friends who had joined others for breakfast outside the hut of Moza. She is happy because this is the first time for her to sit with someone alone; someone who is a man not a boy and who is very concerned with her wellbeing. After that, Rashid encourages her to go to a place which he believes Noora will like and he tells her that his intentions towards her are noble. He is right because he shows Noora a very beautiful cave provided with a pool of water that could fit ten adults. Noora becomes very happy and starts to stretch her legs into the water. Rashid, in turn, begins to compliment her eyes, tells her that they are so beautiful and that she must not hide them. Noora starts to think that Rashid truly cares about her. Then, he tells the protagonist that they must go home before it is too late in order not to let anyone know that she was outside the hut. Rashid and Noora used to meet at the cave every single night without anyone noticing and when Moza asks Noora about her absence, Noora tells her that she walks for a long distance.

One day a woman named Hessa Bint-Ali came to visit Moza along with her niece Aisha and Aisha’s mother named Khadeeja. Aisha is promised to marry the son of Hessa. Then, Hessa starts to talk to Moza about how Aisha was sick and how she had lost a lot of weight. On the other side, Noora shows her skills in embroidery and her aunt Moza spreads the news between the women of the village. Nevertheless, no one is interested in the talent of sewing clothes but they do not mind take advantage of such talent to achieve their benefits. In spite of the fact that Noora begins to feel guilty because she hides a secret from her aunt that breaks the rules of the Arab tribal society in which she lives, she neglects her thoughts when she starts thinking of Rashid and his kind lovely gestures. After that, Hessa gives Noora some fabrics and asks her to sew the bridal gown and some clothes for her daughter-in-law in order to prepare her for marriage. Hessa also tells Noora that she is scared because she believes that a strange girl will steal her son away from her and his awaited bride.

When Noora meets Rashid at night, she tells him about her meeting with Hessa. She says that she feels as if Hessa blames her for something though she complimented her skin color. On the contrary, Rashid says to Noora that he is not interested in this speech and that he wants to talk about him and Noora. He tells her that he cannot eat or sleep or do anything because he keeps thinking of her all day. Despite the fact that Noora feels weak because of his speech and that she feels vulnerable, she becomes helpless. That’s why she starts to change subject and tells Rashid that he can use this pool as a system of falaj in order to irrigate crops. Suddenly, Rashid becomes angry and asks her to stop talking about this topic because this is his place and he has all the right to show it to whoever he likes. In addition, he tells her that he has the desire to talk about both of them. Suddenly, he asks Noora that he wants to marry her.

In the following day, she keeps thinking of what Rashid has told her while she is busy sewing clothes for Aisha’s wedding. When Moza sees her, she finds out that her face is glowing and asks her if she is happy because of being with her. Noora replies with yes but she wants to tell her the real reason. Nevertheless, she remains silent as Rashid tells her not to talk to anyone unless he asks for her hand formally from her brother Sager. After such proposal presented by Rashid, Noora starts to feel that her meetings with him begin not to become illegitimate or illicit. At the same day when Noora meets her lover, she asks him how he is going to talk to Sager in order to marry her. Noora tells him that her brother might not agree because he sometimes listens to others’ points of view, Rashid says that he has the ability to talk to Sager and convince him. Then both of them begin to converse about their life in the future together.

However, when Noora asks Rashid about the name of his family, he becomes impatient and tells her that she does not need to know because he will be her family. Then, he tells her that she is treated like a savage and she is always alone. Suddenly, Noora starts to cry and both of them begin to quarrel and push each other. Finally, she fell into water and her clothes become wet. She feels exposed and she tries to cover her body with her hands in order not to make Rashid notice its outline. Then he comes close to her and asks her to forgive him for what he did. When she tries to pull him away because she feels she has to, she could not resist as she becomes attracted towards him. Her heart starts beating while Rashid grabs her towards his embrace. He keeps telling her that he wants both of them to melt into each other and that he loves her so much. Then, he starts kissing her eyes when Noora begins to believe that they have to stop. Suddenly, she tells him in a tone full of authority that she has to go now. She is happy but guilty because she feels that she has done something sinful. However, God is good to her as the sky was raining and now she has an excuse to explain why her clothes were wet. She has a mixture of feelings: happy, sad, guilty and excited. She also is sad because she had missed the downpour in order to be with Rashid. When she reaches the village, she promises herself not to let Rashid touch her again till they become married.

On the other side, Noora finds out that Hessa had a fight with her son because he does not want to marry Aisha and then he disappears. Noora becomes perplexed because she does not know what the purpose of the wedding clothes would be. Hessa is angry and sad at the same time because she thinks her son is stupid as he refuses to marry his cousin. She also begins to hint in her speech while talking with Noora that someone evil might have convinced her son to refuse such marriage. Then she asks Noora why she did not walk as always and why she did not go back to her home. Noora replies that she is tired and that she will return home very soon. Suddenly, Noora becomes stunned when Hessa hopes the coming back of her son Rashid. The protagonist begins to wonder if Hessa’s son was her beloved Rashid or another one. Then Rashid comes to see her and tell her that it is useless for both of them to get married because he has to comply with the wishes of his mother to marry his cousin. Noora is astonished and asks him about his promise to her. Then she decides to get back home. After that, she finds out that her father, just as Rashid, was gone and she was devastated. Sager calms her with his nice words and gives her lot of gifts from which is a ring made of gold. Noora becomes suspicious and asks him how he managed to get all of this money. He tells her that he received help from Zobaida and a merchant client who was visiting her. Then Noora asks her brother what Zobaida and this merchant would have in return for saving the witch’s son Dur-Mamad. Sager tells her that she must marry this rich merchant in order to live a wealthy life away from poverty. Then, he begins to provide her with information about this groom.

