Looking at Individuality in “The Ostrich” From a Multicultural Perspective


Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela, author of “The Ostrich”

There is a balance multiculturalism has to strike — two schools of thought in conflict with each other. Charles Taylor in his essay in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition describes them as the politics of equal dignity and the politics of difference. The former looks to being blind of difference in order to treat all equally while the other looks to recognize the uniqueness of individuals and groups. There are real dangers to falling to heavily on one side or the other. Strong identification with the politics of equal dignity can lead to a disregard of the history that has led to varying groups’ current statuses. On the other hand, too strong an emphasis on the differences in people can lead to justification of separation, as is seen with the “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” signs of the British 60s.

The U.K. has struggled with multiculturalism since their failed attempt of stopping non-white immigrants from entering the country after the passing of the 1948 Nationality Act (Rattansi 22). This didn’t stop the flood gates from opening however and employers were soon recruiting migrant workers, and, through a chain reaction, caused more migration from those who heard of the job opportunities abroad. This time was dominated by migrants from the West Indies, India, and Pakistan, but with time, the U.K. became one of the places migrants tried to go to find work and a better life. In “The Ostrich”, Sumra, who is joining her husband in London, describes what she calls a “scramble” of migrants in and from Khartoum trying to get to the Gulf, Egypt, and even Norway. Her husband Majdy says it is confirmation that there is no future back home (Aboulela 4).


A painting of a university in Khartoum

The artwork originally presented with “The Ostrich”

Leila Aboulela’s short story “The Ostrich” follows Sumra, a Muslim Sudanese, as she returns to her husband in England after a two month visit to her hometown of Khartoum. She and her husband share a complicated, sometimes abusive, relationship as they both struggle to assimilate to British culture and maintain their Sudanese identities. Aboulela, born in Sudan herself and the inaugural winner of the Cain Prize for African Writing, is known for “Highlighting the challenges facing Muslims in Europe” (“About Leila”). In this short story published in 1997, Sumra’s husband Majdy forces her to forgo any evidence of Muslim faith or Sudanese heritage in fear of their British neighbors seeing them as “backwards.” Written in the first person, Aboulela gives Sumra agency and a voice to share her unique Muslim Sudanese immigrant experience despite the oppressive forces around her. I would like to argue that Aboulela gives credence to the politics of difference here by respecting Sumra’s individuality even within the group of other Muslim Sudanese. She also plays a little with the politics of equal dignity by presenting the world of Khartoum as familiar rather than alien and exotic as many may have been trained to see Africa.

While meeting with English friends in their apartment, Sumra makes comments on Islam that her husband deems to be not “modern.”  When they leave, he slaps her for it. She doesn’t understand what she did wrong, and he says the English can forgive her “ugly colour, [her] thick lips and rough hair, but [she] must think modern thoughts” and it is his comments on her looks that stick with her. She stands in front of the mirror and “hate[s] the face [she] was born with” (Aboulela 5). The effect of this is extreme sympathy for Sumra’s situation. We know at this point she is pregnant. We know at this point Majdy has told her every English person who walks past their window, even the rubbish collector, is better than them. This is produced through Aboulela’s use of repetition, “Why, why” Sumra asks as Majdy slaps her again. We are confused like Sumra due to the contrast in the friendly situation of “men with kind eyes and women who like the food I cook” met with violence from her husband. The syntax of steadily longer sentences leaves us in dread. This is important and a subversion from the expected because Sumra is being punished by her husband for defending polygamy, a practice typically seen in the west as being sexist and backwards. Here Aboulela is putting us firmly on the side of Sumra in an argument the reader might usually be on the other side of. This is Aboulela showing support for the politics of difference.

In his essay described above, Taylor goes into more detail on the politics of difference and the politics of equal dignity. The former, he says, demands that all be treated equally and is “based on the idea that all humans are equally worthy of respect” (Taylor 41). The latter asks that we recognize “the unique identity of [an] individual or group, their distinctness from everyone else” (Taylor 38). The politics of equal dignity are against the politics of difference because it “violates the principle of nondiscrimination” while difference is against equal dignity because “it negates identity by forcing people into a homogenous mold that is untrue to them” (Taylor 43). This scene in “The Ostrich” is significant because Aboulela is giving a voice to Sumra, a unique individual who does not agree with what the mold of her dominant society has decided is equal. She doesn’t believe they should “condemn something that Allah had permitted” – polygamy, whereas in England, the practice would be seen as inherently unequal to the women involved.

