Comparison of Gender Theme in Austen and Kanafani





Comparison of Gender Theme in Austen and Kanafani

The comparison of the two books, Northanger Abbey and Men in the Sun concentrates on gender as the main subject. Gender is an evident theme that stands out clearly in both works of literature and an analysis into the occurrence and significance of gender in both works will serve to shed more light on the books. In analyzing gender, the following parameters shall be used: role, nature and transmission or interaction. However, apart from gender, several other elements such as writing style and unique features between the two publications will also be addressed. The first section deals with the role of gender as depicted in the two books by Austen and Kanafani.

Role of Gender in Austen and Kanafani

            Gender roles are evident in both texts but the role played by gender in each context is different and analysis into each role will shed light on these roles, their differences and similarities. Gender plays a major role in the environment of Northanger Abbey. However, gender itself does not automatically determine all the other aspects. Expectations influenced by gender are determined by it. The expectations enveloping gender affect everything from how an individual behaves to the manner in which they would read the texts. In a similar manner, gender was also addressed in the book Men in the Sun. Consequently, these expectations resulted in explicit outcomes –at least on several occasions. The characters in the book Northanger Abbey regularly went against gender expectations. Gender unquestionably determines and organizes the world in which these characters exist, but gender roles and personalities are also deliberated in the next section.

            Gender roles were outlined in both publications but in different ways. In the book Men in the Sun and other Palestinian Stories, the author focused on how a lot of pressure was placed on men to take care of all the responsibilities of the family satisfactorily. Men in the Sun and other Palestinian Stories revolved around the plight of men and women who sought an identity away from the harsh life in Palestine. Particularly, the story Men in the Sun narrated the story of three men who underwent many problems when migrating. On their last journey, they succumbed to a heat stroke while hiding in a water tank. Women, on the other hand are not expected to be similarly responsible. However, single women in the city had independence issues that made it almost impossible for a comfortable live to be realized. Northanger Abbey was centered on the life of an inexperienced eighteen-year-old Catherine Morland who was unaware of the mechanism of the English society and was vulnerable to self-destruction. In her own world, Catherine constructed her version of reality by filling her head with stories from novels that were rife with fictional horror. The result was that Catherine developed a skewed reality that interconnected real people with dreadful implications. From the text, it was evident that women had a difficult time living in the contemporary world in both England and Palestine.

Nature of Gender in Austen and Kanafani

            The role of gender describes the responsibilities played by different genders while the nature of gender represents the form in which the different gender roles are exhibited. It is important to acknowledge that in England, a larger part of the society is civilized and have adopted contemporary modes of life. However, in Palestine, the situation is the complete opposite. The society maintained a strong grip on the conventional traditions in their culture. This strong grip on customs and traditional practices influenced the way in which gender roles were approached. The difference in these two societies was influential in determining the nature of gender in the two publications.

In Northanger Abbey, the nature of gender roles was actually balanced and women were able to enjoy similar rights to women. However, the level gender rights were accompanied with equal responsibilities to men. Women were expected to handle the same issues as men without hiding under the gender blanket. This was in stark contrast to ‘Men in the Sun’ where women are seldom mentioned or included in nearly all the stories. Men formed the major characters in all the stories while women were only mentioned in passing or as mere facilitators to the activities headed by men. In other words, women were non-existent and insignificant in the Palestinian society. This was factually true and can be reinforced by the Palestinian culture that had no place or role for women.

In ‘Men in the Sun’, the three characters that caught the attention of the readers were all male. The rest of the sojourners were also men whose experiences were captured by the author. The limited role of gender is evident at all demographic levels that even reached the author. Kanafani was an enlightened academic who was aware of the importance of equality in gender but still his translations reflected his limited perspective on gender. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine found it difficult to make daily decisions such as choosing a soul mate. This confusion was captured in her conversation with General Tinnley at the corridor where the General asked her ‘…What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? … Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?’ From this quote, it is clear that even for more enlightened and liberal societies in England, decision making was highly influenced by the skewed gender roles that were perpetuated in historical times.

Interaction of Gender in Austen and Kanafani

            Interaction of gender refers to the several methods of contact that acknowledge the presence of the other gender within the society. Interaction allows the reader to come to terms with the extent of contact between the two genders and can be used as a starting point into understanding the authors and the true intentions in their works. Interaction in gender is largely affected by the cultural setting and to a lesser extent by other factors such as education. In the story ‘Men in the Sun’, it is evident that gender interaction is limited to a minimum mainly because of the cultural traditions that separated the interaction of men and women in income-generating activities. This feature originated from the earlier point that states that in Palestine, the larger part of the population adopted most of the elements in their culture. Therefore, Kanafani focused on men not because they were a better subject than women but for the mere fact that accounts containing women in the Middle East were unheard of and quiet difficult to stumble upon. Keeping in mind that Kanafani was translating historical manuscripts, the probability of chancing upon a gender-balanced account was slim.

            Gender was not quite an issue in the New England and for Austen, the interaction of gender was far more concentrated than in ‘Men in the Sun’. From the start, Austen sought to illustrate how the interaction between genders in the English society was responsible for motivating the change in her main character, Catherine. Her (Austen’s) account achieved this feat by separating short passages in the text and indexing them in an accessible manner that made them easy to refer and quote. More importantly, they served as fuel for women such as ‘Isabella’ who were struggling with social advancement. Finally, Catherine as a character is availed as an independent person with her own stand and preferences. Using the Regency setting, Austen also sought to bring out an age where women were privy to advantages and benefits that were hitherto accessible by the male counterparts only. Women were finally able to interact on the same plane with men on matters such as luxuries, art and education. However, both Austen and Kanafani sought to represent their heroes and heroines in a social perspective that connected well with the readers. In ‘Northanger Abbey’, Austen stated how her ‘heroine’ Catherine ‘…was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives’. On the other hand, Kanafani’s heroes were less vocal but equally inspiring.

Other Literary Styles in Austen and Kanafani

Percolated in the writer’s efforts for liberty and for a place to call home, the collection of stories in the book ‘Men in the Sun’ reflected an intense understanding of human interaction and the state in which human beings lived. However in spite of this depth, the major characters were depicted as ordinary human beings and these were almost always picked from the lower classes. Another distinct element of ‘Men in the Sun’ was the disparity of voice and viewpoints in the different paragraphs. For an instant, the readers were placed inside the head of a single character, an aged male’s journey through the desert to reach Kuwait. The next moment, the readers were taken several years back to 1948, when yet another man had to leave his country after it was overrun by the ruin of war. After this, the audience is again relocated into the shoes of a youthful man travelling from Jordan to Iraq. While all these separate accounts were introduced smoothly enough to maintain the general flow in the narrative, Kanafani’s viewpoint of the plot drifted in a manner similar to how thoughts wandered in an individual’s mind.


On one hand, Kanafani’s efforts in the book ‘Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories’ were both entertaining and also though provoking. Kanafani’s genuine approach was relayed aesthetically in his translations. In these accounts, Kanafani attempted to incorporate several new literary techniques that were innovative in the literature world in the 1960s. It was particularly entertaining to encounter the twists in the plots that came at the conclusion of each story.In the story ‘Men in the Sun’, the story begins with several men who set out on a journey filled with challenges and obstacles. While they were almost about to finish their quest, they met death in an unexpected way that ended their dreams abruptly. These very last statements coerced the reader to meditate and re-examine the entire comprehension of the piece.

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