The Answer Is No By Naguib Mahfouz

In the short story "The Answer is No" by Naguib Mahfouz, what does this mean "Just as she had hated his strength, so too she hated her own weakness."?

Asked on by adiga--20

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The narrator blames herself for being weak in having sex with Badawi when she was a girl, even though she realizes he was in a position of power over her.

The story describes a teacher, an older women, who feels some distress when she learns who her new headmaster is.  As the tale progresses, we learn that her distress comes from the fact that she knows who he is.  When she was a teenager, her parents hired him to be her tutor.  He was twenty-five years older than her, and she was only fourteen, so she saw him as a father figure. 

The narrator continually states that she did not see him as a threat.  She is rationalizing, giving herself an out.  She is reminding herself that she was not to blame.  Of course, she is not to blame.  Even if she consented, she was a child.  He raped her, in a statutory sense at least.  Her guilt is the guilt that rape victims feel.

How, then, had it happened? In her innocence she had not noticed any change in his behavior to put her on her guard. … Without love or desire on her part the thing had happened.

He took advantage of her because he knew that she considered him a “second father” and felt no love for him, but did not really suspect anything.  He caught her off guard and used her inexperience and position against her.  Then he said he would come back and offer to marry her, and he did, but she refused him.  She did not consider him a person of good character, because a person of good character would not have taken advantage of a young girl less than half his age to begin with.

Interestingly enough, she does not get married.  She is so ashamed, that this one instance dictates her life.

Day by day she becomes older. She avoids love, fears it.

When he comes back into her life, it hits her like a brick. She does not know what to do.  She does not know how to let it affect her.  He is surprised to see her, and surprised that she has never married.  He has gone on with his life.  This incident has not let her go on with hers.  After it, she felt that the only thing she could do after continuing with school was to become a teacher and then an old maid.  She punished herself for the rest of her life, never letting herself fall in love, because she hated love.  Love was tainted for her, because of what he had done to her.  She hated herself, because she felt that her own weakness made her complicit.  Her self-loathing followed her the rest of her life.

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