Lindsey Zanchettin’s chapter “Articulations of Home & Muslim Identity in the Short Stories of Leila Aboulela in the Writing Africa in the Short Story collection (2013) offers a framework for examining Aboulela’s portrayal of the Muslim Sudanese woman’s experience as an immigrant in the UK. Her goal is show how Aboulela is part of a new kind of African short story – one that expresses the African experience as plural and familiar instead of singular and exotic. This ties in with Taylor’s politics of equal dignity. “The memories Sumra has of her Muslim practice in Khartoum are not alienating to non-Muslim or non-African readers” Zanchettin writes. She analyzes the ways in which Aboulela allows her characters to “ache for a place of familiarity and comfort” even when that place is otherwise considered “undesirable” (Zanchettin 42). I will analyze how this allowance ties with Taylor’s politics of equal dignity through Aboulela’s representation of Khartoum with ordinary beauty.

Aboulela does this in sentences describing Khartoum in her school days. For example, “To walk from the hostels in groups and pairs, past the young boy selling peanuts, past the closed post-office, past the neem trees with the broken benches underneath” (Aboulela 5). The effect of this is showing Khartoum as an ordinary paradise. It’s special to Sumra in her memories, but it is not special in a magical way that makes it different than London and, by extension, the Western world. She does this writing sentences

students walking to school

Aboulela doesn’t give schoolife in Khartoum special significance

that are not only fragments, but are also lengthy run-ons. There are a cluster of four sentences like this, back to back, without a subject that pull us in to Khartoum casually, like we are part of the conversation, allowing us to relate Sumra’s experiences to our own. This is significant because the politics of equal dignity want to pain all the world as equal. Sumra walked with “[j]angly earrings, teeth snapping chewing gum and kohl in [her] eyes” just like I and numerous other women (and men) have. It puts us on equal footing.

Aboulela doesn’t fall into the trap Taylor warns about though. There is subtle mention of “the broken benches” in the city. Khartoum is struggling. We see it when Sumra describes waiting for her bread ration every morning. Sumra is not treated equally in London. She lives in fear of what people might think of her after Majdy shows her the Islamophobic and racist graffiti around the city. Sumra’s individuality is respected while her home of Khartoum is presented with the same respect one would expect for the presentation of a Western city. This balance is something more writers should strive for when searching to represent multiculturalism in a society.



Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “About Leila.” Leila Aboulela, www.leila-aboulela.com/about/.

Murray, Tony. “No Reason to Doubt No Irish, No Blacks Signs.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 Oct. 2015, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/28/no-reason-to-doubt-no-irish-no-blacks-signs.

Rattansi, Ali. Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Multiculturalism. Princeton University Press, 1994.

Zanchettin, Lindsey. “Articulations of Home & Muslim Identity in the Short Stories of Leila Aboulela.” ALT 31 Writing Africa in the Short Story: African Literature Today, edited by Ernest N. Emenyonu et al., Boydell and Brewer, 2013, pp. 40–51. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt3fgmkz.8.


“The alienation of one’s self in exchange for British multiculturalism”

Immigrating to a new country can be terrifying. With the hand of your significant other, transitioning into a new ‘world’ should be less scary right? But what happens when you get to this new place and your spouse forces you to not only abandon every aspect that you once were but to internalize this new questionable way of thinking? “Every one of them is better than


Author of “The Ostrich”

us” is what you’re now told by your lifetime partner (Aboulela 4). You’re now forced to internalize this concept that you must respect total strangers because their very way of being is simply just ‘better’ than you (Aboulela 4). Could you imagine your partner forcing you to alienate the very way of life that the two of you lived in unison until that very moment? When in a foreign place, one relies on their traditions and cultural norms for comfort. In Leila Aboulela’s “The Ostrich”, published by Intangible Publications in 1997, she highlights the complexity of British multiculturalism through the narrative of Sumra –  a young, female, Sudanese-born student that studies abroad in London.