His name is Jassem Saeed Bin-Mattar. He is already married to two wives and has a big house. However, Sager tells her sister that she does not need to worry since those two wives will be like her sisters. Noora becomes angry and blames Sager for listening to this old witch and for taking decisions regarding her life instead of her. Then, she tells him that she will not be such bride for this merchant. Nevertheless, her brother forces her to marry this man and that’s why Sakina and Gulsom start to prepare her as a bride by showering her with gifts and clothes. Then, Sheikh Kahled, Faraj’s father, along with her brother, two witnesses and the groom come to do the marriage. Later, Jassem becomes angry because Noora acts nervously and does not want to go with him. At the end, he takes her to a new place called Wadeema.

When she arrives to her new home, Noora finds out that she will live with Latifa, the first wife of Jassem and the oldest one along with Shamsa his second wife. Noora begins to live her marital life while sailing with the boat of her husband. She also meets Juma Bin-Humaid, Shamsa’s father and she feels that he has something to say. Noora was true because Juma says to Jassem that he is sad for his daughter because she is still not ready to accept a second fellow wife. Jassem becomes angry to know that his wife went to see her father without his permission. When finally Noora reaches the marital house, Yaqoota, a maid there, begins to show her everything. The, Noora asks her about what her duties are as a wife. Yaqoota replies that she must have a baby as the other two wives did not and that’s why the house is childless. Therefore, Noora starts to think that such baby would give her the chance to keep Jassem from coming to her every single night and would fill her empty hours. That’s why she gets happy when she knows that she will be left alone as Jassem is going to India. On the contrary, Jassem begins to get upset as he loses hope of having a baby, according to what was mentioned by the witch. That’s when he blames Noora for not doing her job as a wife and instead of making love with her, he begins to talk. Noora finds this nice and starts to respond to his talks with a smile. Besides, he informs her about his work which is collecting pearls from seas.

He also teaches her how to do calculations and becomes friendly with her. However, Noora notices that whenever sun rises, Jassem gets his stern face back. Maha Gargash, the author, goes to explain another side of Noora’s life which how her fellow wives treat her. While Lateefa acts as a mother, Shamsa cannot stand her and tells her that Jassem might throw her out when he gets bored of her. Noora starts to worry and think though she knows that she shares certain intimacy with him. Nevertheless, one night he tells her that he is upset with the magic in her eyes and that she cannot deceive him anymore. Noora did not what to do and she is scared that would she become useless and be kicked out of the house. Furthermore, Yaqoota tells Noora that Hamad, who works for her husband on his boat, wants to see her. This was very strange for her as being asked by unmarried man to meet her is not usual. However, all he wanted from Noora was stitching his father’s clothes so that he can use them at work.

One day, Jassem tells his wives that he is not going to India as there are no more pearls in the sea. Noora starts to think of poor divers who will not be able to support their families. Jassem also tells his wives that he will go to Leema while they will go to Om Al-Sanam. In addition, Lateefa wants her mirror and that’s why she decides to send Noora and Hamad to look for it. Before the journey begins, Hamad talked with Noora about his dreams and how he wanted to be a diver but he failed. Noora starts to feel close to him and that’s why she keeps telling herself that he is like a brother to her. As a result, she begins calling him brother Hamad. Furthermore, Noora keeps asking herself why Lateefa wants that mirror so bad but she does not find an answer. After they reached Wadeema, Noora falls and hits her head while searching for the mirror. Therefore, Hamad comes close to her and starts kissing her bruise. Since then, they stopped calling each other brother and sister. Though Noora feels that what she did was wrong, she felt that it was right. When Noora goes back to Lateefa, Lateefa keeps asking her questions and touches her bruise. She asks her what the reason for the bruise was. Noora says that she knocked her head onto the door.

At that moment, Lateefa stops asking questions while Noora becomes very worried by her silence. When Hamad and Noora are collecting Henna for Lateefa as she asked them, she tells Hamad that she is concerned Hamad again comes close to Noora and asks her to divorce Jassem because he wants to be with her. When she asks him what she would do with her husband and that he would not agree, Hamad tells her that they will figure something out. He informs her that he will dive and find a big pearl so that they could be able to get married. Noora tells him that he cannot because he has an ache in his ears because of diving before, but Hamad says that he will handle this issue. After they go back to Wadeema to get what Lateefa wanted, Noora and Hamad make love together. However, when Jassem comes back from India, Noora is not satisfied to see her husband as she wants to become happy again with Hamad. Hamad tells her to steal the pearls of Jassem and he would not notice, Noora of course becomes angry. Surprisingly, she is shocked when she finds out that she is pregnant and she keeps thinking about what will happen to her when they find out about her betrayal. Noora of course knows that the baby in her belly is Hamad’s. So, he comes her one night and shows her the pearl he stole from Jassem. He asks her to pack everything because they will leave. When Noora refuses because she cannot go, Hamad never shows himself again. Before disappearing, he tells her that Lateefa arranged for all of their relationship in order to make her pregnant so that she can get a baby for Jassem. Later, Noora knows from Lateefa that he has left in order to find another job in India. Noora becomes relieved

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