Sandpiper by Ahdaf Soueif
In Sandpiper by Ahdaf Soueif we have the theme of loneliness, separation, paralysis, identity, isolation, control, connection, helplessness and loss. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman the reader realises after reading the story that Soueif may be exploring the theme of loneliness. There is a sense that the narrator is lonely. She participates in none of the activities that her husband and daughter are engaged with and if anything seems eager to leave Egypt. A place that is no longer satisfying to the narrator. At first she had loved her husband and Egypt though as time passed her fondness for both has lessened. Everything around the narrator is different to how life was for her before she got married and moved to Egypt. Now that she has a child there is a sense that she is separated from those around her. With Lucy following the traditions of her father and cousins rather than the traditions of the narrator. It is also possible that the narrator longs for the connection she had with Lucy when she was pregnant. As Lucy has grown she has become independent of the narrator. Overall life is difficult for the narrator in Egypt. She mixes with no one which would further highlight the theme of loneliness. With the reader suspecting that the narrator lives a life that is paralysed. She is not going anywhere nor is she doing anything different. Each day is the same with the narrator’s life being mapped out by her husband and his family.
Any attempts that the narrator has made to integrate with those around her have also failed with Um Sabir taking on many of the domestic duties that the narrator herself is accustomed to doing. If anything the narrator might feel ostracized from those around her which in turn would suggest or possibly lead the reader to believe that the narrator is isolated from others. The narrator is still a young woman and the reader can feel the difficulties she is incurring while attempting to live in another culture. Everything is different for her. Her role as a wife or at least what she expected her role to be is non-existent. Her role as a mother is also outside of the narrator’s control with Lucy as mentioned being more influenced by her father than by the narrator. All of this makes it easier to understand as to why the narrator longs to return to her home in England. In England she knew who she was and had a defined role that sat comfortable with her. This is not the case in Egypt.
There is also a sense that the narrator feels helpless. She is living and spending her time with her husband’s family. She has not mastered the language or the traditions of her husband’s family. She appears to be most comfortable when she is in bed which would play on the theme of paralysis. If anything the narrator is reassessing her life however as readers we do not know as to whether she will take the required action and leave Egypt with Lucy. There is no longer any love between the narrator and her husband so she has very little to keep her in Egypt. It is also unlikely after spending so long in Egypt that things will change for the narrator. She is not in control of her life. Control rests with others (her husband and his family). It is also noticeable that the narrator’s present is far different to her past in Egypt. When she was very much in love with her husband.
It might also be a case that Soueif is exploring the theme of loss. The narrator has lost everything that she has known. From living in England which is now just a memory for her to the loss of having any influence in Lucy’s life. Where once there was happiness there is now sadness and a sense of confinement. This sense of confinement is also noticeable from the setting of the story. Apart from walking to the market or to the beach the narrator for the duration of the story spends her time in her bedroom. It is as though she has nowhere to go. She is not in control of either her environment or her life nor is she included in the activities of those around her. The narrator is alone. It may also be important that the narrator at the beginning of the story walks slowly without leaving any sand on the stones as she walks to the beach. If anything the narrator is seeking perfection in her hopes of leaving each stone unmarked by sand. This sense of perfection is also noticeable in the narrator’s life. Her move to Egypt was supposed to be trouble free she was after all in love. It is as though the narrator thought her life with her husband would be perfect. Unfortunately things did not turn out as the narrator expected. She has attempted to adapt to her husband’s traditions and found that her own traditions and way of life would not leave her.