The Late Twentieth Century: 1960-2000 - Short Fiction

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In "Sandpiper," what is the main message of the story?

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The short story "Sandpiper" by Ahdaf Soueif takes the form of reflecting on the narrator's life and the series of events that led her to her present situation. Clearly the governing emotion is one of sadness, as the narrator reflects on her own position, trapped in a marriage to a man who no longer loves her, living in a country where she can never fully fit in yet having to stay because her daughter now considers that country to be home. However, the text seems to suggest a message of how impossible it can be to enter another culture and to live within it. Note how the story ends:

That narrow stretch of sand knows nothing in the world better than it does the white waves that whip it, caress it, collapse onto it, vanish into it. The white foam knows nothing better than those sands which wait for it, rise to it and suck it in. But what do the waves know of the massed, hot, still sands 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 narrator's position is encapsulated in the figure of the sandpiper, the bird that dwells permanently on "the narrow stretch of sand," straddling two different worlds yet fully being part of neither. This is her position: she can never be fully part of Egypt, as the story shows, as she is a white woman brought up in Europe. However, now her daughter is born, she feels trapped almost into staying in Egypt so she can be with her, and thus return to her home country is denied to her. The two worlds, however close, can never come together for her, and she remains permanently exiled from both.

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