Men in the Sun
Ghassan Kanafani, a
Palestinian writer, uses the experiences he has lived through in the
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ghassan Kanafani was
known in the west as the spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine and as the editor of its weekly, Al-Hadaf. But in the Arab world, he was also considered
a leading novelist and one of the foremost Palestinian prose writers.
He was born in 1936 in
Kanafani and his niece were killed in the explosion of his booby-trapped car in July 1972. He left a widow and two children. Kanafani said once, "Do not believe that man grows. No: he is born suddenly—a word, in a moment, penetrates his heart to a new throb. One scene can hurl him down from the ceiling of childhood on to the ruggedness of the road." (Kilpatrick and Kanafani, 9-10)
was assassinated in
"I never think you should judge
a country by its politics.’
This line from a Hitchcock film is equally applicable to creative
writers even when political activity occupies a major part of their attention,
so long as the intention it evaluate them as writers and not as politician. In the case of Ghassan Kanafani, the
leading Palestinian prose writer of his generation, there has been an
understandable tendency to study the political aspects of his fiction,
and in particular its treatment of the
Literature can connect different ideas, beliefs, and opinions across different cultures, languages, and lifestyles. By reading literature from all parts of the world, one can begin to relate the important themes of the literature to his or her life. The themes that make strong impacts on an individual are the themes that can relate to life’s problems and the present world. Integrating literature and personal emotions within a classroom or conversation can really create a solid learning atmosphere, which benefits all sides of the forum.
In Men in the Sun
by Kanafani, A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe, I,
Rigoberta Menchu by Rigoberta Menchu, and in One Day of
Life by Manlio Argueta, there are certain feelings of what
home is and what it means to the characters in these novels and
testimonies. Each character develops a unique perspective
of what it means be a piece of their community. In the stories by Kanafani and Argueta
and in Menchu’s testimonial, the communities the characters call
their home are not under their rule.
Instead, they are under the rule of the colonizing country. Countries influencing the colonization
of these communities and homes include
Kanafani writes the
novel from the perspectives of three Palestinians trying to escape the
hardships of their homeland. The
harsh living conditions have escalated since the collapse of the
The people in I,
Rigoberta Menchu, looked beyond the hardships that were forced upon
them by the landowners called Ladinos, and worked together as a community
to overcome the oppression they faced.
This same concept is very evident in Argueta’s novel, One
Day of Life, as the oppressed Natives have to work together in order
to live each day with food and shelter.
These books really portray the true meaning of the word home
through the people living in these communities. They are not ever worried about petty problems that affect
many of us living in the present
The push-pull factors affecting the Palestinian characters in Men in the Sun derive from the vast and growing Jewish population. These Jews are taking the opportunity for jobs and political leadership away from the Palestinian people. This pushes the Palestinian people away from their homeland and causes them to seek new opportunity in order to survive in such a smoldering climate. The factor pulling the Palestinians from their homeland is just that, opportunity. In order for the characters to help their families, future generations, and themselves survive they need to leave their country and illegally travel to another country where the factors pulling them offer a new life with far better opportunities. In this story Kuwait is the country that presents a healthier possibility of surviving and the three characters, Marwan, Abu Qais, and Assad, each have the same goal in mind; opportunity.
