The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid

by cwilcox2

Chris Wilcox

The bed time, story-like piece The Doum Tree of Wad Hamihd is a short, first person narrative in which the reader almost gets a physiological sense of what Tayeb Salih describes. Though there is a grand theme being presented, the imagery and setting play such an important role as it builds up our appreciation of the theme. The values presented in the story mainly deal with tradition, faith, and the comparison between a rural, spiritual world versus a western industrial one. Regardless of the main theme, Salih’s ability as an influential Middle Eastern writer leaves the reader literally enthralled. By invoking a more pushy tone such as, “Sit down”, “Drink you your tea”, “Listen well” the reader gets a sense that they are a little kid in a big chair being told a very long, moral story.

As well as being pushed, another way in which we may appreciate theme is in the way Salih uses imagery; both directly and indirectly. In the first paragraph, Salih describes swarms of locusts as “a dark cloud” but is neither “dust, nor yet that mist which rises up after rainfall”. We might not be capable of imagining what a swarm of bugs would look like, however through indirect means Salih tells us what it is not: It isn’t dust and isn’t the mist after the rain. Rather than having the smell of locusts we have the image of their swarm and the smell of a Middle Eastern rainfall. This distinctive kind of description enables to reader to put themselves right in the moment of what it is like to be in the village that Salih writes about.

Another way in which imagery and setting are presented is by the way in which Salih reveals the story. Because the story is presented in a manner that it assumes you were “there” first and then sat down to have the story told, the reader is left with this blank memory. The line, “When I took you to visit the tree, my son…” almost forces us to try recalling a memory we don’t yet have. But Salih goes on to finish this blank canvas about how there was a “marbel plaque” or the “gilded crescents above the tomb”. All of this gives us this strong sense of an image in which we are actively standing in but didn’t really happen to us as a reader.

Even though it seems like the narrator of the story is talking to someone else, it doesn’t really matter. Due to Salih’s engaging depiction of a small, rural village we are left seeking more from a spiritual tale of an old man. The way we’re being talked to coupled with the indirect imagery literally pulls us into the moment and the heart of the story. Tayeb Salih truly is an artist who plays with the written word rather than simply using it.


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