The Doum Tree

by joeyjddavis

Joey Davis

English 213

A Strong Image of Shifting Identity

Tayeb Salih’s short story, The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid, portrays an old man in conversation with a young guest in his village. Through various narrations, the old man gives a clear image of the villagers’ identity and the ways in which it is changing as a result of colonialism. The old man explains the significance of the Doum Tree, a tree that serves as a totem for the village. The villagers hold a spiritual belief that if they honour the Tree, they will benefit from the Tree’s spirit. This view is changing as children from the village are becoming educated in other cities and a colonial perspective is being imposed upon their way of thought.

Salih demonstrates his message of shifting perspectives through a series of twelve narrations. The old man tells stories of historical importance and various other ones that explain the spirituality of the villagers, and keeps these two aspects balanced throughout the story. This is beneficial to the reader because it helps to understand the growing presence of colonialism, and realize how this relates to the existing beliefs of the people.

Although the focus of the story is mainly on the shifting perspectives of people experiencing colonial activity, the characters become quite developed by the end. One can tell that the old man is experienced in the ways of his village, and that he is willing to share his experience with others. This aligns with the traditional views of the village because of the importance they place on passing stories and traditions to future generations. We also begin to understand the character of the young guest. As someone who is far younger, and learning about the world as history is occurring, we understand that he is more focused on the future. We can also understand the relation between the two characters through the old man’s need to pass his knowledge onto another generation because he sees the guest as just another visitor.

The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid is a good read, with a strong message behind it. The way that Salih illustrates colonial attitudes and the reactions of those affected by it is powerful and demonstrates a great shift in the perspectives of villagers experiencing this phenomenon.

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