An Incident in the Ghobashi Household by Alifa Rifaat
In An Incident in the Ghobashi Household by Alifa Rifaat we have the theme of responsibility, struggle, pride, control, shame, tradition, secrecy, appearance and sacrifice. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Rifaat may be exploring the theme of responsibility. Zeinat has a responsibility to look after her family while Ghobashi is away working in Libya. However Ni’ma appears to have a responsibility to do a lot of the work while Zeinat is looking after the other children in her family. This may be significant as Rifaat may be suggesting that Ni’ma as the oldest is weighed down with more responsibility than the younger children. She may also be trusted that little bit more by Zeinat due to the fact that she is the oldest child. However it is interesting that when it comes to Ni’ma’s pregnancy Zeinat would prefer to send her daughter to Cairo rather than to allow her to raise an illegitimate child under Ghobashi’s roof. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Zeinat might consider Ni’ma’s pregnancy as something that brings shame onto the family. A shame she would rather not have others see.
There is also no doubting that Zeinat is struggling while Ghobashi is in Libya. Hence her heavy reliance on Ni’ma. It is as though Ni’ma has no freedom to live her life as she would choose to live it. Something which is clearer to the reader by the fact that Ni’ma is pregnant and being sent to Cairo. If anything Ni’ma has no control over the direction of her life with her mother dictating the course of action that should be taken. Something which may have been the traditional approach at the time. To hide an illegitimate pregnancy from others. It may also be a case that Zeinat is proud and does not wish for others to know that Ni’ma is having an illegitimate child. Should others learn of Ni’ma’s pregnancy they may end up judging not only Ni’ma but Zeinat and Ghobashi too. Something that Zeinat may not wish for as she may fear that Ni’ma’s pregnancy will reflect badly on her. When the reality is it shouldn’t but such are the perceptions of others Zeinat feels as if it would be better for Ni’ma to go to Cairo. Which may suggest that Zeinat is not prepared to stand out from the crowd. She does not wish to isolate herself her from those around her.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Ni’ma has no control over her destiny. The decision for her to go to Cairo has been made by Zeinat and Ni’ma rather than object agrees with her mother. In many ways Ni’ma is without a voice. Something that might suggest that young girls (or older girls) who were expecting illegitimate children were forced to do as their parents or elders told them. There is no sense that Ni’ma’s feelings on matters are being taken into consideration. It is also possible that Zeinat is afraid of Ghobashi’s reaction to Ni’ma’s pregnancy. He has set his heart on bringing home a wedding dress for Ni’ma and may not be suitably prepared to hear that his daughter is pregnant. This may be important as it could suggest that though Ghobashi is in Libya he may still have control over his family. With his reaction taking precedence over how Ni’ma may feel about the pregnancy.
How much control Ghobashi might have is noticeable by the fact that Zeinat has no plans to discuss the fact that Ni’ma is going to Cairo with him. If anything Zeinat may be afraid of Ghobashi’s reaction. Everything appears to be shrouded in secrecy and hastily done with no planning whatsoever. Which may highlight just how grave Zeinat thinks matters are. It is only a matter of time before Ni’ma’s pregnancy begins to show and Zeinat does not wish to face the whispers of her neighbours. It is easier for her to send Ni’ma to Cairo where she will be out of sight and Zeinat hopes she will be forgotten for the time being. If anything Zeinat is again afraid of being judged by her neighbours on how she might have raised Ni’ma. While she is also trying to keep the peace with Ghobashi. Also by buying time Zeinat will be able to cover up what has happened and when Ni’ma returns she will be able to take responsibility for Ni’ma’s child and tell Ghobashi that the child is his. With Zeinat considering it better that Ghobashi has a legitimate son rather than an illegitimate grandson. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Zeinat is prepared to make a sacrifice for Ni’ma. Though again Ni’ma has no say in what will happen to her child.