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Analysis of fate of a cockroach

Fate of a Cockroach is one of Al-Hakim’s plays that conform to the theatre of the absurd in Egypt. The play which was published in 1966 consists of two shorter, connected plays. The first was published in Al-Ahram newspaper in 1964 and consists of the second and the third acts spoken by humans under the same title, Fate of Cockroach. The second play, which is spoken by the cockroaches, appeared in the same newspaper in 1965 under the title The King cockroach sakhsookh,A (2002 P. 143).

In Fate of a Cockroach Al-Hakim satirically creates the cockroach characters to symbolize the political disillusionment with the socialist revolutionary regime under Nasser’s. He later criticized this period in his account entitled ‘Awdat Alwa’ey’ (the return of consciousness) Badawi, M, M (1987: p.82). The parallelism in the play runs at the level of the cockroaches and humans. The King and the Queen Cockroaches have a similar issue as the human couple Samia and Adil who woke up and began to have an argument. In both instances in the play, though the topic of argument is different, the female has the upper hand. The discourse in both cases alludes to conflictive roles between the sexes which could be taken as a reflection on the case of the roles of women and men in Egyptian society at that time.

To illustrate further, the King blames the Queen for trying to underestimate his power and worth. He also blames her for asking him to find a solution to the problem of the ants which is as old as time. Similarly, Adil blames Samia for putting her interests and herself before her husband. He is angry with the fact that she always asks him to do extra chores at home.

Samia, who is a round character in the play, is represented as a domineering wife to her husband Adil. Her personality is stronger than his; yet he refuses to accept the fact, pretending that he tolerates her and puts up with her orders as she is of the ‘weaker sex’. Her attitude towards Adil changes to that of a caring wife after the Doctor tells her that Adil has psychological problems because of the pressures of home, work and study, which led him to identify himself with the cockroach in the bath tub. However, at the end of the play, she is back to the role of the domineering wife after she finds out that the Doctor’s diagnosis is not accurate and that her husband’s desire to protect the cockroach is only because he admires the cockroach’s endless persistence to save his life; an attitude which is shared by the Doctor.

Going back to the other cockroach characters such as the Minister, Savant, and Priest; we learn that these characters play secondary roles to the development of the events in the play. Their role is played because each of them has an odd talent to qualify them for the positions they hold. The Minister’s talent of bringing bad news to the King is what qualified him for his position. It is also the completely incomprehensible things that the priest says that made him suitable for his position. As for the Savant, it is the strange information about things that he presents to the king that made him good for his post.

The Doctor and the Cook, who both have a formal relationship with the family, are minor characters in the human part of the play. The Cook (Umm Attiya) appears to be from the poor working class in Egypt and does as she is told by her mistress Samia. She plays a role in concluding the play where she determines the fate of both the cockroach and Adil who asks her at the end of the play to wipe him out of existence, which can be understood as a direct admission of the resemblance between himself and the cockroach. As for the Cook, she symbolizes the external natural power that causes change in life. The Doctor on the other hand acts as his social role implies, i.e. of doctor- patient relationship.

In this chapter an analysis of Fate of a Cockroach will be presented on the basis of the following: linguistic impoliteness, power, social distance, gender, terms of address, and change of interactive roles of characters through linguistic behaviour.

3.2. Analysis

3.2 a. Impoliteness

Linguistic impoliteness in literary dialogues can reveal interesting insights about characters themselves to the reader or the audience. It can also account for the conflictive situations between characters in the drama. In The Fate of a Cockroach we can see the kind of tense discourse presented in the first act between the King and Queen cockroaches and between Samia and Adil in the second and third acts as evidence of how impoliteness may explain the development of characters in the play, and the development of messages about characters and the theme to be conveyed to the audience on the reader’s level. In the first act, the Queen, having the same power as the King, and being his wife, thus having close social distance, is presented as an argumentative character where she makes FTAs without redressive action, and is even in some instances impolite to the King where she adopts impoliteness strategies to ridicule the King and his worth. In situations 1-8 we can see how tension is being manifested between the King and the Queen because of the manipulation of the certain contextual factors (social distance, power and rank of imposition) that determine the kind of (im)politeness used in each situation:

Situation 1

ACT. I, P2

(Turn 1)king: Come along — wake up! It’s time for work. [ordering / instructing]

(Turn 2)queen (from inside): The darkness of evening has not yet appeared.

(Turn 3)king: Any moment now it will.

(Turn 4)queen: Has the blinding light of day completely disappeared? [asking]

(Turn 5)king: Any moment now it will.

(Turn 6)queen: Until it disappears completely and night has

completely come, let me be and don’t bother me. [admonishing / instructing]

(Turn 7)king: What laziness! What laziness! [admonishing]

(Turn 8)queen (making her appearance): I wasn’t sleeping. You must

remember that I have my toilet and make-up to do. [admonishing]

(Turn 9)king: Make-up and toilet! If all wives were like you, then God

help all husbands! [admonishing]

(Turn 10)queen (aroused to anger): I’m a queen! Don’t forget I’m the

Queen! [warning]

(Turn 11)king: And I’m the King!

We can establish that the relationship between the King and the Queen is tense. The Queen speaks in a defying manner to the King as she believes that she has equal power. In turn (1) the Queen asks a direct yes/no question about the disappearance of the light which is noticeably void of any politeness markers. However, this is typical of an informal relationship between husband and wife talking in an informal context. In a continued effort of her assertion of power, in turn (3) the Queen admonishes the King, signalling her annoyance because he tried to wake her and did not appreciate her positive face wants. In turns (7 and 9) the King responds admonishingly to the Queen’s objections accusing her of being lazy and vain. Both speakers do not recognize and appreciate each other’s positive face wants which leads to tension in the situation.

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