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Palestine, a Middle Eastern state, had been an Arabian paradise for centuries until Jewish troops invaded this land in the 1940s and deprived thousands of people of their homeland and mother culture. Ghassan Kanafani, an immigrant writer of Palestinian background, addresses the corruptness of the Israeli notion of the “Promised Land” as a territory, violently seized after driving its native inhabitants away. The conflict between the two ethnic group is the theme underlying all of his literary works. The present paper looks more closely at “Men in the Sun” and “The Land of Sad Oranges” and argues that the symbols physical disability and road point to the helplessness and powerlessness of the Palestinian people against the well-organized military and economic attack of the rival nation in the former story, whereas in the latter story, the symbols of an orange and a revolver might reveal a hidden message through which the author urges his compatriots to struggle for liberation and independence.
Description of different elements
In “Men in the Sun”, the most important symbol is the endless path that embodies the difficulty migrant workers from Palestine overcome. The long story depicts four men who are traveling the long road that appears to be full of obstacles and can even be identified as a separate character of the work, given that ground and sand are referred to almost as living beings and sources of energy Abu Qais utilizes: “Abu Qais rested on the damp ground, and the earth began to throb under him with tired heartbeats, which trembled through the grains of sand and penetrated the cells of his body. ‘It’s the sound of your own heart. You can hear it when you lay your chest to the ground”’” (Kanafani, 21). Therefore, each centimeter of the desert the travelers are trying to pass also has its unique mood and volition; whereas the earlier paths the characters encountered belonged to their native land, their current journey takes places in the strange and hostile locality, so the sandy road is reluctant to let them into Kuwait, where the men plan to find an employment.
The other elements of the environment of the road are equally unfriendly. Although the characters feel allegedly sealed in the old lorry, they are gradually affected by the sun (Kanafani, p. 53) that acts as a clock mechanism that measures the remaining time of their life. In order to get safely smuggled to Kuwait, the three Palestinian men are supposed to stay in the water tanker, not intended for passengers and thus not equipped with a ventilation system. The adventurers manage to go through the first police post successfully, but the second one becomes the place of the three laborers’ death, as they suffocate in the relatively hermetic reservoir. Therefore, the challenge of the distance is depicted as infeasible and the opportunity to gain a worthier quality of life is a mirage, an unachievable dream that emerges in everyone who wanders across the desert.
The symbol of physical disability refers to the protagonist, Abul, who agrees to help the desperate Palestinians cross the border. In fact, he was seriously wounded during the Israeli invasion so that his masculinity is nowadays impaired. In the story, this character also appears to be incapable of saving his protégés who slowly die under the closed hatch. Although his commitment to his fellows is illustrated through his willingness to provide them with transportation and explain the distinctive features of Kuwaiti life, his patriotic aspiration is finally de-valuated so that he can only ask the surrounding dark eternity why his passengers did not knock (Kanafani, p. 73). Therefore, the Palestinian people is not merely weak and fettered, but also deafened so that no-one is able to properly perceive the others’ voices. The latter implication might be also viewed as a slight cue at the fact and author’s own immigration and, more, broadly, to condition of Palestinians, scattered around the world and separated from their homeland.
“The Land of Sad Oranges” also contains several meaningful symbols. One of them is an orange, a fruit that reflects the wealth and pride of Palestine, as the crops of Jaffa trees are imported to most European countries. “They carried the oranges, we heard them lamenting. At that moment I realized the orange is something precious…and these lovely big oranges are something dear to our hearts” (Kanafani, p.75). In the first days of the family’s flight from Akka, oranges are described as juicy and appetizing, as parallelized to the characters’ hope for returning home; however, in the final episode, the fruit reveals the traces of decomposition that refers to the overall disillusionment and the lack of plausibility in the idea of re-asserting the Palestinian pride. However, the revolver placed by the author near the rotting fruit might have dual interpretation: on the one hand, it points to the violence surrounding the sunny land of tasty oranges; on the other, it serves as a notification for Kanafani’s compatriots who still intend to re-capture the ancestral land by using peaceful methods, as counterattack is probably the most reliable means of obtaining independence. However, instead of directing arms against the occupants, Palestinians use them against themselves, similarly to the protagonist’s embittered father, who attempts suicide.
As one can conclude, the symbolism of the stories reveals different aspects of the state of the Palestinian people, as the sandy road and physical defect in “Men in the Sun” illustrate the lack of unity and common idea that would inspire the nation, whereas the revolver in the second story might be used as an idea of the necessity of using power and violence against the enemy instead of canalizing aggression inside the Palestinian community and destroying its unity.
Kanafani, G. “Men in the Sun”. Men in the Sun and other Palestinian Stories by Ghasan Kanafani, pp. 21-74.
Kanafani, G. “The Land of Sad Oranges”. Men in the Sun and other Palestinian Stories by Ghasan Kanafani, pp. 75-80.