In “The Ostrich”, Aboulela documents the journey of Sumra and her Sudanese born husband, Majdy, as they migrate from their home in Khartoum to the United Kingdom to study abroad in London. The journey of Sumra and Majdy epitomizes British multiculturalism in several aspects. Aboulela uses both the past and present recollections of Sumra to narrate her and her husband’s transition into British society. At the outset of both this narrative of Sumra and Majdy and contemporary British reality, there are acts of hate within London targeting not only Muslim immigrants but those of African descent.  Sumra recalls on occasion when Majdy would “point out the graffiti for [her] … ‘Black Bastards’ on the wall of the mosque, ‘Paki go home’ on the newsagent’s door” (Aboulela 4).



British protestors against Muslim immigrants in the UK.

Within the United Kingdom, racism evidently plays an active role in the daily lives of immigrants, particularly of Muslims and of people of African descent. British sociologist, Ali Rattansi, concludes that the introduction of French legislation to ban the full veil in public, “confirms that Europe is in the grip of an ‘Islamophobia’ that is as pernicious as the anti-Semitism that engulfed Europe during the 1930s” (Rattansi 127). In Leila Aboulela’s “The Ostrich” zooms in on the complexity of British multiculturalism.

Aboulela highlights how being ‘multicultural’ in the United Kingdom is paradoxical. As both an immigrant of color and a Muslim in the United Kingdom, Aboulela emphasizes how assimilation and adaptation force immigrants to lose their sense of self. As a result of their loss of identity, these particular immigrants that make the UK ‘multicultural’ is forced to internalize racists ideologies as the process of assimilation requires them to understand and cooperate with the racial hierarchy of the UK. The short story of “The Ostrich” narrates Sumra’s opposition to assimilating and adapting to British society.

The characterization of Majdy highlights the need for immigrants in the UK to internalize racist ideologies as a survival mechanism. Evidence of Majdy’s embodiment of racist ideologies occurs through his actions when he demands his wife to remove her veil for the comfortability of everyone else in London. Sumra recalls:


“He dislikes if I walk a few steps behind him, what would people think, he says, that we are backward, barbaric. He sneers at the Arab women in black abayas walking behind their men. Oppressor, that’s what people would think of them. Here, they respect women, treat them as equal, we must be the same he says” (Aboulela, 2)


The asyndeton and alliteration of the words ‘backward’ and ‘barbaric’ highlight Majdy’s realization that the aspects of their Muslim identity will be viewed as problematic by the residents of London. The absence of conjunction between the two words used to describe Khartoum, Majdy and Sumra’s home, dramatizes the bitterness in which Majdy now feels towards it. The negative connotations of both ‘backward’ and ‘barbaric’ suggest Majdy’s opposition to the cultural way of life in which he and Sumra shared their entire lives. By ‘sneering’ at the woman in a black abaya his sudden distaste of his people and culture. In reference to his own cultural practices, Majdy speaks negatively of them, yet in contrast, he speaks highly of British culture and traditions. The use of ‘respect’ and ‘equal’ highlights Majdy’s approval of the British. By suggesting that he and Sumra ‘must be the same’ highlights that Majdy’s loss of identity in exchange for acceptance into British society. Unable to hide the physical evidence of his biological identity, Majdy relies on the erasure of the aspects of his Muslim identity in order to become less controversial for the people of Britain. He believes that the whites of the UK are inherently ‘better’ than both himself and Sumra. Majdy recognizes that in order to gain the acceptance of whites, that he and his wife must abandon their cultural and religious norms, for the sake of societal, British survival. This is why he demands that his wife not wear her veil out in public. He acknowledges the Western interpretation of the relationship between Muslim women and their veils as a sign of oppression and victimization, further adopting this concept to justify why he thought that his wife should no longer wear it.

