Analysis of “The Gallows” – A Short Story that Misses Its Own Point

“The Gallows” is a short story written by Suhayr al-Tall.  It is featured in the compiled novel Arab Women Writers.  In it, the author narrates ‘your’ journey from a dark space (‘you’ being the character in the story to whom the author is speaking, and not necessarily the reader), through a crowded space, and finally to the gallows, where ‘you’ are hung with a noose that looks like a phallus.  This final piece of imagery in the story implies, but does not guarantee, that this piece is an exposition of the oppression of patriarchy, but my analysis concludes that its meaning is ultimately obscured by the use of unconnected imagery.
When I initially approached this piece, I was instructed not to consult any outside sources, and approach it only with the knowledge I had gained over the course of the semester.  Following these instructions, my analysis focused on two major points of emphasis within the story, the use of metaphors for birth and diction that invoked imagery of a riot.  Both components were frequently included in the story, and almost every paragraph could tie into one of the two pieces, except for the final sentence which is where ‘you’ are finally hung at the gallows.
I personally found “The Gallows” a needlessly obscure piece.  Surrealism can serve a point in writing, but when used to an extreme it only served to obfuscate the theme of the short story.  Using her imagery and language, al-Tall is able to create two strong themes and imply several more, however these elements never truly tie together into a single cohesive whole.  I believe that this piece is a conversation on male dominance and the abuse women can suffer under a strict patriarchal rule, but even with a close reading and analysis that point becomes lost through an overwhelming use of symbolism which results in a piece that becomes abstract, rather than making an argument.
After completing my essay, I did further research into the book Arab Women Writers.  In the introduction to the book, they specifically mention that “The Gallows” was included, not because it was a piece of writing that clearly illustrated the struggles of women in the modern Arab world, but for the ‘story behind the story’.  After publishing this piece in Amman in 1987, Suhayr al-Tall was brought to court on charges of “offending public sensibilities”.  She was convicted, forced to pay a fine, and ultimately jailed for her writing.  While the piece does mention a phallus at the end, it is clear that the piece did not merit such a harsh sentence, and al-Tall was being punished, not because the piece was truly offensive, but because she was a woman.  This information ultimately creates a stronger narrative than her writing itself about what it means to be an Arab woman in the contemporary world.

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