The Doum Tree

by bstgermain

Brooke St. Germain

Tayeb Salih’s The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid takes place in a village in the north of Sudan. The story describes a tree in the village, the doum tree as it is referred to, that is held sacred by all the people of Wad Hamid. For the better part of the story, the reader is led to believe that the narrator is a local man telling fantastical stories of the tree to a young man who is visiting the town. Nearing the end of the story the reader encounters a major disruption in the narration when they learn that the story has been told from the point of view of the young man. Salih jars his audience by creating this strong disconnect between the reader and the narrator, drawing a parallel to the disconnect that exists between the village locals and its visitors.

Given the village’s location along the Nile River, great pressure is placed on the village to modernize and conform to the standards of the rest of the world. Outsiders suggest that the tree must be cut down to allow for growth and development in the village. When such threats are imposed on the village, the inhabitants display a patriotic nature, coming together and standing up for their beliefs. It appears, however, that the young man’s intentions differ greatly from that of any other visitor to the village simply because he does not wish for there to be a change.

Although the story in itself is somewhat dark, Salih uses almost poetic words whenever describing the Doum tree. Salih writes, “Don’t you think it is like some mythical eagle spreading its wings over the village and everyone in it?” This word choice gives the reader a sense that the tree nurtures and cares for the village and all its inhabitants just as the inhabitants nurture and care for the tree. This careful diction that describes the tree is persistent throughout the story and has a lasting effect on the reader. This is no ordinary tree. It is akin to a Catholic icon –not God itself but sacred and worshipped nevertheless.

Tayeb Salih uses narrative as a wand, allowing the reader to become more interested and involved with the narrator through his personal experiences. Salih flows between the narratives smoothly drawing you in with mythical stories of the trees power.

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