This Western interpretation of the Muslim woman and her veil is further analyzed by Senior Lecturer at the Department of Media and Communications at the University of London, Milly Williamson. Milly Williamson published “The British Media, the Veil and the Limits of Freedom” in 2004 in the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication. Within this article, Williamson examines how Britain utilized media to present immigrants, specifically Muslims, as a threat to their national security. Williamson centers her research around the blatant Western disapproval over Islamic cultural norms such as the wearing of the veil for female Muslims. Williamson analyzes the history of the veil’s symbolism within the UK. Williamson notes that during the War on Terror, the veil was symbolic of the “oppression of Muslim women and was a sign of victimization. However, today the veil symbolizes a refusal of Western modernity and is perceived as a dangerous threat” (Williamson 65).

Williamson continues, “The veil was presented as (1) a refusal of ‘our way of life’; (2) a sign of our excessive tolerance; (3) evidence that Britain is suffering from the tyranny of a ‘culture’ imposed by a minority, and; (4) linked to the threat of terrorism. By 2000 the predominant theme was that the veil is a refusal of ‘our way of life’, which in turn was part of an erosion of the ‘British way of life’” (Williamson 66)


This Westernized interpretation of Muslim women and the symbolism in which the veil represents are the exact racist ideologies that have forced Majdy to abandon his cultural practices. In conjunction with this key claim, Williamson emphasizes the discomfort of the veil in terms of British society. Williamson notes that given the societal disapproval of the veil, Muslim immigrants within the UK are “perceived as a dangerous threat”, for it symbolizes ‘a refusal of Western modernity’. The fact that British society only accepts immigrants willing to modernize Westernly, is evidence that in order to assimilate into British society, one must abandon their cultural norms and customs for the sake of the UK’s comfort. As a result, Majdy urges his wife that they ‘must be like them’ (Aboulela 2). In other words, immigrants are allowed access to the UK, but they must follow the British way of life if they ever hope to fully adapt. Given this notion, Majdy links the success of his assimilation and adaptation into life in the UK by “imitat[ing British people] to prove that though [they] are Arabs and Africans [they] can be modern too” (Aboulela 2).


The idea of integration within British society is analyzed in Shane Brighton’s essay “British Muslims, multiculturalism and UK foreign policy: ‘integration’ and ‘cohesion’ in and beyond the state”, published in the International Affairs Journal by Blackwell Publishing Limited in 2007. Senior Lecturer of International Relations at the University of Sussex, Shane Brighton, analyzes the British attempts to use ‘integration’ to reshape multiculturalism within Britain to combat terrorism. He notes that the


“the idea of integration is in many ways the foundational concept within multiculturalism. It supposes a need to acknowledge and manage relations with – rather than efface- culturally distinct communities” (Brighton 5)

based off the Roy Jenkins, Home Secretary sought to make explicit in a speech to the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants in 1966. This here highlights that although the UK suggests that integration is the key to having a successful, multicultural society. Granted, the idea of integration is supposed to construct a bridge so that immigrants in the UK can easily transition into British society. However, what is failed to mention is the fact that in order to transition successfully into British society, an immigrant must obey the Westernized, modern standards. As a result, if their cultural norms and practices are oppositional to Western modernity, then they’d be viewed as a threat and further ostracized. Because of this Majdy believes that “they can forgive you for your ugly colour, your thick lips, and rough hair, but you must think modern thoughts, be like them in the inside if you can’t be from the outside” (Aboulela 5). Shane Brighton suggests that integration is the ultimate goal of multiculturalism. Within British society, in order to successfully integrate forces, it’s multicultural to abandon their cultural norms and practices in exchange for their Western modernity.


Within “The Ostrich”, Leila Aboulela examines the complexity of British multiculturalism by using the narration of Sumra to provide insight into multicultural immigrants transitioning into the UK.  Aboulela highlights that in order to be an 

“The Ostrich”

immigrant in the UK and to successfully adapt, a sense of their identity is loss in exchange for acceptance in society. In other words, ‘multicultural Britain’ is not technically multicultural because, in order to be accepted into British society, one must fit in by being having Western modernity.




Works Cited List

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible, Intangible Publications, Inc., 1997

Brighton, Shane. “British Muslims, Multiculturalism and UK Foreign Policy: ‘Integration’ and ‘Cohesion’ in and beyond the State”,  Internal Affairs Journal, Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2007

Rattansi, Ali. “National Identity, Belonging and the ‘Muslim Question.’” Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford UP, 2011, pp. 119-142.

