A Handful of Dates by Tayeb Salih
In A Handful of Dates by Tayeb Salih we have the theme of connection, control, greed, selfishness, rejection, injustice, conflict and coming of age. Narrated in the first person by a man looking back at an incident when he was a child the reader realises after reading the story that Salih may be exploring the theme of connection. The narrator and his grandfather spend a lot of time together. More time than the narrator does with his father. The narrator also likes helping his grandfather and likes reading the Koran to him. It is as though the narrator not only loves his grandfather but that he also has a strong connection with him. He is always there for his grandfather and the grandfather is always there for the narrator. However it is interesting that on closer inspection the narrator’s feelings for his grandfather change during the story when the narrator sees how his grandfather treats Masood. It is as though the narrator’s grandfather uses Masood as an instrument that he can profit from rather than as a human being or as a neighbour. It is as though the narrator’s grandfather disapproves with how Masood lives his life and as such sees his own actions as being fair.
If anything the narrator’s grandfather is controlling Masood and actually appears to enjoy it as he knows he will profit further from what he thinks is Masood’s ignorance of having so many wives. It is also noticeable that nobody pays attention to Masood when the dates are being harvested. It is as though his position in the village is so lowly that nobody needs to heed what he says. Also in all likelihood people probably know the politics between the narrator’s grandfather and Masood. With those harvesting the dates realising that the narrator’s grandfather is the one who has the real power. How much control and power the narrator has is noticeable by way of the fact that Masood is given none of the harvest. Which in turn means he has no way of repaying his debt to the narrator’s grandfather. It is as though Masood is caught in a vicious cycle and it will only be a matter of time until he loses all his land to the narrator’s grandfather. Already Masood has lost two-thirds of his land to the narrator’s grandfather.
Though Masood appears to accept the way things are the narrator himself is of the age in whereby he is able to formulate his own opinion and from what the narrator sees and believes he does not think that Masood is being treated fairly by his grandfather. This may be important as it brings an element of conflict into the narrator’s relationship with his grandfather. Though the narrator doesn’t say anything he doesn’t need to. He knows what is happening is wrong. So wrong in fact that the narrator looks upon his grandfather with a different pair of eyes. It is as though the narrator is coming of age. Something that is a little clearer to the reader when the narrator throws up the dates he has eaten. This may be important as it could suggest that the narrator is consciously rejecting his grandfather due to his stance when it comes to Masood. If anything the narrator may feel as though he has more in common with Masood (who he likes) than he does with his grandfather. It is also interesting that the narrator’s grandfather is oblivious to the change that has come over the narrator. He appears to be more concerned with making money than how his relationship with the narrator might be developing.
The end of the story is also interesting as the connection that the narrator felt with his grandfather has been transferred to Masood. The narrator despite his young age knows what is happening is unjust and wants to reach out and help Masood. While the narrator’s grandfather is more concerned with telling Masood that he still owes him fifty pounds. Throughout the story the narrator’s grandfather has used Masood for his own gain. Something which may leave some readers to suggest that the narrator’s grandfather is a greedy man. He is not happy that he already has two-thirds of Masood’s land. He wants all the land and he knows in time he will get it too. However the most important aspect of the story is the fact that the narrator’s connection with his grandfather has been severed and he has seen his grandfather for who he is. A greedy man who wants to break another man in order that he can further control his surrounding environment. If anything the most important person in the grandfather’s life is himself. Something which is clear to the narrator and which results in the narrator disavowing his grandfather (by throwing up the dates). Though some critics might suggest that the narrator’s grandfather is free to do what he wants. It is also true that Masood is free to live his life as he chooses. Something that the narrator’s grandfather doesn’t agree with.