They seek a way to be smuggled across a hot and dangerous desert so that they may find what will keep them and their families alive. Kanafani first introduces Abu Qais, the oldest of the three characters seeking opportunity. He is married and he has a son named Qais in who is in grade school. His wife has just given birth to their second child, thus creating a tougher environment to survive. Abu has another human life to take care of and to feed and support. This pushes Abu to seek a better work life that will result in more money to help support his family. In the first lines of the story Kanafani uses powerful language to describe the type of person Abu is. "Abu Qais rested on the damp ground, and the earth began to throb under him with tired heartbeats, which trembled through the grains of sand and penetrated the cells of his body. Every time he threw himself down with his chest to the ground he sensed that throbbing, as though the heart of the earth had been pushing its difficult way towards the light from the utmost depths of hell ever since the first time he had lain there. Once when he said that to his neighbor, with whom he shared the field in the land he left ten years ago, the man answered mockingly: 'It's the sound of your own heart. You can hear it when you lay your chest to the ground”'" (Kanafani, 21)
Assad is a strong character
who has no one but himself to support. His character really portrays the desperateness in the Palestinian
heart, as he cannot stand the life he lives in a land where he is looked
down upon. He is not being
Marwan is the youngest
character of the three and is anxiously attempting to help support his
mother and siblings. Marwan’s
father divorced his mother for a woman whose father had money and thus
ceased supporting his family. Marwan’s
older brother Zakaria, who had escaped the homeland and found
“Crowds of people walked past without paying him any attention. Perhaps it was the first time in his life that he had found himself alone and a stranger in a throng of people like this. He wanted to know the reason for that remote sensation that gave him contentment and rest; a sensation like the one he used to have when he had finished watching a film, and felt like life was grand and vast, and that in the future he would be one of those men who spend every hour and day of their lives in exciting fulfillment and variety. But what was the reason for his having such a feeling now, when he had not seen a film like that for a long time, and only a few minutes before the threads of hope that had woven fine dreams in his heart had been broken in the fat man’s shop?” (Kanafani, 37)
The road one travels is the life one lives. Dreams hover like fragile clouds over this road ready to burst. Everything one's imagination can comprehend and invent is down this road waiting to be found. Desperate men seek dreams that are patiently resting, buried in the ground and floating in the stars. The road, so wide and traveled, yet sometimes so narrow and preserved, offers a new experience and a new adventure that can lead to rivers overflowing with water so cool and refreshing that the thirst of the world could be saturated with one drop. Or, this water could be a mirage lined with the dead bones of dreamers who could not travel any farther, only to see their water turn to sand. The only way to find out what is real and what is not is to travel this road with cautious ambition. One has to keep a memory of the past to learn in the future. In the novels, Men in the Sun, I, Rigoberta Menchu, One Day of Life, A Man of the People, Arrow of God, Nine Guardians, Women at Point Zero, The Day the Leader was Killed, and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the road is traveled and explored by characters with motives ranging from greed to a desperate urge to survive.
In Kanafani's novel,
the road is traveled by four men, three of which who are smuggled, and
one named Abul Khaizuran, the smuggler, who is just doing his job to the
best of his ability. He is
in charge of driving a lorry back and forth from the three men’s
While fighting for his country in the past Abul was captured by the enemy and was literally and physically stripped of his manhood. This becomes evident when he is asked why he wasn’t married. He suddenly has a flashback of the terrifying incident as he is driving and becomes petrified with the thought. A pain throbs in his inner thigh region whenever this memory takes the wheel of his mind. By doing the best he can to help his fellow Palestinians escape the harsh conditions of their home in order to seek an opportunity for themselves and their families, he is proving his manhood. Since he lost his manhood while fighting for his country, for what he sees now as a lost cause, he feels by giving these men a new sense of manhood he can substitute the gratification for his forever lost dignity.
While traveling to
These dreams represent everything they live for and everything their families mean to them. Abu Qais, father of two, including a newborn baby, sat in an oven where water should have been sloshing around in order to seek his dream. He could have stayed at his home with his wife and children watching them struggle to survive or he could travel a road that he imagines, dreams, and hopes will make his family smile. Marwan, a young boy, growing up faster than ever, seeks a dream waiting at the end of the road that is like a question mark at the end of a novel. He wants to help his family so desperately that he is willing to sit in this oven-like tank that is supposed to be full of water. Assad, a man whose life is the road, can only travel in one direction, forward. All these men are sitting in this oven-like lorry, under the sun, baking and burning and waiting, but are moving at the same time. They were sitting in a stationary oven for so long; their hearts and dreams had to move. This motion, driven by a man doing the best job he could do to help them, was the only way to reach the buried dreams at the end of the road.
In all the novels I have mentioned, the road represents the struggle of life the characters go through to reach their dreams. The struggle of life is a redundant phrase for a majority of humans and especially some of the characters in these novels. Seeking freedom from this struggle is the struggle in itself. Kanafani really does a fantastic job portraying this theme in his novel. His use of metaphors and symbolism invokes the human heart to beat right along with the men in traveling this road searching for their dream.
