The Late Twentieth Century: 1960-2000 - Short Fiction

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Discuss the cross-cultural tensions experienced in “Sandpiper” and their repercussions on the protagonist’s life.

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It is clear that the narrator of this excellent short story has found cross cultural conflict to be one of the major reasons that has led to her position now in the story as one who is trapped on the fringes of the society of which she is a part, unable to return to her home but unable to enter fully into the culture of her husband and daughter. The impact of this cross cultural conflict is of course embodied in the powerful symbol of the sandpiper, the bird that dwells on the edge of the sea between the water and the land, belonging to neither element fully, just as the narrator does not now belong to either Egypt or her original home in England.

Cross cultural conflict is evidenced in the inability of the narrator to understand the role of women in Egypt. This is evidenced through her interactions with Um Sabir, her husband's old nanny, who constantly highlights the narrator's ignorance about Egyptian culture:

I tried, at first, at least to help, but she would rush up and ease the duster or the vacuum cleaner from my hands. "Shame, shame. 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?"

The narrator tries to fit in to this new world through doing what she feels would be helpful, but fails to understand that her position leaves her tasks that are no more challenging than arranging flowers and presiding over dinner parties. She is never able to fully understand "their ways," and this is the crucial reason why she feels stranded.

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