In El Saadawi's "A Modern Love Letter," what ways does the young women’s state of mind reflect her rebellion against the norms of society? How does this reflect its title?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It makes sense that El Saadawi would wish to challenge the preconceptions of what love is and how it is seen in the modern setting.  The young woman's state of mind reflects a freedom of thought denied to her in the social setting in which she lives.  The "Modern Love Letter" is transformational because it reflects the innermost experiences of a woman.  The young woman writing the letter is to communicate what she feels. She is able to explore her own emotional state only through the letter.  Writing the letter is an act of rebellion because she is denied the chance to articulate what she feels.  There is rebellion in the writing because it comes from an inner citadel of thoughts that cannot be controlled by the social order.  The young woman rebels against this condition in writing the letter to her beloved.  She writes that her purpose in writing is “…so that you may perhaps understand me or that I may perhaps understand myself. The attempt may come to nothing, for who is able to understand himself or the other."  From this, it becomes clear that the woman feels that writing is an act of rebellion.  She seeks to establish a realm where she can clearly communicate so that she is understood in her own mind and in the minds of others.  If the woman felt that her voice was validated in a social setting, the need to write the letter would be less.  The ability to be heard is where the woman's rebellious spirit and writing the letter merge together as one.  Another example of this is seen in the young woman's discussion of her dreams and aspirations:  "In truth, most of the time I live in my dreams for I can choose and change them, whereas it is reality which changes me without my choosing."  This line communicates a collision between external control and internal subjectivity.  The rebellious spirit of the young woman has an end destination. The need to dream is perceived as something absolute.

It is in this condition where the title becomes appropriate.  The modern love letter for the young woman is both to a person and to an ideal.  The letter is not necessarily a traditional statement of love between a man and a woman.  While this can be a part of it, the letter's title might speak to the condition of love that the young woman displays towards her spirit and sense of identity. While there is a social element that seeks to silence her voice, the love letter is written to extol its virtue.  The title becomes appropriate for it is both a poem of praise and a potential elegy for a voice that the world seeks to silence.  Through this, El Saadawi's vision of feminism acquires both a universal and subjective timbre within its voice.  It speaks to a condition of those who are imprisoned as well as articulating what it means to be a woman within such a condition of being in the world.

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