Father figures all across the world embody a phenomenon which encompasses all attributes of a role model. They are meant to stand for discipline, caution, protection, guidance, and of course, love. The perfect amalgamation of all these can be found in the patriarch of any household, or any culture, for that matter. As such, the perfect patriarchal example is nothing short of a literary archetype. From Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" to Puzo's "The Godfather" we can find numerous examples of father figures establishing the age-old belief in fatherly conduct.
It is true, that the general conception of father figures is more or less the same in all areas of literature. However, one must pay heed to the fact that just like miscellaneous traditions; the perception towards father figures varies from culture to culture. Needless to say, the significance of this role is ever pertinent to any society. As far as Arabic or Asian culture is concerned, one should have the capacity to estimate that the father occupies the role of a character's conscience. The amount of respect allotted to a fatherly person is so great that denying it would be nothing short of sacrilege. A father or guardian is expected to know what is best and to find the best way around it. Such weight is not only amounted due to custom, but also due to religious obligation. The father upholds a strong and undying sense of derivation: forever reminiscent of one's roots. Father figures in Arabic or Asian literature, therefore, display that strong source of staying grounded and holding fast to the rope of one's original belonging. Fathers, as such, are largely meant to embody a moral compass, and hence it is very stimulating to see things through an Arab or Asian eye, whence examining their literature.
For instance, the poem "Self-Portrait" by A.K. Ramanujan is a poem that despite its short size is a goldmine of wisdom. It pays homage to all fathers; in fact it pays tribute to recognizing one's pedigree as a whole. It can be therefore, regarded as the ultimate advice from a staunch functionalist: the sum of parts is greater than the individual fragment. The poem designates great reverence to the writer's father. Ramanujan intelligently explains his feelings towards his father, when saying, "I resemble everyone but myself" (Ramanujan). This line is the true essence of the entire poem, for it describes how the writer perceives himself in connection to his ancestors. He seems to realize that he bears resemblance to everyone around him and before him, in a manner that suggests that he is a lone fragment in the solution of mankind. He lacks any sense of individual identity whatsoever. It is interesting to note that an individual identity is what any man would take pride in, but not Ramanujan. Instead he seems to be of the opinion that to find your place in the realms of one's origin is worth much more than individualism.
Ramanujan then goes on to explain how his sense of rationality is shaken when it comes to who he really represents. He dwells on how he sees "the portrait of a stranger" when looking upon his own reflection. He drives his point home by emphasizing that this belief is directly in contradiction to the "the laws of optics." But he believes it with a conviction which can confront any scientific law. What he really means to convey is that when he reflects upon himself, he finds another person altogether, a person who is far greater than what he imagines his own self to be. And no amount of logic can alter this faith. To look upon you and find traces of a role model is the world's greatest yet rarest pleasure. And that is what the poet articulates in a beautifully succinct manner.
In the last two lines of the poem, the great mystery of the writer's identity is finally unveiled. He reveals that he sees "The portrait of a stranger, date unknown, often signed in a corner, by my father" (Ramanujan). He comes to the ground breaking conclusion that he is but a mere reflection of his father and he will forever portray his father's attributes and mannerisms. His idea transcends that of appearance, for he cannot seem to care less whether he looks like his father in terms of facial features or not, but he knows for a fact that he feels like his father and in doing so he lives like his father. And in a subtle way, that is his greatest triumph, to have found his ultimate identity in that of his ultimate role model.
This poem establishes a strong sense of pride in where one comes from. It is the symbol of a mission statement that helps one look to the skies without losing one's footing. This poem, as such, demonstrates how Asian literature views a father figure, by correlating a patriarchal model to pride and identity. It vehemently expresses the notion that having a strong sense of one's ancestry is what goes on to make one whole.
The role of father figures can best be understood by analyzing a number of similar works of literature. One such work of literature is the haunting tale of a right message learnt the wrong way. "A Hand in the Grave" by Ghassan Kanafani is a short story that takes the reader down the route of quintessential Arab perception. A father is the ultimate source of all things legitimate; a father is the perfect moral compass, continuously directing you to do what is right. "A Hand in the Grave" is a tale of a young man 'Nabil' who makes the questionable decision of robbing a grave, with his apprentice and friend 'Suhail' on account of not being able to afford a skeleton. The sole purpose behind this dubious endeavor is to find a skeleton to study, in order to be accepted in the medical faculty. Although this particular case scenario is very remote, it is still something that each of us can relate to. We try to resolve the conflict between intentions and actions every day. We try to justify our deeds with hefty explanations, and we try to make ends meet in ways that we do not always bother to scrutinize. Life is about making such choices all the time, whether it is robbing a grave or simply working hard at one's job, one must always consider tradeoffs and weigh them as intricately as possible. And sometimes, being human naturally means that we err. And it is times like those when the importance of a father figure shines through, for you expect the father figure to fight your battles for you and to know better.
The story builds momentum when the protagonist Nabil is confronted by his father for looking exceptionally pale one morning. His father, being a rather strict disciplinarian, interrogates him about his activities, only to be completely flabbergasted when Nabil gets vexed enough to reveal his plans. The exchange that he has with his father, before setting out to implement his plans reveals everything about their relationship. Nabil is unthinking about the consequences, and like any young and driven man, he is focused on the purpose of his task. It is safe to say, that he is more concerned about the destination than the journey he undertakes to get there. He is so blinded by his ambition to be a member of the medical faculty, that he is willing to overlook the desecration of a dead man. It is not unlike putting food on your plate with money embezzled from someone else.
His father, on the other hand, represents a strong sense of values. He is all about the journey as opposed to the destination. He is all about the means as opposed to the reward. He is horrified when he learns of Nabil's volition, and reminds him of his duties towards God. He commands his son to hold true to his faith and not be lead astray by a mundane goal. It can be estimated that the role of the father in this story is that of the person who delivers brutally honest admonition. His own sense of character is so sturdy, that he would not yield to even his son's nuance, and pay him the money required to buy a skeleton to study. He is, as such, the epitome of 'tough love.' In trying to teach his son right from wrong, he resorts to an unshakable conscience, which as we see later, never fails him.
The character of the father is perhaps best revealed by Nabil's friend Suhail when he says, "The attempts at begging have failed. Your father would sell his own skeleton for less than seventy-five lire; as for my uncle, he'd sell his for the price of one breakfast. It's no good, we must rob a grave." (Kanafani, 427) We can easily see that despite the…