The majority of people view other cultures from the perspective of their own one, which can partially be referred to as ethnocentrism. When it comes to such cultures as the Lebanese one, ethnocentrism is peculiar to almost all the people who regard modern society as equal and non-discriminatory. Sitt Marie Rose, a novel written by Etel Adnan, perfectly reflects different aspects of Lebanese culture and openly critiques those that, to the mind of the modern reader, deserve to be critiqued. The events depicted concern the Lebanese Civil War. Injustice is the major characteristic of the Lebanese society described in the novel; this issue encompasses a number of themes and conflicts, mainly gender discrimination, fear, and lack of the freedom of choice which are pertinent to the society under consideration and which serve as roots of this problem of injustice.
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All the issues raised in the text can be incorporated into one, the injustice present in Lebanese society and the people’s indifferent attitude towards it. As seen from the novel, the society can be characterized by a discriminating attitude towards women and constant fear in which the members of the society live. These two characteristics are further supplemented with complete absence of freedom of choice and, altogether, turn the Arab people into savage, aggressive, and revengeful individuals in whose life the images of cries and crushing dominate over those of mutual help and understanding, as well as love, family, and friendship: “The Arabs let themselves go in a tearing, killing, annihilating violence, and while other peoples, virulent in their obsession with cleanliness, invent chemical products, they seek a primitive and absolute genocide” (p. 66). Thus, there are several aspects of Lebanese society to consider in order to explain why it is so covetous, violent, and cruel.
The first characteristic is the gender inequality present in the society and perceived as normal by its members. The theme of gender discrimination is predominant, which is why it is never concealed in the novel. The author makes it clear that Lebanese women are valued much less in the society than they deserve to be: “They [men] see greater virtues in their cars than in their women” (p. 66). This bright comparison allows understanding that women are a mere possession for men. They are wives and mothers, but they are never the objects of love and passion. It is not in their right to be dissatisfied with the men, and the indirect powers that women have over them in this society are not enough to contradict their men. Quite symbolistic is the comparison of a woman who dares to stand up to her husband with a tree that has to be cut: “She falls with the sound of dead wood which disappears among the perfidious murmurings of the city, and to the smirking of other women who are satisfied with the male victories” (p. 67). The woman who dares to contradict to males is a “dead wood” which does not deserve to live further for, if she objected once, she will do it again. This is why Marie Rose was the biggest threat for this society. She had more modern attitude towards the world and male-female relations within it, and it is namely owing to such attitudes that Lebanese men started perceiving “every feminine act, even charitable and seemingly unpolitical ones, […] as a rebellion in this world where women had always played servile roles” (p. 101). This further creates an idea that women are perceived as a menace by the Lebanese men for who the power over the females is one of not many things that they have, and they fear to lose at least this power.
This issue finds a perfect reflection in the text. Marie Rose, just a woman who the Lebanese could easily destroy, frightened them because of her ability to influence their ideas and, most of all, of her lack of fear when speaking to them: “The more she spoke to them of love, the more they are afraid. Mournir, Tony, Fouad, and even Bouana Lias, […] finding themselves before a woman who can stand up to them, are terrified” (p. 68). They were afraid of her because she did not act in a way the Lebanese society expected her to act as a woman; this meant that she was not submissive and willing to accept everything that a man says. This was not only unusual for the Lebanese men, but this undermined their authority and served as a proof to the idea that men and women could be equal, the idea that, perhaps, frightened them most of all because, as mentioned earlier, it presupposed the loss of the only power they had. This shows how weak the Lebanese men are in reality and how much fear they have when it comes to their power over women.
This, however, is not the only fear they have. Another theme raised in the text under consideration is namely fear by which this society can be characterized. This fear has nothing to do with the fear for one’s own life or even family; instead, it is the fear “of not deserving their mother’s love, of not being first at school or in the car race, … of not killing as many birds as their neighbor, … of being less of a break-neck and extremist than the Palestinian terrorists” (p. 68). This reminds of the inferiority complex, but with orientation towards cruelty and violence which people exhibit in order to show that they are better than everybody thinks. Unlike other people who try to prove to the society that they are more worthy than the others think through trying to achieve more in their lives, the Lebanese try to do this showing how violent they are. It seems that they see their power namely in this unstoppable violence and the root of this violence is fear which triggers the majority of the violent acts within the society, as well as those directed towards other people.
Though fear is the primary root of such behavior, there is also another root, namely, the lack of the freedom of choice, which is also an important theme in this text. The absence of the freedom of choice can explain much of what takes place in this society. Above all, it explains violence by which people are driven because an individual that is deprived of the freedom of choice will always try to realize his potential in those spheres where he has most powers. In case with the Lebanese men, this sphere is the family where the men, whose only freedom of choice “is between the different brands of automobiles” (p. 76), abuse their powers and start discriminating against their women to show the world that they are worth at least something. In this way, gender discrimination, fear, and lack of the freedom of choice result in the cruelty that is “a part of the moral cancer … spreading through the whole of the Middle East” (p. 103) and, what is even more important, these three characteristics of the Lebanese society explain the injustice present in it and, at the same time, serve as a root of this injustice; this is like a vicious circle where there is no ending, but there are consequences. For the Lebanese society, this consequence is genocide. Therefore, all these themes, gender discrimination, fear, and lack of freedom of choice, raised in the text are all related to the injustice in the Lebanese society and each of them, at least to some extent, contributes into this injustice.
Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, it can be concluded that there is one primary issue raised in the text with regards to the Lebanese culture described in it. This issue is injustice by which every aspect of this society’s life can be characterized. A number of themes raised in the text, including gender discrimination, which is the major theme, fear present in the society, and lack of the freedom of choice, are not only interconnected, but are closely related to the problem of injustice in the Lebanese society because each of them contributes into this problem. This creates an idea that injustice in the Lebanese society will be impossible to deal with unless the society gets rid of gender discrimination, fear, and lack of the freedom of choice.
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