Driss Chraibi’s Mother Comes of Age is an exceptional novel about an Arab woman seeking knowledge of the world. Despite the main character’s age, the novel can be described as a bildungsrowan because of her personal growth. This woman develops and matures from a secluded, uneducated woman to an informed activist, proving she is capable of anything.
The novel begins with the mother ignorant to modern society. Junior emphasizes this. “No one had ever taught her anything. She was an orphan at six months”(23). “At the age of thirteen, she was married off to a man rolling in money and in morality whom she had never seen. He would have been the age of her father. He was my father”(24). She has been isolated in her home since she was married twenty-two years ago. Her husband went off to work and her sons went off to school. The mother stayed in the home and took care of her family and her house. She rejected any French influence in her home. Her sons were punished for speaking the language. She was content in her innocence.
As the boys grew older, they wanted to share their experiences with their mother. They told her stories to help her understand matters too difficult for her to comprehend. When electricity was installed in their home the brothers explained that the magic of a genie allowed for the lights, radio, and telephone to work. Their mother readily accepted their explanations. “’Aha,’ mother said, suddenly feeling relieved and happy. ‘Like the fakirs and the snake charmers?’”(31) Their mother was not a fool she was just ignorant to such things. At her sons’ urging the mother ventured outside for the first time since she was thirteen. She is amazed and overwhelmed by the beautiful outdoors. These experiences influence the mother and her sons to question her imprisonment.
The mother begins to rebel against tradition by taking an active role in educating and freeing herself. Through her radio, telephone and trips out with her sons she develops her own opinions about the world, the war, and the domination and seclusion of woman. She loses her innocence as a result to her new knowledge and experience.
In the second part of this novel the mother’s metamorphous is unmistakable. She becomes an activist for the war, and even attempts to confront one of the great generals. It is at this time that she relates the independence of Morocco with the independence of herself. She resents her husband’s control over her life and immediately stands up to him. She explains her unhappiness to him.
“If my soul, by some stroke of a magic wand, emerged right here in front of me, I’d be the first one to be surprised. I wouldn’t be able to recognize it. I think it would look like an idiot child with a deformed head. I would say to it, ‘Push your ears aside so I can see your lovely eyes!’ My soul would look at me without saying a word, without a smile, without even comprehending me”(94).
Her husband refuses to believe that she has rebelled against him without Nagib’s influence. She responds to this by asking “Was it Nagib who gave birth to me or I to him?”(95) It was with difficulty but her husband accepts his new wife. This empowers the mother to begin school, cut her hair, smoke, even learn to drive. She has become independent of her family. She has become her own person. The most impressive role our protagonist takes on is that of an activist. She travels to other towns to teach women about their repression and offers a way out of their isolation.
The mother’s new interests result in a reversal of roles. She is now out of the home pursuing her goals. The men help to keep house and cook. They support her and her causes. Her husband realizes that his wife is the center of his world and that he has been holding her back.
“The foundation of every society is the community, and the core of the community is lain and simply the family. If at the heart of that family the woman is held prisoner, completely veiled and sequestered as we have kept her for centuries, if she has no opening onto the outside world, no active role, society as a whole suffers fatally and closes in on itself with nothing left to give to itself or to the world” (120).
Her husband had underestimated her influence in the family. He has come to realize her importance, as well as that of all women. Nagib had first introduced his mother to the outside world. He had planted a seed of knowledge in her that had blossomed. Nagib is proud of what his mother has become and is in awe of her perseverance. The mother was nourished well by her faithful men.
By the end of the novel the mother has evolved into an independent woman, unafraid to face the world. She has decided to travel to France to see her youngest son and to broaden her horizons. This is a far cry form the woman who was sequestered in her home for twenty-two years. She has finally been given the opportunity to develop into a woman capable of enjoying new intellectual and emotional realms.