A Year of Feminist Classics

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Discussion Questions: God Dies on the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi

I finished reading this book on Saturday and wow, there is so much to discuss in it. I thought I’d start a post here with a few general questions for discussion either in the comments, via email (if you email me at feministclassics[at]gmail[dot]com I will put them in a post), or on your own site if you have one. If you have more questions do comment with them or email them to me and I’ll add them in.

I know that the book is harder to find and so there will be less of us discussing the title this month, but I do hope that there will be a few who join in 🙂

Overall, did you like the book? Do you think the point was to like it? Do you think Saadawi (and her translator) conveyed the ideas she meant to? There are a large number of really graphic violent and sexual acts discussed or mentioned in the book. Do you think these contributed to the story in a positive way or did they sometimes detract from it?

There was a really interesting quote that read, on page 51, “Men have always been immoral. But now the women are throwing virtue overboard, and that will lead to a real catastrophe.” I thought this was an interesting double standard that is very rarely actually acknowledged. What did you think of this?

The title, God Dies by the Nile is explained in the ending chapters of the book. Throughout the book religion is shown as corrupt but it seemed to me it was shown as corrupt in how it was practiced rather than in its true form, and that the corruption of government led to and bolstered the corruption of the religion. And it isn’t really God who dies but rather the main cause of corruption in the town. In other books we’ve discussed this month authors used the Christian religion to bolster their feminist ideas. In this one Saadawi shows the corruption of religion and how women are being oppressed and mistreated through the religion. Do you think this is a generational thing that there is a now a dissatisfaction in the thought of religion helping, or is it the fact that the book was written as a novel rather than non-fiction, or (an idea I don’t agree with but I’m interested in hearing other views!) is it because she is talking about Islam as opposed to Christianity?

Saadawi was a big presence in the recent uprisings and protests against Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. She says that democracy and women’s rights go hand in hand and can’t be separated. Do you think this is a true point? The book we are reading this month ties the corruption in the government to the oppression of women in various ways, how do you think she shows it most? Do you think her current statements fit with her earlier ones (i.e. the book)? (For more, Afirca is a Country has numerous videos with her: an interview with Newsweek, a question and answer with Al Jazeera on the link between democracy and women’s rights, and a speech by her on her books and the uprising.)

8 responses to “Discussion Questions: God Dies on the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi

  1. Christina June 27, 2011 at 1:14 am

    I made it pretty clear in my review that I didn’t like this book, but you raise a good question with “Do you think the point was to like it?”. I think that, as with all protest literature, the point was to shock the reader into action and, hence, to change society. If I’m right about that being the goal, then depictions of violence would serve the novel’s purpose. But some of the violent and sexual acts in God Dies seemed bizarrely unrelated to the novel’s purpose. What was the point of the poor peasant man’s intercourse with a buffalo? To show that he was better than the mayor because he would rape an animal rather than a woman? What was the point of the presumed simpleton lying with corpses? What was the point of the presumed simpleton at all? Did I misread all of this violence? The writing style and translation were so strange that it’s possible i just misinterpreted this book a whole bunch.
    The quotation about the double-standard of virtue really stood out to me, too, now that you mention it. I’d like to say this is just the way of Islam, but Christianity too, historically, has come down harder on unvirtuous women than their male counterparts. I have no idea why this is. It is a puzzling and infuriating question.
    It’s hard to compare Christianity with Islam when it comes to women’s rights because of the way we (Americans, or Westerners in general) perceive the two religions. Our modern Christianity is usually compared with fundamentalist Islam, when it would be more fair to compare fundamentalist forms of both religions, or to compare more modern, permissive sects of both religions. Does that make sense? I don’t know that I really have anything new to offer on the subject, but I think you’re really perceptive to have noticed that other authors have used Christian ideas to bolster arguments FOR women, and El Sadaawi (along with many others) points to Islam as a cause for women’s oppression. So does religion help us or hurt us? Does it depend on which religion we’re talking about? Hmmmmm…
    So many great questions and points! Thank you!

    • amymckie June 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      I’m glad that question got you thinking Christina.

      Yeahhhhh the buffalo part really just seemed ridiculously useless to me too. Why? I saw no point. Same with the simpleton. Some of the violence definitely seemed excess and unnecessary and I’d love to hear why it was included. And you are right sometimes it makes me wonder if I misread parts of it as well.

      YES! That is a really great point re: religions that I always try to make. People then say on yeah we’ve evolved but the thing is that we really haven’t – fundamental Christianity often seems to be on the rise so maybe we are actually behind 😛 (SCARY THOUGHT!). I do think, personally, that the expression of religion rather than the religion itself (i.e. permissive or fundamental) is what helps or hurts women. But I also think that it is easier to make points outside of religion now so we don’t feel like we have to use religious justification in the way that women like Wollstonecraft would have had to in their time too, if that makes sense?

      Thanks for your answers 🙂

  2. Pingback: Wrap-Up: God Dies by the Nile « A Year of Feminist Classics

  3. Pingback: Review: God Dies by the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi « Amy Reads

  4. Pingback: God Dies by the Nile: Power and Alliance | onereadleaf

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