A Handful of Dates

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Tayeb Salih’s “A Handful of Dates” is a short story with the theme “a rise in social class often results in losing touch with one’s humanity” ; universally known as “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (John Dalberg-Acton). The author ingeniously utilized the ruthlessness and the hypocritical nature of the antagonist (the grandfather), in a manner that would illustrate the theme.

The grandfather clearly illustrates the theme through his actions. While he accuses Masood of being a “worthless” man “He’s an indolent man and I don’t like such people” (129) for losing himself to his emotions and losing all of his inherited wealth, he on the other hand has lost his humanity through his antipathetic and ruthless businesslike attitude to gain power and wealth. Being one of the more powerful men of his agricultural society, he owns a large surplus of food. During the harvest of Masood’s palm dates, he ended up taking his full portion of the share (five sacks) from Masood rather than show sympathy and donate even a single sack of dates. Even with Masood’s debt, his grandfather was not satisfied with possessing two-thirds of Masood’s fields. His ambition was to control all of Masood’s inherited wealth. He even boasted to his grandchild that he would own the rest of Masood’s lands before his passing.

The grandfather was not only a ruthless man, but he was also a hypocrite. Externally to his grandchild he was the “kind” and religious grandfather. But in reality he was a hypocrite even to his own religion. He completely ignored the “Chapter of the Merciful” from his religion/Koran. He showed no mercy whatsoever to Masood in his poor state, after everyone took all the harvested dates from Masood’s palm trees he adds to him “You still own fifty pounds in debt to me” (130). Some might perceive that the grandfather was only doing this job to leave his descendants with something that would make their lives more comfortable. But he didn’t have to...
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