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Portrayal of Grandfather in ‘A Handful of Dates’ by Tayeb Salih

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‘A Handful of Dates’ by Tayeb Salih is a combination of both African and Arabic literature. It’s one of the best-acknowledged works of Tayeb Salih. The story is celebrated for its originality, literary features, and incorporation of aesthetic. The plot revolves around a child that witnesses the greed and ill nature of mankind. The image of idolization that the young boy has towards his grandfather is shattered when he realizes that his grandfather got his wealth by craftily observing a neighbor, Masood. Masood irresponsibility led him to be in continuous situations of great financial pressure. Meanwhile, the grandfather was taking advantage bit by bit of Masood’s property for forty years and is now in possession of two-thirds of his land. The grandfather justifies his exploitation scheme by stigmatizing Masood as an indolent and much-married man. The grandfather holds him responsible for his losses of land and wealth. Even though the story is brief but it exhibits a great amount of applicability to people of all cultures and ideologies.

T. Salih makes use of great symbolism when depicting the young boy. The character's uniqueness lies in his behavior contrary to his peers he won his grandfather's approval because he loved going to the mosque and was exceptionally well-behaved. The author was trying to engage the readers in a symbolic framework. The young boy’s idolization of his grandfather is graspable because of his father’s absence. The grandfather is filling the role, his father must be playing. This suggests the boy’s limited reaction by the end of the short story when he finally understands that his grandfather was exploiting his neighbor. The young boy gradually throughout the story starts to dislike his grandfather and move closer to Masood. When the young child realizes that his grandfather was taking advantage of Masood’s financial troubles, spewing out the dates he munched earlier in the plot was reasonable and a logical reaction given his limited power as a child. It’s also a representation of the guilt he felt since he didn’t idolize his grandfather because he’s a selfish person. He genuinely felt sorry for Masood, it seems that the child felt that it was unfair for Masood to be punished for his indolent in such a harsh way and certainly not by the hands of his hero.

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The feeling of admiration the boy had for his grandfather is rather attributed to the human instinct to incline to supremacy and certainly because of the family ideologies to respect the eldest because they are the wisest. In sharp opposition to his peers, he is intelligent and observant, thus identifying himself to his grandfather as his male role model. The boy implicitly expresses that the reason for his admiration towards his grandfather is due to his social status within his social community and the authority within the domestic sphere. The boy identifies himself with his grandfather in the sense that he sees himself in the future as a man of honor like his grandfather. 'I never saw anyone in the whole village address him without having to look up at him, nor did I see him enter a house without having to bend so low.' 'I loved him and would imagine myself, when I grew to be a man, tall and slender like him, walking along with great strides'. Thus the young boy’s admiration is pragmatic.

After the downfall of action, the boy notices the haughtiness of his grandfather and it was hard for him to believe that his idolized hero was capable of such an action. The young boy gradually dislikes the grandfather and moves closer to Masood because Masood is framed as an inhabitant whose innocence and simplicity made him a potential victim of selfish profit-seeking.

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Portrayal of Grandfather in ‘A Handful of Dates’ by Tayeb Salih. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Portrayal of Grandfather in ‘A Handful of Dates’ by Tayeb Salih.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
Portrayal of Grandfather in ‘A Handful of Dates’ by Tayeb Salih. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
Portrayal of Grandfather in ‘A Handful of Dates’ by Tayeb Salih [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
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