Memed, My Hawk

by Yaşar Kemal Gökçeli

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Early in chapter seventeen, when Memed and Jabbar have fled into the mountains after accidentally burning down the village of Aktozlu in an attempt to kill Abdi, Jabbar tries to console Memed in his guilt, to which Memed responds:

I’ll go to the Dikenli plateau. I’ll gather all the elders of the five villages around me and tell them: “There’s no Abdi Agha anymore. The oxen you have are yours. There’ll be no more sharecropping for any Agha. The fields are your too and you’re free to sow as much as you like. As long as I’m on the mountain everything will be alright, but if I get shot you must look out for yourselves!” Then I’ll take the villagers with me and make them set fire to the thistle fields. No one will ever plow the fields again without burning the thistle first.

This kind of dialogue is what sets Memed apart as a figure of mythical status, an icon of hope, and a symbol of the fight for independence. The author himself, Yasar Kemal, was an outspoken opponent of Turkish oppression of the Kurdish people, especially after World War II, and in many ways Memed’s determination to set his people free parallels the struggle of the Kurds to liberate themselves during Kemal’s own lifetime.

When Memed and Hatche run off together out of the village, the Agha is furious. He screams that no man has ever escaped his authority before to become a “goatherd” in some other man’s village. Memed’s mother, Deuneh, begs the Agha to have mercy on her and her family, claiming that Memed is only a child and did not know what he was doing. She pleads with the landowner not to deny more food from her family, as they are already starving. Abdi Agha, with his pointed beard, ninety-nine-bead rosary, and camel’s-hair cap, responds furiously:

“A child should know that it’s only a child. Up to now, so far as I know, no other child has run away to another village from Deyirmenoluk to be a goatherd, a laborer. Go home now, Deuneh!” Then Abdi Agha opened the storeroom door and the warm, dusty odor of wheat floated out. “Listen to me,” he warned them, halting at the door. “None of you can give a single grain to Deuneh. Let her die of hunger. So far nobody has ever died of hunger in Deyirmenoluk. Let her die. If she has anything to sell, let her sell it. If you give her anything, if I hear you’ve helped her, I’ll come to your houses and take back what I’ve given you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

In this moment, Abdi Agha positions himself as a quintessential villain and the unquestionable antagonist of the novel. All of Memed’s later actions, all of his murder, even his accidental burning of his home village, can be justified in light of the unremitting, shameless evil that Agha displays in this scene. But more than creating a most detestable villain, Agha’s speech is also symbolic of the abject dependency the villagers have upon the goodwill of the landlords to allow them to continue their precarious existence. Such a scene is representative of the real-world dependencies and relations of power that Kemal was so outspoken against—the power of the Turks over the Kurds, of the Ottomans over the Turks, and so on.

At the end of the novel, Memed exacts his revenge against Abdi Agha and then rides into the mountains to become the stuff of legend. The villagers rejoice and begin their new lives:

It was the season for...

(This entire section contains 799 words.)

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plowing. The inhabitants of the five villages of Dikenli gathered together. The young girls wore their best dresses. The old women donned kerchiefs white as snow. The drums were beating. It was a merry feast, and even Durmush Ali danced, in spite of his failing health. Early one morning they all went off to the thistle fields and set fire to them… From that day on, each year, the villagers of Dikenli made a practice of burning the thistle fields in the course of a merry feast before they began plowing.

This description of the Dikenli villagers’ new state of affairs provides a conclusion to the story. While the villagers are in a deplorable state at the beginning of the novel, the reader is now greeted with feasting and merry festivities. Memed, who is never heard from again, has liberated his people. His story, and his sacrifice, give the people of his homeland their freedom and serve as a lesson for any and all beleaguered peoples who might ever become familiar with his good deeds and legendary status.


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