The Late Twentieth Century: 1960-2000 - Short Fiction

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What conflicting emotions and complex state of mind does the narrator in "Sandpiper" by Adhaf Soueif exhibit?

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The narrator in this excellent short story finds herself trapped in a place where she feels she does not belong yet she is unable to leave, and the first and last paragraphs of this story establish her as the "sandpiper" of the story's title. A sandpiper is a bird that is a wader, and therefore neither lives on the land nor on the sea, but on the thin intersection of the two, where the sea meets the sand. This is a perfect symbol to capture the ambiguous and precarious position of the narrator. The opening paragraph describes the narrator's short trip to the sand and how she contemplates the sea. The final paragraph captures the way that the narrator is trapped between two worlds that are so utterly opposed and know nothing whatsoever of each other:

But what do the waves know of the massed, hot, still sandds of the desert just twenty, no, ten feet beyond the scalloped edge? And what does the beach know of the depths, the cold, the currents just there, there--do you see it?--where the water turns a deeper blue.

The sea and the sand become a powerful metaphor for Egypt and England, the two worlds that the narrator somehow straddles without being able to be a part of either. The first and last paragraphs of this story therefore emphasise the narrator's feelings of being somehow in exile in her life, as she is unable to return to England, her home, because of her daughter, and is forced to stay in Egypt, a land where she does not belong. The sand and the sea prove to be apt symbols to elaborate on her position.

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