House of Sand and Fog is considered to be one of the most fascinating and unbelievably interesting stories, written within these ten years. Andre Dubus III, the author of this novel, becomes one of the most recognizable writers; this book is a finalist of the National Book Award, and, it is not a surprise, was made into a captivating movie.
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Lots of themes are raised in this 365-pages book, and each of them helps to comprehend this world better, be closer to such actual problems like drugs, poverty, gender problems, race inequality, and be ready to solve them. (Farr, 2008, p. 224) It is not one more tragic stories, which tell about some misunderstandings between people; it is a deep analysis of relations, which may influence lots of things and life itself.
House of Sand and Fog gives its reader one more hint of morality, perfectly describes lives of several rather strong characters, introduces patriarchal values as one of the political sites, and proves that gendered violence may destroy everything, even the belief about the American Dream.
Catastrophic misunderstanding between Kathy Nicolo and Massoud Behrani, and later Lester Burdon’s participation in this conflict turn out to be the major theme in the story. In fact, the most important issue about this novel is a conflict between good and evil. Kathy is an innocent victim, who loses everything, and Behrani, an evil side, has enough opportunities to help, but does not want to do this.
The point is that Behrani knows this truth, when his son is dying, he confesses: “I will give everything to one who is less fortunate. Yes! I will make it for the broken bird. Please, God, I’m making nazr to this woman. To Kathy Nicolo.” (House of Sand and Fog) Events cannot be controlled, everyone tries to present own truth, and nothing can stop them.
Massoud Amir Behrani was a respected officer in Iran. With time, he decides to go to California and earn for living in order to provide his family with an opportunity to enjoy this life in California. Behrani wants to restore his dignity, as he finds his job as a trash collector rather humiliating for a man, who used to be a powerful officer.
He is not afraid to risk and buy a house with a desire to resell it and earn more. However, one bureaucratic mistake may destroy everything. This house is a property of one drug addicted women, who was left by her husband and was not able to pay all taxes.
Now, she has nowhere to live and has to think about the ways to bring back her house. She cannot accept the reality that she has to do something in order to live and be able to earn. “My handover had settled deep and black into me. I started to feel afraid of everything that moved.” (Dubus III, 2000, p. 168) I can compare her life with some kind of illusion, when a man helps to forget about all problems being close and then, leaves everything. Such changes are hard to survive, and Katy should find powers to fight.
In order to analyze how exactly patriarchy and gendered roles are represented in the novel, it is better to clear up the essence of both of them. The major point of all this is that all things in this world should be divided into certain categories: superior and inferior. Of course, those things, which are superior, have more supremacy and may control everything.
Such values usually touch each sphere of life: work, politics, religion, and sex. (Rowan, 1987, p. 9) Taking into account that gender roles are such behavioral norms, which associated with men and women role in the society, it is quite possible to say that patriarchy, described in the novel, certainly shapes people’s behavior in many different ways. (Lee, 2005, p.vii)
Men want to know that women are dependent on them. For example, the relations between Kathy and Lester demonstrate that Lester’s help to Kathy is one more opportunity to remover her from this reality. He does not want to teach her, but tries to solve something independently: he gives her money and provides her with places for temporary living, but still, it is just a temporary ways out and cannot solve her future problems.
At the beginning of the novel, Kathy is considered as a kind and innocent person. She lives in her own world with her own problems. Even when she faces troubles, caused by Behrani’s presence, she remains to be good. However, Lester’s presence in her life – this is what makes her evil and unfair.
Lester does not help, but confuses. He also turns out to be the major reason of why everything is changing. “The ‘enemy voice’ speaks often and insistently in Kathy’s mind, the term subsequently capitalized in the novel as a dialectical demon: Enemy Voice.” (Moran, 2008, p. 119)
At the end of the story, the reader feels sorry for Behrani: his son’s death, his financial and personal crisis – all this makes him take unforgivable steps like killing his own wife and himself in order not to be blamed. As we can see, Behrani decides for both his wife and himself, this male power is really great and proves once again that such patriarchal values have to be analyzed. People know that “patriarchal values dominate and order the writing of history.” (Lerner and Kerber, 2005, p. 134)
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Maybe, because of such trust to Lester and his desire to help by means of humiliation and underlining of women’s weakness, female inability to prove one’s rights, and male’s desire to own and rule, House of Sand and Fog is able to look closer at “hearts of its characters and, and loves and pities them.” (Ebert, 2005, p. 298)
The relation between Lester and other women are also deserves attention as well. He is already married man. He cannot control his passion to Kathy and forgets about his duties within his family. He, as a man, thinks that everything is in his hands.
He can solve problems, hurt people, and women especially, and change everything according to his personal desire. Is it not the best example of patriarchy and gender roles in particular? Of course, if we talk about patriarchy, we should remember that Behrani is an Iranian man, he came from the country, where men should control everything. However, the attitude to women demonstrated by Lester are not better.
Dubus makes a wonderful choice to represent the story from different points of view; he chooses three major protagonists, who share their thoughts with the reader: Kathy, Lester, and Behrani.
These people are so different; the only one mistake unites them and changes their lives forever. Patriarchal values are not the only one issues, discussed in the novel, however, they remain to be one of the most crucial ones, which make the reader to analyze once again the role of women and its connection to men in modern life. People do not care about someone’s troubles, till these troubles find them.
It is necessary to decide the questions concerning gender roles before they grasp the whole world and start destroying everything. Tragic end of the story is a strong proof that misunderstandings between male and female can bring rather sad results. With the help of this story, the reader cannot only learn more about race and gender inequality, but also analyze how the American Dream may go awry, and a simple house may cause death.
Dubus III, Andre. House of Sand and Fog. Vintage, 2000.
Ebert, Roger. Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2006. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2005.
Farr, Cecilia, K. and Harker, Jaime. The Oprah Affect: Critical Essays on Oprah’s Book Club. SUNY Press, 2008.
House of Sand and Fog. Screenplay by Vadim Perelman and Andre Dubus III. Dir. Vadim Perelman. Perf. Jennifer Connely, Ben Kingsley, and Ron Eldard. DreamWorks Distribution, LLC, and Miramax Films, 2003.
Lee, Janice, W. and Ashcraft, Amie, M. Gender Roles. Nova Publishers, 2005.
Lerner, Gerda and Kerber, Linda, K. The Majority Finds Its Place: Placing Women in History. UNC Press, 2005.
Moran. Beverly. Race and Wealth Disparities: A Multidisciplinary Discourse. University Press of America, 2008.
Rowan, John. The Horned God: Feminism and Men as Wounding and Healing. Taylor & Francis, 1987.