Williamson, Milly. “The British Media, the Veil and the Limits of Freedom” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, Koninklijke Brill, 2014


“They won’t believe it’s what you want.”

“You look beautiful in blue,” the Ostrich says to Sumra in Leila Aboulela’s 1997 short story named after him (Aboulela 5). Sumra is remembering her schooldays with him while she lives isolated in London. She walks away from his compliment, not needing or seeking his admiration. She remembers that it must have been evening classes because in the morning was white and in the evening the tobes were colored. She walks remembers the relaxed routine of evening lectures and walking in groups of other girls tobes “snapping chewing gum and kohl in [their] eyes” (Aboulela 5). In London,

Related image

Sudanese girls in tobes in Dongola, Sudan

however, her husband doesn’t allow her to wear the tobe that was so part of her life before, and so she imagines it as she walks.

I keep coming back to this page five section of the story because it seems such a simple representation of Sumra’s life in Khartoum and how it directly affects her life in London. Her husband, Majdy doesn’t allow her to wear the tobe on the ground that people in London would think he was forcing her to wear it and they wouldn’t believe it’s what Sumra wanted, but we see in her memories the freedom she felt walking with her friends on leisurely days. They were not exceedingly modest girls with their heads down and kept cloistered away from men at all times. They wore jewelry and makeup, snapped gum. They styled their hair and their tobes sometimes slipped right off of it as the passed boys in the street. She looked and felt beautiful, which is something in the previous paragraph she struggles with in London. London, which is where everyone wants to go and is supposed to be so much freer and lovelier. In this scene we see the

Image result for london women 1990s street photography

London women dress and live very differently

ordinary paradise of Khartoum.

Aboulela uses hyperbole to describe how Sumra feel walking without her tobe on the London streets. She feels naked. “Unclothed” (Aboulela 5). In a run on sentence that seems to imitate Sumra’s nervousness, she imagines the feeling of the tobe on her hair and skin and she adjusts her posture and movements to accommodate. This reflects how exposed and unprotected Sumra feels in London. She knows there are enemies in the city, but she doesn’t know who they and feels she has nothing to hide behind or protect her. She has nothing familiar to grasp onto, so she imagines one. This is a foreshadowing of sorts to when her husband admits his jealousy of her ability to keep home withe her while he loses his ties to Sudan. Even when denied the tactile fact of her heritage, Sumra is able to keep a bit of home in her thoughts.



Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 29 March 2018.


Blog Post 5

Memory is Migratory

Migration is always a trip. Regardless of the affecting reasons, migration is traditionally understood as physical movement. People board a transportation vessel–plane, boat, train, or they walk– and they leave. Some to never return.

However, Leila Aboulela’s character Sumra, in “The Ostrich,” disrupts the orthodox corporeal comprehension of migration. Through Sumra migration is revealed to be a mental trip too. A journey that is made difficult by physically arbitrary boundaries. Those borders whose lines often maintain injustice and delays fairness. Sumra exposes how the mind—the imagination—troubles these borders. Her ability to readily transport back to Sudan, underscores the porousness of national borders.

After disembarking the plane and being met by her self-hating Sudanese husband, Majdy, Sumra and him take the bus back to their flat. And it was on this journey where migration’s resistance to geography first appeared. On this ride back to the flat Sumra reflects on the old friend she met on the plane, and from there readers are transported to Sudan and are face-to-face with The Ostrich.

Once Sumra arrives back to not only London, but also the present, she has reached the “small…flat” with “thin…walls” (4). She paints the image of her being disoriented by the weather and the strangers walking by. Nevertheless, it is those strangers, according to Majdy, whom she “must respect” (5): “[S]trangers who were better than me…Every one of them is better than us…[T]he man who is collecting the rubbish, he is not ravaged by malaria, anaemia, bilharzia, he can read the newspaper, write a letter, he has a television in his house and his children go to school where they get taught from glossy books” (5). This scene illuminates Majdy’s self-hatred; he is repulsed by the material conditions of his native people. But Majdy ignores how colonialism has influenced these material conditions. He blames the oppressed. On another note, this passage too signifies a mental migration in the form of an allusion.

