In the Country of Men

by Hisham Matar

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How is male domination and female impotence presented in In the Country of Men?

Male domination and female impotence in In The Country of Men are demonstrated through the protagonist's parents, Faraj and Najwa. Faraj is the patriarch of the family, and when he is absent, he leaves his son in charge instead of his wife, Najwa. As a woman in a conservative society, Najwa has limited authority in her household, and readers later learn that she was forced by her family to marry Faraj when she was only fourteen.

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To answer this question, we need to look at the relationship between our protagonist's parents. Suleiman is the son of Najwa and Faraj. At the start of the novel, the family is living a relatively comfortable and normal life in accordance with their devout Islamic faith.

When political turmoil becomes rife after Moammar Qaddafi comes to power in Libya, where the family lives, Faraj gets drawn into the furor and starts going on "business trips," before ultimately disappearing. When he goes on these trips, he leaves his son in charge rather than his wife, which is a stark indication of the impotence of female characters in the society depicted in the novel.

When Faraj is away, Najwa turns to alcohol for comfort and divulges to Suleiman that she was forced to marry his father at the age of 14. Rather than being allowed to marry for love, she was forced to marry as a punishment for being caught talking to a boy to whom she should not have been speaking. While she has learned to love her husband, she never had the opportunity to forge her own destiny, which leaves her with strong feelings of apathy and hopelessness in light of her husband's disappearance.

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In The Country of Men by Hisham Matar reveals the dominance of men and the impotence of women through the relations of Suleiman's mother to his father and to him. When the father is present, his mother, Um Suleiman (also Najwa) is very attentive to and helpful toward him but, when he is away on long trips, she indulges in drunken nights as a release from the oppression she feels. Further, during these drunken nights, she tells her son the stories about how her marriage to Faraj Bu Suleiman el-Dewani, her husband and Suleiman's father, was a forced arranged marriage because she was being punished for speaking with a boy in a coffee shop. In addition, when el-Dewani leaves on trips, he puts the other man in the house in charge regardless of the fact that the other man is a nine boy and the son of his mother. These relationships and their details demonstrate that Najwa is impotent to effect any events in her life and that the men are dominant.

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