Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paul Bowles Mix of Cultures (Annotation G2-11/Goddard)

The mix of cultures in Paul Bowles “Midnight Mass,” “The Husband,” and “The Little House” develop conflict almost instantly. These stories, set in Morocco are observant of the mix of people who are part of the culture of this Northern African country. The conflicts the characters get involved with are quickly established, not easily resolved and linger long after the words of the story end.
In “Midnight Mass,” conflicts begin at the onset. A Frenchman has returned to Tangier to the house of his childhood. Eight years after the death of his mother, the man returns to the house to find it in deplorable condition. Having his plans of spending the Christmas holiday thwarted by the disrepair of the house he telegraphs his wife telling her the house is not fit for the holiday festivities. Instantly he tries to get the house repaired. Knowing it is Christmas time, a Christian holiday, he employs Moroccans to begin work. “It was Ramadan; they worked without speaking, feeling their hunger and thirst in silence,” (Bowles 421).
He invites a French woman, Madame Dervaux for drinks on Christmas Eve. She invites “interesting people” and the evening is an awkward one. He becomes relieved when they all want to leave the party for midnight mass, a Catholic tradition. “Three Moslems, one Hindu and one atheist, all running off to Midnight Mass? Ridiculous, no?” (Bowles 425)
Of the three stories, “Midnight Mass” is the most blatantly obvious clash of cultures. “The Husband” also makes use of two varying cultures to develop conflict. Abdallah, the husband lives in a two-room house with his wife. “Long ago the woman had set a pattern of their life by going out to work as a maid in Nazarene houses,” (Bowles 513). The exposition of the first few sentences it is understood that the couple is poor, the son lives with an Englishman for whom he is a gardener. The husband doesn’t work, and the wife, as a maid works for Nazarene people. The Nazarene people, Christians, presumably, are better off, as the wife tends to steal articles from their houses. The couple sells the stolen goods to supplement their livelihood. Over time, a change in the wife occurs when she develops the taste of the Nazarene people, and wants to keep the things she steals. Later, after the husband becomes estranged a stolen set of silver spoons drives the events of the rest of the story.
The conflict in the third story, “The Little House” also alludes to the Moslem/Nazarene mix within the town, but it is not the central conflict. The culture conflict lies with the two women of the story, Fatoma, the wife and Lalla Aїcha, the mother. Fatoma being a modern town dweller is embarrassed by the traditional dress her mother-in-law, a traditional woman from a remote village. “It filled her with shame to walk in the street beside a tottering old woman in a haїk,” (Bowles 529). Whereas the conflict between these women is partly the modern versus the traditional, most of their trouble is simply the two live together in a little house. Rather than simply using the jealous of two women who would be inclined to fight over household supremacy, Bowles overlays the difficulties with the complexity of their respective generations.
In the brevity of these stories, all conflicts the characters endure have the added tension of culture. All characters have their motivations, and desires, to color them in the guise of cultural lenses make their conflicts more intense, and less obviously resolved.

Bowles, Paul. The Stories of Paul Bowles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, INC, 2001.

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