Majdy’s racist statement is in reference to his native people. African people have problematically been, solely, imagined as being afflicted with “malaria, anaemia, [and] bilharzia.” These images reinforce the primitive African trope, thus furthering the legacy of colonialism. Though not explicitly said, Majdy’s reference of these illnesses in conjunction with his earlier display of repugnance for “dimwitted students who memorized their way into university, [and] who never held a calculator in their hands before (3),” implies the people of Sudan are the subjects . Mentioning of the people of Sudan by Majdy does not only reinforce stifling stereotypes, but it too migrates the Sudanese people. They are brought to London. Here national and social boundaries are collapsed. And those whom Majdy despised and sought to distant himself from, becomes materialized.

Majdy’s attempts at dissonance fails. Though negatively, he is too connected to the people of Sudan to every let them go. Because of the migratory nature of memory he will never achieve his desired assimilation.

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible, 1997.



“Modernity” Is Not as Good as It Seems

Leila Aboulela wrote her short story, “The Ostrich” in 1997 which describes the difficult transition  of Sumra, a Muslim woman from Khartoum, who immigrates to London. LondonIn London, her husband wants Sumra to act more “modern” and assimilate, but she is nostalgic for her Sudanese heritage (Aboulela 5). She is unable to focus on acting “modern” because she continuously daydreams about the past. A critical scene is at the end of the short story, when Sumra describes her interaction with the Ostrich’s bride.

The Ostrich had been Sumra’s university crush. He represented simple joys and a familiar way of life. However, Sumra turned him in for cheating, thus ending any relationship between them. Sumra had initially felt limited by her simple way of life. Therefore, in order to escape it, Sumra focused on bettering her life and moving onto bigger things. This was specifically materialized when she turned in the Ostrich for cheating so that she would graduate without being accused of being complicit in his act.

However, after moving to the “modern” world of London, and being envied by people in her small hometown, Sumra misses home and feels disconnected from her husband, Majdy, who separates himself from many traditions and elements of culture in Khartoum.

Therefore, when Sumra meets the Ostrich’s bride, she becomes jealous of all the bride represents: the beauty of home, the “simple life,” and enjoying small things. At first, there seems to be tension between Sumra and the bride because Sumra is jealous.

Sumra uses a metaphor to illustrate her transition from wanting to be free from the life she knew, to wanting to return to it. Sumra states, “When I was a child there was an old swing in our backyard. I resented its cumbersome chains and its wooden seat which left splinters in my hand. Only when other children came to visit… did I fight for a chance to play on my swing” (Aboulela 9). SwingsetThis metaphor compares Sumra’s life in Khartoum to an “old swing.” She had wanted to graduate and move on to bigger things, which led her to London with Majdy. However, now that she sees the Ostrich’s bride enjoying her life, relishing in the traditions of Khartoum and having fun with the Ostrich, does Sumra becomes jealous and want to “fight for a chance to play on [her] swing” again.

In conclusion, it becomes difficult for Sumra to recognize that her life has moved on and she is no longer in the same situation where she can hold onto her “swing” and claim it as her own. Now, she is forced to adjust to a new life—though often envied—that makes her miss Khartoum. Her challenge to assimilate to life in London parallels the struggles of many immigrants who are pressured to leave their traditions and customs behind.

Missing Home Giphy


Works Cited
Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications. 1997, pp. 2-9.

UK Migration

Immigrating to a new country can be terrifying, but continuously migrating back to where you’ve originated from during this journey can be even more frightening as both adapting and assimilating can prove even more difficult. In “The Ostrich”, written by Sudanese-born writer, Leila Aboulela, she informs readers of the difficulty of migrating given the cultural difference. “The Ostrich” tells of Sumra, a young, female, Sudanese-born student that studies abroad in London. The young woman migrates back and forth between her family who continues to reside in Khartoum with her Sudanese husband, Majdy, who resides in London.

One scene within this short story that I found interesting is on page 4 when Sumra’s husband, Majdy, attempts to convince her that being abroad in the United Kingdom, is the best solution for them.

