Date of Graduation

8-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Graduate School

Advisor

Mohja Kahf

Committee Member

Ted Swedenburg

Second Committee Member

Yajaira Padilla

Keywords

Anti-Black racism, Domestic Workers, Gender, Intersectionality, Modern Arabic Literature, Postcolonial feminism, Marxist feminism, Slavery, Sexuality

Abstract

In this study, I have examined the representations of domestic workers in a number of Arabic mid-century and contemporary novels, using feminism and intersectionality as my overarching framework. I employed several scholarships of feminism such as Marxist and postcolonial feminism to examine the discourse on working-class women. The initial assumption of this study is that there is a noticeable invisibility of domestic workers in Arabic novels. If these characters manage to find their way into a text, they are typically ahistorical figures whose subjectivity is not centered.

Among the Arabic novels I have examined, I found that the tradition of underrepresenting domestic workers appears in iconic texts of the mid-century. In Naguib Mahfouz’ Trilogy, domestic workers function as either signs of class, subaltern figures, or loyal servants. In The Open Door of Latifa al-Zayyat and Sha’rawi’s Muthakkirat of Huda Sha’rawi, working-class characters are used as the others who emphasize the superiority of upper and middle-class communities. In contemporary novels, however, this tradition no longer seems to be the norm; domestic workers are given more space in the narrative. The new generation of Arab writers tackles more issues related to marginalized groups, such as slavery, anti-Black racism, and sexuality. Most of these texts speak to the notion of intersectionality that calls for the examination of representations of women from multiple dimensions of oppression. Al-Bahriyyat by Omima Alkhamis and Wojhat al-Bawsala by Noura al-Ghamdi, for instance, tackle the matter of slavery as a multi-faceted form of oppression that involves gender, class, and color rather than one-dimensional oppression be it patriarchy or color alone. I also find that contemporary novels such as Najwa Bin Shatwan’s Zarayib al-‘Abeed and Samar Yazbek’s Ra’ihat al-Qirfa provide distinctive narrative regarding interracial and cross-class relationships. Such relationships are perceived in these texts as a means of class mobility and empowerment for working-class female characters. Nevertheless, dominant stereotypes of domestic workers are still popular as shown in some texts such as Ali Badr’s Papa Sartre and Fatiha Murshid’s Almulhimaat.

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