This literary study focuses on the manifold imagings of women and their implications, raising significant concrete questions about how women are imaged, perceived (and misperceived) in Arab literature and daily life, society and culture. It seeks to analyze and clarify in depth such images in the novel Sofia (2004) by the Saudi novelist Mohammad Hasan Alwan. Among the study’s findings is that the novel Sofia, with striking artistry, can be seen as a model for a text that contours the imaging of the woman within the multiple contexts of conservative male thinking and action in numerous Arab societies.
The article initially explores theoretical aspects of the concept of the image and its types in fiction, and the imaging of the woman in the Arabic novel more broadly. It then develops a detailed analysis of how imaging is utilized and elaborated in the novel Sofia: how it is employed and structured to present key aspects of the fraught lives in time and space (Beirut and Riyadh) — of the novel’s two main characters: the young Lebanese wife Sofia based in Beirut, suffering with terminal cancer, and her often bored, egoistical Saudi spouse Moataz, relocated from Riyadh to Beirut. The study scrutinizes and evaluates aspects of the changing socio-cultural position of the woman in Arab society and its gender dynamics — such as the weak, marginalized, submissive and ‘inferior’ woman, and the ambitious, independently-minded female — and associated traditional male patriarchal attitudes, mindsets and behavior. It describes with numerous examples how these elements are contoured, interwoven and reflected in this tragic tale of inner female strength in terminal illness, failed connubial love, and multiplex conjugal misperception.