“ There’s no future back there and if people who were much better off than we were not coping, how can we ever cope if we go back? I am doing the right thing, sticking it out here in any way that I can” (Aboulela 4).

This scene stood out to me because it is evident that Majdy is bargaining with his wife. Granted, economic issues do exists in Sudan which has called most residents to flight elsewhere for greater wages. However, the uncertainty in Majdy’s stance that migrating to the UK was the best thing that the two of them could have possibly done is evident when given the continued dialogue between him and his wife. In the process of seeking admiration from the people of the UK, Majdy later admits that he envies his wife “because [she] is displaced, yet intact, unchanged while [he] questions everything and [is] not sure of anything anymore” (Aboulela 8). This scene also resonated with me because as much as Majdy tries to banish his birthplace and the people of Sudan, Sudanese life still captivates him even in the UK which makes adapting even more difficult, for he still whistles Sudanese songs and is nostalgic when eating Sudanese foods (Aboulela 4,5).


Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 27 March 2018.

Sumra’s super struggle with identity

Finding one’s identity is a hard enough task for someone alone, with the influence of others it becomes an even more convoluted task. Although it would be ideal to develop a sense of self individuality singularly, this is not possible, identity is partially based ones surroundings.

The relationship between self and others is explored in “The Ostrich” written by Cairo-born author Leila Aboulela in 1997. The story is narrated by a Sudanese women named Sumra El-Sheikh as travels to meet up with her working husband in England. Through a non-linear storyline the story follows Sumra as she struggles with her sense of identity after being thrown back into modern United Kingdom society which contrasts to her familiar native country, Sudane. Sumra’s identity or lack of identity is explored when her husband, Majday introduces her to some new friends from who are from England. This scene demonstrates Sumra’s struggle with identity when she says, “but I must be weary, there are things I mustn’t say when they are here” (4). Put in a setting with both a person of her native country, Majday, and people of the present and her future, the new friends, Sumra is forced to censor herself for both her husband and the friends. This scene stood out to me because of the heightened self awareness that Sumra has in this scene. Throughout the rest of the story she is self aware but seems to be more concerned with the differences between cultures, it is only when she is placed with foreigners and people she knows well she becomes increasingly self aware. This increase in self awareness amplifies her uncertainty in identity.

Later in this scene, Aboulela furthers the complexity of identity when Majdy says, “be like them from the inside if you can’t be from the outside” after violently hitting Sumra for mentioning polygamy,  which was apparently a touchy subject (5). The fact that even Majdyy who had been living in the UK for much more time than Sumra was still censoring himself and now was forcing Sumra to censor herself shows the long battle with identity. Essentially this interaction between Sumra and Majday shows Majdy displaced anger onto Madra because of his struggle with identity in this new country.

Identity is a struggle for Sumra, and interaction with foreigners or perhaps neighbors heightens this issue.


Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 27 March 2018.


Suffocated by Society: An Outsider’s Perspective

While “The Ostrich,” written by Leila Aboulela in 1997, is certainly not about a two-legged animal that sticks its head in the ground when scared, the narrator of the story may certainly feel like doing so when living in a world completely outside her own, a Sudanese woman surviving in England. The story follows Sumra El-Shaykh, who is travelling to be with her working husband, depicting how she is torn between life in her native country and the difficulty of navigating a progressive society.

An intriguing scene begins when Sumra questions her purpose in joining her husband, despite the glaring hostility seen in the rooms and buildings around her. The narrator describes conflict arising between herself and her inanimate surroundings, with obscene phrases scribbled across walls and a sense of being overcome by her own home (Aboulela 5). This particular scene caught my attention because Sumra opens with an unsettling personification, illustrating how, in her current situation, “the room rises up to strangle [her]” (Aboulela 5). I find myself captivated by these lines, caught up in an emotional rollercoaster and left feeling claustrophobic. I imagine this is because my favorite short story is “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which also takes readers through a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions within the protagonist and depicts a similar feeling of entrapment (Perkins Gilman). Ultimately, what is so intriguing about this literary device is that this “room” could represent the broader English society in which the narrator finds herself.


