How does one write a comparison/contrast essay to show of the two stories, "A Handful of Dates by El Tayeb Salih or "A Matter of Balance" by W. D. Valgardson, which one is more interpretive?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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For your comparison and contrast essay, in answering the question, which short story is "more interpretive," you are really answering the question, which story is the most explanatory, or least open to interpretation, giving you a clear view of the author's thoughts and feelings on the subject. Both short stories can be seen as open to interpretation; however, in "A Matter of Balance," Valgardson leaves the moral question unresolved: Was Harold right or wrong to avenge himself on the bikers for his wife's death? In contrast, in "A Handful of Dates," author El Tayeb Salih clearly shows the the young boy's sense of morality.

In "A Handful of Dates," the young boy, who is described as very intelligent, is very quick to recognize his own grandfather's prejudices against their neighbor Masood as well as his unjust treatment of Masood. In fact, he is so quick to recognize these things, that by the end of the story, he feels he hates his grandfather and forces himself to regurgitate the dates he feels his grandfather is robbing Masood of. The young boy first has these realizations when one day his grandfather informs him that he does not like Masood because Masood is an "indolent man" and then further goes on to say that Masood once owned all of the land before him by inheritance but now the boy's grandfather owns two-thirds of it, and the boy's grandfather anticipates soon owning all of it. What's more, the boy's grandfather defines "indolent" as being rich only through inheritance when it really means being slothful, or lazy, and slothfulness is not directly related to inheritance. In other words, the boy's grandfather reveals his first prejudice against Masood when for little reason he calls Masood indolent, and the boy quickly picks up on that. His grandfather reveals his second prejudice against Masood when in answer to the boy's question as to why Masood sold so much of his land to his grandfather, his grandfather replies "women"--explaining that Masood was a "much-married man," and "each time he married he sold [to the boy's grandfather] a feddan or two." However, the intelligent boy quickly sees this cannot possibly be true as that would calculate to Masood having ninety wives by now, and the boy has seen Masood's "three wives, his shabby appearance, his lame donkey and its dilapidated saddle, [and] his galabia with the torn sleeve." Hence, instinctively, he knows his grandfather is lying about Masood due to his prejudices against Masood and that the truth is Masood must have come into some other type of hard time that made it necessary for him to sell his land. Because the boy sees his grandfather's lies and prejudices, he also instinctively knows that his grandfather is being cruel, heartless, prideful, and selfish in wanting to soon gain all of Masood's land. If his grandfather owns all of Masood's land, it will mean that Masood is ruined and impoverished. The boy has enough compassion for humanity to not want such a fate to befall Masood and rightly judges his grandfather as lacking compassion. Hence, when he hears his grandfather speaking to Masood about debts Masood still owes him, he runs from his grandfather, feeling that he hates him.

Hence, we see that El Tayeb Salih clearly lays out the morals to be learned from this story, making it interpretive, or explanatory, and the least open to interpretation, since we clearly see the author's thoughts and feelings through the thoughts, feelings, and revelations of the boy character.

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