Home > Uncategorized > Madness in Mustafa and Zahra

Madness in Mustafa and Zahra

Today I’m supposed to make a 10-minute presentation to the class about my final project.  I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about this topic (not as much as I’d like, but enough, I think).   And now I have to get busy and make something of it all.

Mustafa in England is a terrifying and intriguing character.   You can just imagine him attracting all kinds of positive attention–the brilliant, successful foreigner from a former colony, making the establishment feel good about itself (aren’t we open-minded?) and its legacy (just look what our system has enabled him to achieve!).  His exotic looks and his impeccable western clothing complete the package. 

But he’s a predator.  He destroys women.  His absence of emotion enables him to manipulate the emotions of others with devastating consequences.  He can pick his victim right out of a crowd, perceiving suceptibility that is invisible to a normal mind clouded with its own emotions. 

Saleh gives us ample basis for this madness.  First, there’s his deprived upbringing–no father, cool mother, no relatives in a world where relations mean everything.  In a word, no nurturing.  In psychological terms, he’s going after women to try to fill the void inside him, to replace the absent nurterer in his childhood.  Jean Morris, the woman he kills directly, is the one who most resembles his mother.  He’s seeking what he never got, and perhaps there’s a kind of vengeance motive, too–make the world pay for his .  Some passages suggest that we should view Mustafa as a victim of colonization and even forces set in motion during the Crusades.   

I’m less interested, though, in the etiology of Mustafa’s madness.  Every criminal has a reason for committing crimes, but they’re still crimes.  I just believe this character and the insidious danger he represents.

Zahra, in classic female style, turns her issues inward.  She is certainly a problem for her family, but she’s a danger to no one but herself.  Al-Shaykh places much emphasis on the etiology of Zahra’s madness.  From the opening scene, we see the mother using Zahra, we see the father’s critical, domineering nature, we see the favoritism toward Ahmed by all parties.  Zahra’s intelligence and other potential mean nothing to them.  It’s her virginity and marriage that matter.

These examples are very different, but I think that looking at them together will be instructive.  We’ll see what the class thinks.

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