What are some of the literary similarities and differences between these two works in their narrative, purpose, and structure: Digital Scheherazades in the Arab World by Fatema Mernissi...

What are some of the literary similarities and differences between these two works in their narrative, purpose, and structure: Digital Scheherazades in the Arab World by Fatema Mernissi and Once More to the Lake by E. B. White?

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huntress | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Both pieces, "Digital Scheherazades in the Arab World" by Fatema Mernissi, and "Once More to the Lake" by E. B. White, are about how people view the past and how difficult it is to adjust to the unknown chaos of the future. Mernissi writes in a journalistic, narrative style; she is forthcoming with her observations and agenda. To wit: the Arab world is undergoing electrifying change ("digital chaos") which upsets the cultural structure and "the old ways," even to the extent that men are accepting women into the workplace and in at least one instance, encouraging them to become politically involved. This is against the backdrop of a world where men--particularly aged men--were revered and obeyed and women's place was in the home, obeying their husbands in silence. 

White, on the other hand, is more subtle in his narrative, comparing the unknown chaos of the future (largely industrial and commercial in his case) with the tranquility of the lake, where he spent summers with his father as a child and now takes his son "once more." He is overwhelmed, at first, with how everything is exactly as he remembers it. The lake is placid, soothing, and has all the same familiar smells of vegetation. It is so reassuring in its sameness that he finds himself having trouble differentiating between himself being the adult now and being the boy (his son) walking beside him. He thinks of the lake--like the older Arabs in Messini's piece think of the past--as a "holy place," a "cathedral," a place and time of perfection. 

We can compare this to the ocean, where he has spent his adult life, characterized by the "restlessness of the tides and the fearful cold of the sea water and the incessant wind which blows across the afternoon and into the evening [which] make [him] wish for the placidity of a lake in the woods." The ocean symbolizes his own chaotic, adult life in the city, and is his version of Messini's "digital chaos"--internet access--which has thrown many Arab adults into paroxysms of fear regarding the protection of their way of life and the contamination of their children's minds, particularly regarding acceptance of violence (and "otherness," ironically asserted as a characteristic of American thought but not Arabic) and access to sexual videos and pornography (in a society where sexuality is a protected, private, intimate affair). 

Messini's purpose is to educate non-Muslims, beginning with the Spanish journalists who had recently interviewed her but extending to all Westerners, about the exciting changes taking place in the Arabic world. She is most excited about the "surprising" reactions to these changes: instead of crying and complaining about what Americans might call "the good ol' days," Arabs are looking for ways to accept and embrace the technological changes, to use these "evils" for good. Messini also implies that more Arab women should join the cause, follow their dreams, and make a difference, just like the ones she writes about. 

White's purpose is to compare the ideal we remember with the reality that is. In the end of his piece, he works us out of the dream of his being his son in spirit by bringing in the annoyance of the newer and noisier outboard motors which "made a petulant, irritable sound," instead of the "sleepy sound" the "one-lungers" of yesteryear produced. He brings us back into the present more solidly with the outbreak of an electrical storm over the lake. The breeze kicks up and the thunder rumbles like a "kettle drum, then the snare, then the bass drum and cymbals," like a symphony at the end of an opera, just before the curtain comes up and the audience is blinded by the lights and returns to reality. We are completely back in the present by White's last line, as he watches his son pull on his cold, soggy swim trunks and suddenly his "groin felt the chill of death." He realizes now that the past is the past and cannot be revived. He must live in the present, with its waves and chaos. 

Both are essays, but White's is a simple story comparing life as a child with his life as a man, subtle, beautiful, and elusive in its message (so elusive, in fact, that scholars will never stop disagreeing on his thesis). Messini's message is blunt--sheer journalism--in traditional essay form: introduction, arguments with support, and a conclusion which sums up her main ideas. 

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