In "Distant View of a Minaret" by Alifa Rifaat, a lonely wife describes life with her husband as "a world from which she had been excluded" (Rifaat, 1996, p. 256). While a woman paints a picture of a seemingly mundane afternoon, a minaret viewed in the distance provides the reader with vivid symbols of the underlying resignation of expectation and desire she once had for her marriage and her husband. The very first paragraph of the story describes the wife looking at her husband through "half-closed eyes" and being only "half-aware of the movements of his body" (Rifaat, 1996, p. 256).
While it seems as if the wife is simply depicting waking up from sleep and noticing her husband, immediately upon reading the second paragraph the reader is made aware that the husband and wife are actually having sex. The immediate impression that the reader gets is that this woman is not only not having her needs met and has obviously resigned herself to this type of encounter with her husband by the offhand way she talks about noticing a spider's web on the ceiling. The bleak tone of this story takes a particularly sad and disturbing tinge when the wife illustrates a scene from early on in her marriage where she tries to get her husband to satisfy her desire and provide her with mutual satisfaction, only to have him rebuke and reprimand her. In fact, the husband responds in such a particularly brusque and hysterical manner that the reader can see how traumatized the wife would have been at this point in her marriage, when she was younger and more optimistic about what her husband and the marriage itself had in store for her.
At this very moment the husband, either willfully or inadvertently, turned the wife's own sexual desire against her. This is clear in that she describes the resulting shame as "an indelible tattoo mark" (Rifaat, 1996, p. 257) that would eventually lead to her sexual and emotional resignation, made evident in that fact that she questioned herself and calling her demands "unreasonable" (Rifaat, 1996, p. 257). The reader is further left with the impression she has cut herself off emotionally from her husband (perhaps to endure the act of being used as a sexual device) when later on during the act of intercourse, she indifferently states that her toenails need to be cut.
It is no surprise then that she would seek emotional fulfillment in her everyday religious activities. She even goes so far as to say that her daily prayers "gave meaning to her life" (Rifaat, 1996, p. 258). In effect, the prayers that she likens to "punctuation marks" and each having a "distinct quality" could very well be a substitute for the kind 'self-satisfaction's he had long given up on when describing no longer having the will to "complete the act with herself as she used to do in the first years of marriage" (Rifaat, 1996, p. 257). The manner in which she describes looking forward to praying again could easily be said by someone looking towards seeing their lover, thereby giving this story a painfully sad tone.
By the time the actual minaret is referred to in the story, the crowded and obscured view in which is described can also be said of the wife's view of her husband and her marriage. The minaret is described as what is left over from a once "panoramic view" (Rifaat, 1996, p. 258) when they first moved into their flat. As a young bride, she may have had certain expectations of what kind of physical and emotional relationship would take shape with her husband. But over time, in this view outside her window, the reader can see how this vision had been obscured.
ReferencesRifaat, Alifa (1996). Distant View of a Minaret. In Kate Files (Ed. ), International Women's Stories (pp. 256-9). London: Penguin Books..