A prostitute is one who solicits and accepts payment for sex acts, but this definition does not encompass all the aspects of prostitution that have been portrayed in the two texts. Nur and Firdaus are prostitutes in the two books: ‘The thief and the dogs’ and ‘Woman at point zero’. Both of them are looking love and belonging in their lives but destiny does not favor them and leads them to a life that they did not want, a life which was filled with tortures and misery. Both of them end up being prostitutes, not only in terms of getting paid for sexual acts, but also as selling their soul, honor and mind unworthily.
A prostitute is also one who sells one’s abilities, talent, honor or name for an unworthy purpose*. These are not the only two prostitutes in the two texts. There are multiple characters who have sold their characteristics for something in return. Hence it is transmitted to the reader that prostitution is not necessarily selling one’s physical self but also one’s moral, humanitarian, religious and economic qualities to gain something in return.Firdaus is the principle protagonist of the book ‘Woman at point zero’. She was looking for love and affection in her life, looking for somebody whom she can trust and can believe, but unfortunately in the Egyptian society that Nawal El Sadaawi portrayed, this kind of man did not exist. Wherever she went, whichever man she met, every one of them caused distrust and misery.
Instead, the men she trusted would sexually take advantage of her. Firdaus also fell in true love once with a man called Ibrahim. She says that love had made her a different person. She then became a prostitute who gave her complete self, her mind and body, to someone whom she loved from the bottom of her heart.
Later she finds out that Ibrahim had got engaged to somebody else. She got nothing but suffering, distrust and misery from Ibrahim too. She had never felt a deeper pain. Hence the reader is deeply touched with what happens to Firdaus and sympathises with her. Firdaus had then lost hope in love and did not trust a single man.
Hence she says that :”All the men I did get to know, every single man of them, has filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face.”The reader can sense Firdaus’ frustration regarding men in her life and agrees with her in this statement.It was very similar with Nur. Though she was not the principle protagonist of the book, her character was vitally important. She was in love with Said even before he went to jail. When the police were looking for Said, he had no place to go but Nur was the one to take care of him. She was truly in love with him. She spent so much money to buy food and drinks for him, she even gave up her body to him though she knew that he did not like her so much.
Unfortunately she did not get any response from Said. He did not care about her initially; his only aim in life was to seek revenge against his enemies. Said even killed two people but still Nur loved him and wanted to spend a peaceful life with him.”It had been like a nightingale singing to the rock, a breeze caressing sharp pointed spikes.”This is how her love was described in the text. These imageries used by Naguib Mahfouz give a euphonic effect to the reader and a clear view about their relationship. Nur is metaphored as the ‘nightingale’ and the ‘breeze’. Hence the reader gets a very positive impression of Nur – as sweet as a nightingale and as pleasant as the breeze.
She loved Said who is metaphored to be a ‘rock’ and ‘spikes’ – as hard as rock and spikes. Hence the reader gets a very negative impression about Said. She was looking for a Said that did not exist.Hence in both the texts, the reader sympathises with Firdaus and Nur because of what they give and what they get. As prostitutes, they did not put any feeling behind what they were doing, never gave away anything except their physical body but took something in return.
Firdaus says when she is hurt after hearing that Ibrahim had got married.”To protect my deeper, inner self from men, I offered them only an outer shell.”In love they away everything – all their capabilities, their dignity, their self – respect, their efforts, their feelings and deep emotions. Both of them did not get a life that they wanted. Firdaus wanted to study.
She wanted to go university, but the circumstances created by the sexist, patriarchal, Egyptian society were such that she became a prostitute. Since childhood she had been confronted with sexual contact but Firdaus was too small to understand anything. All the men she encountered in her life took advantage of her- her uncle, her husband, Bayoumi, Fawzi, the policeman, Ibrahim and the pimp. So the reader blames the Egyptian society because of which she landed up being a prostitute. Nawal El Sadaawi herself mentions in the book:”And because the world was full of lies, she had to pay the price.”The ‘world’ i.
e. the society around her, was full of injustice, distrust, and wrongs and because of this Firdaus paid the price; she bared the pain and the agony. The reader completely agrees with this quote in the book and sympathises with Firdaus. Later in the book she even commits murder but she does not regret it. Instead she thinks she should have done this earlier in her life. Though it is an unethical act, the reader agrees with what she did. She had become courageous and had self – respect. She was no more a downtrodden, low prostitute but she considered herself to be a princess.
She says this after she commits the murder:”They were footsteps of a woman who believed in herself, knew where she was going, and could see her goal.”Nur had run away from her house in her childhood. This shows that even in her childhood she was tortured. She loved Said throughout, truly and deeply. Nur has been portrayed as a very positive character by the writer due to which the reader sympathises with her always.
Instances like when she was beaten up by louts add o more to the sympathy of the reader towards her. Her plight and her descriptions were very touching. In the book, she had never done anything that created a negative impression about her in the reader’s mind. The meaning of the name Nur itself means ‘light’.In the end both the characters realise the unworthiness in what they were doing. They both give up hope in life to find what they were looking for and instead take a new approach to life.
Firdaus did not care about anyone. She had her dignity back and her self – respect. She was now a proud prostitute.
Nur does not return one day to her house. The reason behind this is not mentioned in the book but it is more likely according to the reader that she had not returned because of Said. She no more wanted to live with Said and waste her life and love behind him. It is then that Said realises Nur’s importance and starts missing her. It is then that Said realizes Nur’s importance.
“…and the terrible depression he felt made him aware that she had penetrated much deeper within him than he had imagined..
.”There are several other characters in the two texts who have given up their qualities for money. Rauf Ilwan sells his revolutionary and idealistic ideas for money. He was a very good friend of Said.”.
..and particularly of the wonderful enthusiasm that had radiated from a young peasant with shabby clothes, a big heart..
.”This was the impression that Said had of Rauf but after meeting Rauf, he was no the same Rauf he had known earlier. Said had considered Rauf to be his mentor, his friend and a sword of freedom ever drawn. All these characteristics were given away for money. He had become the chief editor of the Al Zahra newspaper.
Hence the reader sympathises with Nur and Firdaus, the two prostitutes who have gone through many miseries and anguish in their lives. They give away their mind, body and soul for their loved ones but do not get the response and affection they wanted. There are also other kinds of prostitutes who give away their honor, dignity, morality, virtue and their worth just for money or pleasure. They do not necessarily give away their body like actual ‘prostitutes’ but then too they are considered to be prostitutes. Rauf being an example in Thief and the dogs and all the hypocrite men of the sexist society in Woman at point zero.
A moth overhead made love to the naked light bulb in the dead of the night.A successful prostitute is better than a misled saint.Revolution for them is like sex for us.
Something to be abused. Something to be sold.