“States,” by Edward Said is an essay written by a Palestinian man with first-hand accounts of daily life in that region of the Middle-East. Said was renowned in the literary community as one of the most “distinguished literary critics and scholars...” Born in Jerusalem in 1935, Said, at the age of twelve, fled with his family to Cairo during the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. In his essay, Said begins to discuss the state of the Palestinian people. The content of his essay is an explanation and an informative look on the Palestinian people, as well their situation and their identity. In our English Composition class, we have been challenged to look past the aesthetics of “States” and look not at just what Said says or tries to convey in his essay, but to look at what he does.
If you read “States,” there are a few things that stand out past the “simple” reading that most students (in my own case) practice. In “States,” I see an empowering sense of pathos in the way he is writing and especially in the images he uses. If the average reader decides to read “States,” they are immediately drawn to a certain feeling: a feeling of pity, a feeling of misunderstanding. Some readers may ask the question: “Why does he feel the need to make the Palestinians look like this?” Said has had his own experiences with this issue. Even with the history of the Said family fleeing from the formation of Israel, does he need to share this with the rest of the world? Many people have said that the future can only be made better by studying the past. Said, in my opinion, twists this ideal. Although the instances and images from “States” are a bit dated, there is still an ongoing issue in the Middle-East. His intentions seem clear in this regard. If someone placed “States” next to Occupation 101 (the film we watched in class on the issue in Palestine), they would find some similarities in content, but not context. In the film, it is possible (and probable) for the audience to become anxious. The film has a “call to arms” message with its fair share of pathos. “States” on the other hand, is a different story.
He shows this pathos with a variety of methods. As mentioned previously, Said uses images to convey this pathetic mentality. One specific image that Said uses is a young boy on page 582. This image is a boy of unknown age wearing an old t-shirt from the 1978 film Grease. This image can be interpreted in various ways. For example, when you first look at it you see nothing but a child reluctantly looking at a picture being taken. Closer evaluation shows much more than that – you can see anger and repression in this boy's face, possibly little to no understanding of what really is going on around him and partially concerning him. I believe that Said also sees this, he uses this image to show more than just a boy on the street. Specifically the placement of the image plays a part in finding out Said's message.
In the paragraph following the image, Said talks about the concept of “There are no Palestinians. Who are the Palestinians?”. This quote leaves me to believe that identity seems to be a large issue for the Palestinians, because most of them are confused as to why Israel is isolating the Palestinian people slowly and methodically. He exemplifies this with a child, an undeveloped human, looking desensitized. Children are often used as a symbol for ignorance and misunderstanding. He uses children, as he does in this particular image, to portray something else. Said makes a statement using the children of Palestine. He says that children “seemed to have skipped a phase of growth, or more alarming, achieved an out-of-season maturity...” (Said 582) The children understand at an early age exactly what is going on. On the next page, there is a juxtaposition: the left page portrays a somber child with an old t-shirt resentfully staring at the camera, but the right side...