Alifa Rifaat’s story “Another evening at the club” gives a reflection of a woman’s perspective on life and marriage in a patriarchal society. It brings to light the unconventional reasons for a woman’s acceptance of marriage in a society such as material gain and power. Rifaat’s story is the protagonist Samia’s journey to realizing the true meaning of her place and authority in her marriage. Through various flashbacks the author attempts to bring a cohesive end to the protagonists realizations at the end of the story. The final passage of the story is the defining point of realization of her role in establishing the status quo of her marriage. The story reinforces the theme of materialism and societal influences on a person and their desires.
Social norms and values play a significant role in shaping Samia’s perception of life and love. The final passage is the moment when Samia realizes that the idea of marriage that she had been taught to believe in was just an empty negotiated contract. In that moment she understands that the secondary position that she had accepted and the riches she had received was a form of payment. A price she paid for compromising a husband’s love and marrying an older man. Samia’s journey of realization to that moment begins when the terms of her marriage to Abboud Bey is negotiated. The author also shows how Samia’s mother and the patriarchal society have shaped her expectations and desires for materialistic pleasures. Her mother’s words in turn solidify her view that marriage should provide her with money, power and status:
You’re a lucky girl he is a real find. Any girl would be happy to have him. He’s an inspector of irrigation though he is not yet forty. He earns a big salary and gets fully furnished government house wherever he’s posted, which will save us the expense of setting up a house – and I don’t have to tell you what our situation is – and that’s beside the house he owns in Alexandria where you’ll be spending you’re holidays. (Rifaat 310)
The basis of Samia decision may not only have been her family’s financial state but also the allure of being a member of higher society. Rafat exposes this human but materialistic side of Samia’s personality when she says, “in particular she noticed the well cut coat of English tweed and the silk shirt and the gold cuff links” (Rifaat 309). The emerald ring, the diamond bracelet, the lifestyle all symbolize the illusion of necessities that Samia now has.
The author adds to this side of her personality when she contrasts how Samia felt when she saw Abboud Bey’s authority and feels “a guilty shame at her father’s inadequacy”(Rifaat 309). Samia associates money with power and poverty with inadequacy. The house and the money were all compensations she received for compromising who she was. Her husband asks her to tell people that her “father was a judge” (Rifaat 310), indicating a life started with a lie and based on image. Samia’s decision to marry him is only human, she wanted something that didn’t understand but needed. Her marriage to Abboud Bey was not only a chance for him to enhance his image in society but for her to become a member of high society.
The physical gestures displayed by Abboud Bey impacts the way Samia see her position in her marriage. Abboud Bey’s simple gesture of “gently patting her cheeks in a fatherly reassuring gesture” (Rifaat 312), which initially made Samia feel safe completely changed meaning in the final passage of the story. This gesture triggers Samia’s realization that her husband slapping the maid or patting her cheeks were synonymous in displaying his authority and power over them. Samia reveals her realization of this authority:
The gesture told her more eloquently than any words that he was the man and she was the woman, he the one who carried the responsibilities, made the decision, she was the whose role it was to be beautiful, happy, carefree. Now, though, for the first time in their life together the gesture came like a slap in the face. (Rifaat 312)
Samia calls the gesture a slap in the face not because it was used to silence her but as a wake up call. It was like the slap had destroyed the illusion, which she has been living, and woken her up to a cruel reality. When he removes his hand the realization of her husband’s true authority over her rattles every fiber of being as “her whole body was seized with an uncontrollable trembling” (Rifaat 312). Samia understood that his every gesture had slowly taken over her autonomy was with her permission. When she tells Abboud Bey, “I thought I’d better leave it to you” (Rifaat 311) she was giving him more authority, as he was the man and she the woman.
When she could have confronted the maid herself she hands it over to her husband and “took herself to the corner of the room” (Rifaat 311) avoiding any responsibility. This was a position that Samia had been taught to accept being brought up in a patriarchal society where the man has the authority. Upon finding the ring “she felt tempted to…throw it into the river so as to be rid of the unpleasantness that lay ahead” (Rifaat 312). Samia had enjoyed the benefits but could not endure the consequences of her decisions. Power had bought her swift action but also brought her guilt. The ‘slap’ begins the series of thoughts that act as her prequel to her ultimate realization in the final passage.
The setting of the final moment supports the development of Samia’s thoughts to that realization point. The window, the boat and the lilies all exemplify and support Samia’s feelings. When she leans against the large window and “close [s] her eyes tightly” (Rifaat 313) she remembers that is what she had wanted all along. The large comforting window acts like a barrier to her thoughts and leads her to the point where she remembers her compromise. The image of “the dark shape of the boat had momentarily blocked out the café scene” (Rifaat 313), as she had momentarily forgotten her place and now it was visible to her. It was not a realization; Samia had just forgotten for a moment that this is the reality of her life. The power and allure of society had blocked out her sense and logic, which a simple gesture had now let lose.
As the boat cut through the “Nile water lilies that, rootless, are swept along the current” (Rifaat 313) every misconception that she had slowly swept away. When Samia opens her eyes she sees just another evening at the club with the “the café lights strung between the trees on the opposite shore … and the men seated under [the trees] and a waiter moving among the tables” (Rifaat 313). When she looks at the people playing chess and eating at the club through the comforting warmth of her window she sees her every desire. The waiters moving in between them shows the contrast in power and the life she may have had. When she opens her eyes it was like a curtain had been raised and the show was over and it was time to go back to the real world.
This memory had brought with it a realization and its own questions. The decision lies in Samia’s hands to chose the life she lived from that moment onwards. Comfort, luxury and status were all waiting outside that window for her decision. Samia’s smile at the end symbolized her surrender to power and status. She was smiling as she had understood and made peace with her reality. Now it was time for her to go out to the club and join the society she wanted to part of. It was a smile of a mother and wife but most of all of a woman who knew what she wanted and how much she had given up for it.
In conclusion the story explores the materialistic but humane characteristics of a woman in a patriarchal society. Through Samia’s point of view the author illustrates the influences of societal expectations and mans authority over women. The image of Samia leaning against the window and closing her eyes compels one to understand the true meaning of her compromise. It is difficult to understand a woman’s desires especially when she realizes that they aren’t completely hers.