Let's examine some details about three characters in Adhaf Soueif's short story “Sandpiper.” We'll begin with the narrator. Her tone is mostly wistful as she reflects on the days of the past, her increasing alienation from her husband, her fear that she will lose her daughter, and her regrets about her situation. She feels trapped in her life, in a culture that is not her own. She entered into it out of love for her husband, but as the years progressed, they grew apart. “My foreignness,” she explains, “which had been so charming, began to irritate him” (374). She could not fit into his culture, and he came to resent that. “He was back home,” the narrator continues,” and he needed someone he could be at home with, at home” (374–375). She would never be at home.
Yet the narrator chooses to remain in a foreign culture and in a loveless marriage for the sake of her daughter, Lucy. She realizes that she should have left when Lucy was a baby, but now it is too late. Lucy is at home in this world in a way her mother never will be, and so her mother stays for her sake, unwilling to separate her from the father and family she loves. This faithfulness is commendable, even powerful, although it is also extremely painful. The narrator, as a mother, puts her daughter's well-being before her own.
The narrator tries to fit into that world of her husband, a society that expects her to be a lady, to refrain from doing housework or cooking, to leave such things to servants. Yet she resents the inferior position of women in this world and her lack of power to influence where the family will live. Her husband makes those decisions. She does not. Yet she stays for Lucy.
Unlike the narrator, Um Sabir is at home in her world. She is a servant in a way, the “old nanny” of the narrator's husband, but she carries authority in the household, especially over the narrator (372). In fact, Um Sabir is quite patronizing toward the narrator. When the latter tries to help with the housework, Um Sabir refuses to let her. “Shame, shame,” she scolds. “What am I here for? Keep your hands nice and soft. Go and rest. Or why don't you go to the club? What have you to do with these things?” (372). Um Sabir refuses to give up her role of housekeeper. She will not let the narrator care for her family. She forces the narrator into an unsatisfactory life of idleness. What’s more, Um Sabir even reaches into the role of mother to Lucy and makes the narrator feel as though she is not needed or wanted in her own home.
Lucy is still quite young, but she may be the most powerful character in the story, for she is holding her mother in place. She isn't doing this on purpose, of course, but her mother loves her, recognizes that Lucy is home, and will not take her away from the people and places she loves. Therefore, Lucy is both the narrator’s treasure and her trap (376). Lucy is an innocent and imaginative little girl, and she is also quite perceptive. Her description of heaven, for instance, reveals that she is aware of her mother's preferences for a northern climate: “It's a circle, Mama, and it has a chimney, and it will always be winter there” (374). Lucy realizes, on some level, that her mother is unhappy, and she tries to comfort her.
Indeed, these three characters are all quite different, but their thoughts and interactions move the story forward and create its meaning.