In the Country of Men

by Hisham Matar

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How important is the theme of manhood in In the Country of Men? What does it mean to be a man in Libyan society?

The theme of manhood is centrally important in In the Country of Men, in large part because Libyan society places great value on manhood. Men are granted far more power and freedom than women, a fact that is reflected in the lives of the novel's characters.

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The title of In the Country of Men suggests the importance of the theme of manhood in the novel. Indeed, in Libyan society during the rise of Muammar el-Qaddafi, being a man means everything. It means one has the freedom to move around at will, to command the other members of one's household, and to live life as one sees fit.

For women, on the other hand, life is very different. Take for example the story of the protagonist's mother, Najwa. She was forced to marry her husband at the age of fourteen, purely because she was seen talking to a boy whom she was forbidden to see by society.

Another instance of Libyan society's high valuation of manhood can be seen after Suleiman's father disappears. At that point, Suleiman, a nine-year-old boy, becomes head of the household, not his mother.

Even their manhood, however, does not protect Libyan men in this era from the effects of the prevailing political forces. This fact is showcased by the sudden disappearance of Suleiman's father, Faraj. The fact is again underscored when members of the Revolutionary Party arrive to take away Suleiman's neighbor, Rashid.

The theme of masculinity is a central concern within this novel, for Libyan society gives men far more power than women. However, manhood in itself is insignificant relative to the sweeping political forces at play in Libyan society.

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