The Gendered Subject: Literary Existentialism in Ghādah al-Sammān’s “Beirut Tetralogy”

  • Kifah Hanna
Part of the Literatures and Cultures of the Islamic World book series (LCIW)


An existentialist ambience pervades the fiction of Ghādah al-Sammān. In her novels and short stories, she addresses the core ontological questions facing the Arab individual in the second half of the twentieth century, while always situating her characters and the challenges they face in social, political, and historical contexts specific to the Levant. Her early works are collections of short stories that attend to the conflicts and contradictions of Arab, especially Arab women’s, identity in the wake of the Palestinian Nakba and Naksa. Her collection Raḥīl al-Marāfi’ al-Qadīmah (Departure of the Ancient Ports, 1973) perhaps best exemplifies her early existentialist—in both theme and form—approach to such issues. In later works, she turns to the Lebanese civil war, and, as her feminist and national concerns start to coalesce, reflects on the profoundly human dimensions of this conflict, especially on questions of suffering, bare life, and fragmented individual and social identity.


Romantic Love Israeli Defense Force Limit Situation Bare Life Sectarian Division 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 2.
    I have chosen the term “existentialist,” as opposed to “existential,” to describe al-Sammān’s feminist and nationalist concerns. This is based on a distinction made by Hans Van Stralen, where “existentialist” “refers to the literary-philosophical movement,” and “existential” “refers to human existence inasmuch as it concerns the fundamental aspects of life.” Hans Van Stralen, Choices and Conflicts: Essays on Literature and Existentialism (Brussels: P.I.E.-Peter Lang, 2005), note 10, pp. 34–35.Google Scholar
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© Kifah Hanna 2016

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