Within this scene, the narrator further describes herself as “a stranger suddenly appearing on the stage, a stranger with no part to play, no lines to read” (Aboulela 5). The author seems to be implying that her character feels lost, as if she has no meaning and no purpose to be in England. The theoretical play mentioned above is analogous to the surrounding society: everything is rehearsed and a certain mindset is present amongst its ‘normal’ people. The narrator, an outsider, does not fit that dialogue. This image, combined with the personification used to characterize her home – the sensation that “[her] room rises up to strangle [her]” – creates a sense of helplessness and suffering through this deathly connotation (Aboulela 5). The looming lifeless walls come alive, forcing her into a mold of modernity, if you will, that threatens to destroy her soul. This suggests the speaker feels like she is not in charge of her own destiny, like she does not belong. This new modern life suffocates the very essence of her being, only to be replaced by one that aligns with the setting.



Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,               1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 27 March 2018.

Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Library of America, Literary             Classics of the U.S., Inc., 31 May 2013, http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/2013/05/the-         yellow-wallpaper.html, pp. 131-147. Accessed 27 March 2018.

Gender Dynamics of Immigration

When people immigrate, their identities may be sensitive to change. It is quite common to see these individuals, by choice or just naturally, start to internalize the cultural practices around them. “The Ostrich” is a short story written in 1997 by Cairo-born author Leila Aboulela. The text surrounds the idea of adapting to life in an unfamiliar environment. In the story, there is a contrast in the attitudes of Sumra and her husband, Majdy, both from Sudan, yet demonstrating divergent attitudes towards Sudan after immigrating. A scene which envelopes and conveys these feelings is when Majdy tells his wife, “You brought back many memories to me. Of people I love and I have left behind, of what I once was years ago…I envy you because you are displaced yet intact, unchanged while I question everything and I am not sure of anything any more” (Aboulela 8). This scene was shocking as Majdy broke through gender expectations and admitted to his emotions regarding immigration. There is a pathos in his language, and through his diction, utilizing emotionally-connoted words such as “love,” “displaced,” and “memories,” he confesses to parts of his identity that have been reshaped in his migration (8).

"I just want to go home" -Homer Simpson to Marge

Moreover, the contrast between these two brings up gender expectations, and also contains a profound sense of nostalgia. Sumra holds tight to the idea of homeland, and this feeling protects the fabric of her identity against being consumed by another. She is portrayed as having a positive attitude toward her Arab culture, while her husband favors his newly-absorbed Scottish culture. It is expected that male characters easily be assimilated, while females long to their homeland, and wish to return. However, according to Majdy, this is not the case; the fabric of his identity has become torn apart while Sumra’s has remained intact. At this point in the story, Sumra has learned to escape this state of nostalgia, while Majdy remains in a permanent nostalgic state.           

"I miss my life, I miss my friends, I'd like to stab you with my pen"

In addition, this quote explains how different people experience immigration differently. Majdy explains that Sumra’s beliefs, feelings, and attitudes have all remain unaltered despite influences around her that exist in this new environment. He is frustrated because he knows that he is the biggest influence on her in this new place, but she even refuses his attempts to motivate her to assimilate and reshape her identity.  Their contrasting attitudes lead to Majdy mistreating Sumra for her refusal to assimilate. Ultimately, this quote shows to be ironic as the underlying reason for Majdy’s mistreatment toward his wife may be due to his frustration as to why he cannot retain a new culture, yet keep aspects of his homeland as well. 


Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible, Intangible Publications, Inc., 1997,                                             www.intangible.org/Acrobat/LeilaPDF/Ostrich.pdf            

Blog Prompt #5: The Ostrich

Blog Post #5 Due: Thurs, 3/29 (by 9am) // Comment #5 Due: Fri, 3/30 (by 9am) 

  • Introduce the short story, “The Orchid,” and describe/contextualize one scene that you find especially compelling. You might want to consider shifts in character development, tensions between characters, narrative style/structure, specific literary devices, etc. Explain why you find this scene so interesting. What captures your attention? Why do you find yourself returning to or lingering on this scene?

Image ofr Leila Aboulela's The Ostrich

  • Then, provide a short but detailed close reading of one specific quote and at least one specific literary device within this scene. Your goal is to illustrate what you find especially noteworthy through rich and layered analysis.