Dave Egger’s novel Zeitoun is a non-fictional account of the trials and tribulations of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, an Islamic, Syrian-American owner of a painting-contracting company who survived the Hurricane Katrina without leaving his home in New Orleans…
Despite his several acts of humanity in the face of a disaster, Zeitoun is arrested and made to undergo humiliating treatment at the hands of the National Guards and some local policemen. Egger uses a sparse but poignant voice to bring out the horrors of a natural disaster of this magnitude through the eyes of an ordinary man and his family.
In Joseph Campbell’s classification of a Monomyth, Campbell describes the trajectory of the Hero as a movement in three stages. The first involves separation of the Hero from his community. In the case of Zeitoun, this occurs when Kathy and the children decide to heed the warnings about the upcoming storm and leave for her childhood home. Zeitoun decides to stay on to look after his business and property. He ignores all anxiety about the storm from his wife, his brother and is even described as being extremely stubborn:
Kathy often poked fun at Zeitoun’s stubbornness, at his unwillingness to bow before any force, natural or otherwise (Eggers 25). It is mentioned in the text how, over the next few days, Zeitoun gradually begins to grow more afraid as Katrina draws closer and yet does not convey his apprehension to his wife. This growing apprehension, as well as the signs that Zeitoun begins to note around the house can be considered the ‘Call of Adventure’ stage. The barking of the dogs assumes a symbolic importance with respect to this stage of the monomythic structure: The darkness around him was complete, the night silent but for the dogs. First a few, then dozens. From all corners of the neighborhood he heard them howling. The neighborhood was full of dogs, so he was accustomed to their barking. On any given night, one would become excited by something and set off the rest, an arrhythmic call-and-response that could last hours until they calmed, one by one, into silence. But this night was different. These dogs had been left behind, and now they knew it. There was a bewilderment, an anger in their cries that cut the night into shards (Eggers 75). This almost eerie and supernatural description fits in with Campbell’s model. The storm itself functions as one of the natural calamities that harken the beginning of the hero’s journey: ‘The Call to Adventure.’ Zeitoun’s timely remembering of the canoe can also be taken as a sign of the protagonist preparing for his upcoming ‘adventure’. It is interesting to note that in Zeitoun, Kathy plays almost as central a role as Zeitoun and indeed it is in her case that the stage of ‘Refusal of the Call’ applies with greater significance. In one of the flashback sequences exploring Kathy Zeitoun’s consciousness, the author describes her spiritual turmoil on the question of religious faith. The pamphlets that Yuko hands over to Kathy on Islam are symbolic tokens of God’s call. Kathy momentarily dismisses them, taking the preacher of her erstwhile Church as the true messenger from God: When he left, Kathy already felt more certain about her faith. How could his visit not be a sign from God? Just at the moment she was having doubts about her church, a messenger from Jesus walked straight into her life (Eggers 55). This may serve as the ‘folly of the flight from the god’ (Campbell 28) as described in the monomythic structure. It would seem then, that the ‘hero’ of Egger’s novel - if it is to fit the Campbell monomythic structure - is a composite figure, made of equal halves of Zeitoun and his wife, Kathy. The stage of ‘Crossing the Threshold’ begins notably with Zeitoun starting out on his canoe with Frank and rescuing the elderly lady trapped in her house. His first major act of rescuing marks his entry into the special world of the hero. The ...
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