Kanafani creates an image and uses his language to produce an irresistible anticipation in the reader to find out what is going to happen in the end. The three men, while inside the oven-like tank of the lorry for the second time, suffocate and die. Abul was held up by a guard who joked with him about a girl he was rumored to have been with when in actuality this is impossible. While reading this part of the novel, it is really hard to slow down, because Kanafani engulfs your whole body and mind with fear within these last few pages.
Finally, after Abul escapes the guard’s questions, he runs like hell to drive the lorry out of sight. Sadly, when he reaches the place to stop, he opens the burning hot lorry door to find his three new companions dead. He has failed and he feels horrible. It was not his fault, however, and it was the risk involved in the smuggling operation. After he leaves the bodies on the road to be found and hopefully buried, the only thing he can think of is “why didn’t they knock?” He asks this question over and over to himself and this question ends the novel. This is a great question to ask your students if teaching about this novel.
Why didn't they knock?
I think, had they have knocked in sheer panic, not only would they
have been found by a guard, but they would have been killed.
Abul would have been killed and his operation would have ended. By staying silent, these men proved
the absolute trust and faith they had in Abul. They understood that if they knocked, it would not only end
the pursuit of their dream, it would end Abul’s pursuit and every
other Palestinian person's pursuit of their dream; to escape the stationary
oven in search of new opportunity.
These men trusted Abul with every ounce of their blood and by staying
silent they proved this. The
metaphor Kanafani uses describes the ongoing struggle in
This story epitomizes the true meaning of literature for a mass of people searching for a voice. They need not only for this voice to be projected but to be heard and listened to as well. Ghassan Kanafani does a wonderful job writing this short novel as it speaks for millions who are baking underneath the hot blistering sun, in a continually shrinking oven-like desert, waiting to be heard, and waiting for an opportunity.
Peace in the
For Years the
“Prior to the
advent of the political-economic restructuring of the 1980’s, most
Middle Eastern countries were largely dominated by either nationalist-populist
regimes (such as
nature of these states restricted meaningful political participation and
the development of effective civil-society organizations. The regimes’ etatist ideology
and patrimonial tendencies rendered the states the main, if not the sole,
provider of livelihoods for many citizens, in exchange for their loyalty.
In etatist models, the state controls the bulk of the economic,
political, and social domains, leaving little space for society to develop
itself and for interest groups to surface, compete, and act autonomously.
Having peace in the
*** http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/kanaf.htm Excellent site on Kanafani and some of his literary works. This site has some good info about Men in the Sun and a little history of Kanafani’s life leading up to him writing.
Excellent site on the
history of the Zionist movement and what led to the fight in
Nice cite, gives a brief history of Kanafani's life and his importance for the Palestinian people.
Good site that gives
great links to the history of the
This is a history class's
Men in the Sun is a perfect piece of literature to introduce to students the troubles
occurring in the
Compare and contrast each of the three men who are attempting to escape their homeland in search of a better life. What are their motives, and how are they similar or different?
Think about and then
explain how Abul Khaizuran plays a key character role in this novel. How does he move the plot along and
what are his motives for smuggling these men to
Did Abul try his best
to deliver these men to
How did trust play a key role in this novel? What finally makes the men trust Abul? Does this tell you anything about people who are in desperate situations and people who want to help desperate people?
What does the road symbolize and how does this road relate to other texts you've read in your life?
How do you feel about the metaphors used in this novel to symbolize themes on a literal, spiritual, and allegorical level? In your eyes did Kanafani do the best job he could to express the feelings he had about this struggle? Was the story one-sided? Did the story speak for itself in terms of what its themes were or did Kanafani speak for the story?
Why didn’t the men knock? What did this prove? Why? What would have happened in the future if they had knocked? Do you think Kanafani is knocking for these men, with this novel?
Do research on the
Bayat, Asef. Activism and Social Development in
Kilpatrick, Hilary. Tradition and Innovation in the Fiction of Ghassan Kanafani. Journal of Arabic Literature, 7 (1976), p53-64.
Farred, Grant. "Active Lives: Legacies of Revolutionary Writing, by Barbara Harlow." Book Review, Research in African Literature, v30n3 (1999 fall), p229-32.
Collins, John. Exploring Children’s Territory: Ghassan Kanafani, Njabulo Ndebele and
the ‘Generation’ of Politics in