Agency, Sexuality and Female Identity in “Disgrace” and “The Journal of Sarab Affan”

Jihan, Zakarriya, PhD, Assistant Professor
Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies
Aarhus University, Denmark
e-mail: jzm@aias.au.dk


This paper compares concepts of female identity, sexuality and agency in South African novelist J. M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” (1999) and Palestinian novelist Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s “The Journals of Sarab Affan” (1992). It specifically employs Edward Said’s ideas on humanism, resistance and agency. In analyzing the colonial dynamics that secure a sovereign subject status for the West, Said’s critical works such as “Orientalism” (1979), and “Culture and Imperialism” (1993) have been studied from a cultural perspective, focusing on the way he reads Western cultural representations of itself and the Other, and adding significantly to the field of postcolonial studies. Yet, Said’s works are accused for relegating gender and sexual issues to a secondary position. In this article, I refute such an accusation. I argue that for Said, sexual and gender differences, similar to cultural differences, are fundamental constituents of the Otherness that is placed in contradistinction to the colonial, racial or gendered sovereign subject. To overcome such deep-seated concepts of Otherness and difference, Said introduces the concept of humanism as to understand human history as a continuous process of self-understanding and self-realization devoid of any gender, racial or ethnic bias. The paper argues that Coetzee’s “Disgrace” and Jabra’s “The Journals of Sarab Affan” exemplify Said’s humanism. The two novels represent the complexities of the violent colonial experiences and heritage, particularly for women, in modern South Africa and Palestine. For example, when white Lucy Lurie in “Disgrace” is gang-raped by black teenagers in post-apartheid South Africa, she neither tells the police about the identity of her rapists, nor leaves South Africa. Rather, Lucy realizes that rape is the price she has to pay to maintain the connection with her land and authentic South African identity under new power structures that still based on revenge, anger and discrimination. Likewise, highly educated and independent Palestinian Sarab Affan rethinks her identity as an Arab and a Palestinian woman as she undergoes disappointment and alienation in her patriarchal society. Sarab, like Lucy in “Disgrace”, relates her personal sufferings to the wider political failure in Palestine as Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation organization (PLO) fight over power in colonized Palestine while unarmed Palestinian youth die in the intifada. However, Lucy finds agency in staying in South Africa, while Sarab leaves the Arab world to live in France. The two women explore and resist sexist and racist structures, rethinking concepts  of female agency, sexuality and identity.

Keywords: female agency, identity, sexuality, (post)colonial, humanism, patriarchy


How to cite:
Zakarriya, J. (2022). “Agency, Sexuality and Female Identity in “Disgrace” and “The Journal of Sarab Affan.” Journal of Comparative Studies 15 (44), 154–182. https://doi.org/10.59893/jcs.15(44).009