Context Further study Context Alifa Rifaat was born in and spent her entire life in Egypt, where she was raised in the traditions and culture of Islam. Though Rifaat wanted to attend college and pursue an education and a career in the arts, her parents arranged for her to be married instead, and she submitted. Her husband died early in her married life, leaving her to raise their three children. Although Rifaat did not attend college, she did receive some education at the British Institute in Cairo — Rifaat continued reading works of Arab fiction and religious works, and she eventually began writing in
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Plot Overview Summary Plot Overview Distant View of a Minaret is a collection of fifteen short stories that give readers a glimpse of what it means to be a woman in an Orthodox Muslim society in Egypt.
The wife thinks about her lack of sexual fulfillment—her husband always stops as soon as he climaxes. The wife hears the call for the daily afternoon prayer. She gets up to wash herself after having sex, in accordance with Islamic practice. Her husband stays in bed to nap. After prayer, the wife gazes out the window of their apartment, thinking that she once had a view of the entire city of Cairo.
The city has built up over the years, and now the view is limited to that of a single minaret tower of a mosque. The wife prepares the afternoon coffee and brings it into the bedroom for her husband, only to find that he has suffered an attack about which the reader receives no other information except that these attacks have happened before and died. She tells her son to fetch the doctor, then pours a cup of coffee for herself.
She thinks to herself that she is surprisingly calm. Bahiyya recently took herself to the hospital because she was losing her sight. The doctor indicates that it is too late to help her—Bahiyya will soon be blind. She tells her daughter that her blindness is a result of the tears she has cried for being born a girl rather than a boy. She learned about sex from watching animals. When some of the village women found that she had made mud dolls with genitalia, they castrated her.
Bahiyya liked a boy in the village, but her family arranged a marriage for her with another man. Her husband died soon after they married.
Bahiyya describes the loneliness of being a woman without a man and says that she feels her life and youth have been a waste. Her husband has recently died, and as she sits alone she hopes for some sort of sign from beyond the grave. Since his death, she sleeps during the day and stays up at night. Suddenly her own phone rings. She picks it up, but there is only silence. The narrator believes that this is her sign. Morning comes, and during her morning prayer she is grateful and content.
The phone rings again. This time it is the phone operator, who tells the narrator that a call was accidentally directed to the wrong house last night. She returns to her prayers to ask forgiveness from Allah for having asked for so much.
She thinks of how old she looks, after having borne three children, and also reflects that in old age one has fewer close friends to rely on.
She has no one to whom she can talk about the poor relations between herself and her husband. She angrily sends the servant out on an errand and immediately feels very alone and starts to cry.
She must pull herself together since she is meeting her mother for their weekly Thursday lunch. She is not close to her mother and has always been afraid to be open with her. They have a very large meal, and as her mother is complaining about young people, the narrator wishes she and her mother were close and that she could speak about her marriage problems.
Suddenly, her mother reveals that today is the anniversary of the death of her own husband and that she still thinks of him every day. The narrator, unsure what to do or say, notices her mother crying.
Then Zeinet wraps some clothing under her own clothes to make it look like she is pregnant. She will tell Ghobashi, when he returns, that the baby is their son, rather than their illegitimate grandson. Omar comes home late, and he is drunk.
Badriyya remembers their romance. Omar followed her into a movie theater and sat beside her. He asked her out for the next week. Badriyya felt that Omar, like a hero in the movies, would rescue her from a life that seemed like a long, dark tunnel.
A month later, Omar was arrested. Badriyya refused. Badriyya thinks that she has never seen her mother in such a good mood, and her mother says that Omar has turned out to be a nice fellow. From then on, Omar stays out late and comes home tired from drinking and drugs. Badriyya is upset and thinks she is unattractive to Omar or that he is having an affair. She goes to the store to buy Omar a pack of cigarettes on her own credit account.
Badriyya finally understands and hopes she will have the strength to turn him away when he tries to come home that night. Dalal is often mean to the narrator, sometimes hitting her and causing their father to believe that she has been bad.
Instead, Dalal meets a boy named Mahmoud. Mahmoud buys perfume for Dalal and chocolates for the narrator, then drives them to a kiosk where he buys some hashish. Mahmoud and Dalal get into the backseat together. They repeat the secret meetings many times, and eventually Dalal tells Mahmoud that though her father has arranged for her to marry someone else, she loves Mahmoud and wants to marry him. Mahmoud tells her he does not want to marry her.
The next time they meet, Dalal tells the narrator to go on without her and tell Mahmoud that she will meet them in an hour.
Mahmoud takes the narrator to the kiosk, has her sit on his lap, and touches her chest and shoulders. The narrator kisses his face, and then he tells her they should go to meet Dalal. Dalal and Mahmoud fight in the car, and he loses control and crashes them into a hedge. Dalal has blood on her face and passes out, and Mahmoud drives the girls home. Their mother and sisters help them in, asking them what happened and concerned about the fact that they were with a strange boy. The narrator keeps quiet, and as she falls asleep, Dalal smiles at her.
At the campsite, he tells a newcomer the story of Mansoura. She was a beautiful woman with great powers, whom every man loved. She married a strong, good man named Sayyid, and they were initially very happy. Then Sayyid took a job guarding the bean crop of a man named Hindawi. Hindawi would go to Mansoura at night when Sayyid was away. It is not certain whether he would rape her or whether she submitted to his advances out of loneliness. Hindawi obsesses about Mansoura and meets her at the canal to convince her to leave Sayyid for him.
She refuses, and while arguing, she slips into the canal and drowns. Hindawi flees the area and works with the men laying pipe. One day, Hindawi looks up at the bulldozer as it is lowering pipe, and he grows terrified. The pipe falls from the arm of the bulldozer and crushes him.
She starts to think back on her life, especially her loss of freedom since puberty. In order to keep their land in the family, she was married to her cousin Hagg.
Sex with Hagg was unpleasant, but eventually he began sleeping with the servant girls. She wonders if all women are doomed to the same fate. She wakes the servant girl and asks her to fetch hot water for a bath. Zennouba thinks that she, like the servant girl, was once beautiful. She has the girl scrub her back so hard with a loofah that it is actually painful.
She journeys there to find a suitable house. A house on the canal resembles an image from her dreams, and she wishes to occupy it. A young woman named Aneesa has been squatting there with her child, and Aneesa tries to prevent the narrator from entering. A short time later, the narrator returns to begin moving in. Once again, Aneesa confronts the narrator, telling her to leave.
She feels intoxicated and elated at the sight, but when she tells her husband, he boards up the crack where the snake has disappeared. A sheikh from the town is summoned. He tells the narrator that the snake is a female spirit, one of the monarchs of the earth, and should be considered a blessing. The narrator is skeptical, but later she begins to fantasize about seeing the snake again. Though she fulfills her duties as the woman of the house, she becomes more isolated and sits around lazily.
Her fantasies become sexual and she is consumed by a painful yearning for the snake. The snake reappears and her sexual desires are fulfilled. However, the narrator again tells her husband that she has seen a snake, and he boards up a hole in their bedroom wall. Their affair lasts many months.
The snake comes once more to bid the narrator goodbye, in a passionate embrace, and tells her they must leave. The narrator still yearns for her snake lover and hopes that one day she will reappear. Then, Hassan spent his adolescence with foreign tutors and his love for his father became frozen.
Hassan abandoned emotions and instead began to rule his life with reason and rational standards. He eventually opened an accounting office in Cairo and hardly ever returned home.
Distant View of a Minaret