A Handful of Dates By Tayeb Salih: Summary, Theme, Characterisation and Title

[heading style=”default” size=”13″ align=”center” margin=”20″ id=”” class=””]A Handful of Dates By Tayeb Salih [/heading]

Introduction

The short story was published, originally in Arabic in 1964, in a collection of stories “The Wedding of Zein.” The action of this story, as with many of the stories written by Tayeb Salih, occurs in the fictional setting of the village of Wad Hamid, which is in Central Sudan. Though the story is quite brief, it exhibits a lot of themes of interest and applicability to people of all cultures and ideologies. The fact that the story along with other stories by Salih was celebrated and translated into English has helped in bringing about the recognition of Salih’s skilled literary abilities and has assisted in proving the undisputed importance and utility of translation as a tool to enhance and strengthen ties between peoples and literatures of the world.

This short story is told through the eyes of a young boy as he experiences an epiphany, a critical moment of awareness that perhaps marks his passage from a child to an adult.

Learn something new:

Bildungsroman is a special kind of novel that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of its main character, from his or her youth to adulthood. Such a type of novel is also known as a “coming-of-age” novel.

Characteristics of a great bildungsroman story

A journey. (Sometimes it’s a physical journey a hero must make, but more often is a psychological or spiritual journey of discovery.)

  • A struggle for identity.
  • A societal conflict.
  • A loss of innocence.

Summary

The story is about a young boy who adored his grandfather to such an extent that he wanted to emulate him as a role model. The grandfather too loved him dearly for being intelligent, hardworking and obedient. He loved to take the boy along whenever he went for an outing. The grandfather had a charismatic personality with tall stature and sparklingly flowing white beard and the boy blindly followed him without having any doubt about his intentions. There lived another person in their neighbourhood. His name was Masood. However, the grandfather disliked him and described him as an indolent and lazy person.

With the passage of time, the young boy learnt that all the lands his grandfather possessed had belonged to Masood at one time. The grandfather, taking advantage of Masood‘s weakness for women and the financial compulsions, made him sell about two-thirds of the land and even intended to grab whatever little was left with Masood.

It was during one harvesting season that the young boy got a chance to know his grandfather through and through. All the dates that were harvested actually belonged to Masood but surprisingly the dates were distributed among the grandfather, and some others leaving nothing at all for Masood. The boy was shocked to see the true colours of his grandfather. He felt disgusted with his greed and opportunism. The grandfather had out of love given the boy a handful of dates to taste and eat. However, the sensitive boy developed such hatred for his grandfather that he ran away from his sight and at a distance spewed up the dates, thereby expressing complete disregard and disgust for his selfish and mean grandfather.

Theme/Message

The story highlights the age-old truth that appearances can be deceptive and actions speak louder than the words. The grandfather from his physical appearance appears to be a deeply religious and pious soul but in reality, proves to be a devil filled with elfish and opportunistic designs. His greed knows no bounds and he leaves no stone unturned to grab Masood’s land without feeling any pity on him. Thus in the words of Shakespeare, “One may smile and smile and still be a villain”.

Characterization

The story has three important characters, the young boy, the grandfather and the neighbour Masood. The young boy is loving, intelligent and submissive. He is punctual to the mosque, in learning the Quran and providing every service to his grandfather. He learns with interest which endears him to his Grandfather. Even the Sheikh at the mosque makes him recite the holy verses of the Chapter of the Merciful, whenever there are any special guests.

The young boy is too much fond of his grandfather. He wants to follow him and emulates him as a role model. The boy is very sensitive too. He loves Masood for his humane nature. He takes his words seriously when he remarks that trees, like humans, express joy and suffering and while harvesting the dates we shouldn‘t cut the heart of the palm tree. On the other hand, the grandfather is a devilish character who takes undue advantage of Masood’s situation. He is filled with greed, tendencies and mean mentality. Masood too has a true humane nature. However, he is indolent and has a weakness for women.

Title

The title of the story is really striking. The boy receives a handful of dates from his grandfather. At face value, he takes them as the token of love and affection. But once the reality of his grandfather dawns upon him, he is filled with disgust and hatred for him. He spews out the dates to express his disregard for his grandfather‘s greed and selfishness.

Simile

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two things. Similes differ from other metaphors by highlighting the similarities between two things using words such as “like”, “as”, or “than”, while other metaphors create an implicit comparison.

We can find simile examples in our daily speech. We often hear comments like, “John is as slow as a snail.” Snails are notorious for their slow pace, and here the slowness of John is compared to that of a snail. The use of “as” in the example helps to draw the resemblance.

Common Examples of Simile

  • Our soldiers are as brave as lions.
  • Her cheeks are red like a rose.
  • He is as funny as a monkey.
  • The water well was as dry as a bone.
  • He is as cunning as a fox.

Simile introduces vividness into what we say. Authors and poets utilise simile to convey their sentiments and thoughts through vivid word pictures.

Short Examples of Simile in a Sentence

  • The glow of the tube-light was as bright as the sunshine.
  • At exam time, the high school student was as busy as a bee.
  • The beggar on the road looked as blind as a bat.
  • When the examination finished, the candidate felt as light as a feather.
  • When the teacher entered the class, the 6th-grade students were fighting like cats and dogs.
  • The diplomat said the friendship of the two countries was as deep as an ocean.

Q Complete the following using suitable words from the box.

[bee, mule, bat, mouse, wolf, lamb, lightning, peacock, furnace, grass, lead, feather, fox, cucumber, honey, deer, peas, egg, fiddle, rock]

1. As light as a ……………………

2. As sweet as ………………………

3. As bald as an ………………….

4. As cunning as a ………………….

5. As blind as a ………………….

6. As busy as a ………………….

7. As hungry as a ………………….

8. As cool as a ………………….

9. As steady as a ………………….

10. As quick as ………………….

11. As busy as ………………….

12. As swift as ………………….

13. As obstinate as ………………….

14. As heavy as ………………….

15. As like as two ………………….

16. As timid as a ………………….

17. As proud as a ………………….

18. As gentle as a ………………….

19. As hot as a ………………….

20. As green as ………………….

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