A handful of dates is a short story that happened in a village. Tayeb Salih, the author, used a young boy's angle to depict the conflict between his grandfather and his neighbor. Obviously, Tayeb is good at using symbolism in his work. In the story, the neighbor, a kind man called Masood, was exploited by the grandfather. The narrator's grandfather took away his property immorally. The relationship between Masood and Grandfather can also represent many other exploitative relationships such as colonizers and colonized. Tayeb depicted this symbol by using the character's attitude and grandfather's behavior.
The grandfather, the symbol of the exploiter, is the most impressive character in this story. The narrator's attitude towards his grandfather can also prove that. From the description in the article, "I loved him and would imagine myself, when I grew to be a man, tall and slender like him, walking along with great strides," we can see that the narrator treated his grandfather as a model, and also admired his grandfather so much at first. The grandfather is the symbol of authority and high status. We can see the differences in reputation and authority between the exploiter and exploit. According to the story, the whole village needs to look up at the grandfather, and his grandfather needs to bend low to enter the house. This action shows that people tend to rely on strong individuals who own power and money. Everyone tends to admire him because of his power and wealth, so did the narrator. At the beginning of the passage, the narrator said that the river is the amusement park in his childhood. He used to spend time there, having a lot of fun. So the river is his origin of happiness in his childhood. At the same time, the other source of his happiness is his grandfather. He was very proud when his grandfather praised him. As a result of this, he imaged his grandfather as that river. The river reflects the change in his mood and his attitude to his grandfather. When he started to hate his grandfather and felt shame about his grandfather, he ran to the riverbank and spewed up the dates he ate. At the end of the story, he indicated his detestation to the exploiter, his grandfather.
The second thing that proved the exploitation figure of the boy's grandfather is his greediness. He has a strong eagerness to obtain others' property and land. In the author's words, we can feel the greed of grandfather and how arrogant he is when he got advantage immorally. The author also builds a vivid image of a greedy colonizer. According to Abdel Wahid Hamade Neel (2008) in his article "Commentary on the power of Symbolism in Tayeb Salih's story: A Handful of Dates", he states that, "This is so blatantly typical of what happened to the whole colonies of which Sudan is one, whose land and riches were taken over by the colonialists. It also refers to any local unorthodox or unjust ruling which abused people, drifted them aside and marginalized their capacities". From the background information, the author also wants to show an image of the colonizer. One of the most typical characters of the colonizer is occupying the land. Masood, as a local, whose land was taken by the grandfather, not dare to oppose the grandfather. It reflects that the colonized cannot dare to protest the great colonizer even if they are asked to make an unreasonable compromise. Except for the land, the dates can also be regarded as the symbol of recourse and money. In this village, palm trees are the primary industry. They can are sources of wealth and a criterion of one's power. On the date harvesting day, many villagers come to Masood farm and collect his dates and divided them without leaving any to Masood. The action of them sharing the dates is a symbol of reassigning the property. The dates imply the villagers' thirst for money and property. They exploited Masood's property, but Masood did not even dare to say NO.'
The image of the exploiter is a show of strength through the comparison between the villagers and Masood. In the article, Masood is the symbol of exploitation. Villagers' greed and Masood purity form a great difference between exploiter and exploited (Hassan 2003). In the article, the narrator says: " I remembered Masood's remark to me when he had once seen me playing with the branch of a young palm tree: Palm trees, my boy, like humans, experience joy, and suffering." From this conversation, Masood said that the Palm trees have their own feeling. It represents the purity of Masood's heart.
Though the story begins with the grandson having the grandfather as his hero, the ending of the story differs from the beginning. The grandson realizes that his grandfather is an evil man who is the opposite of all the religious beliefs he has taught the little boy. Additionally, the villagers' greed is evident when they join the boy's grandfather in taking Masood's palms, yet the debt he has is for the old man alone. It is clear to conclude that the old man represents the evil that happens in this village through his influence. Needless to say, the story creates a picture of how those with power can take anything they want from the voiceless. A good example is how the old man and the villagers divide Masood's date yet he has no word to say.
Hassan, W. S. (2003). Tayeb Salih: Ideology and the craft of fiction. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press.
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