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Mernissi: Space, Architecture, & Boundaries

As Mernissi takes readers on a journey through the “Tales Of A Harem Girlhood”, she describes in incredible detail the space, architecture, and the boundaries she had grown up with.  Her details paint a vivid picture for readers and explains the importance of it all.  In the very beginning, we are introduced to the harem that she was born in during the year of 1940.  The harem created both physical and mental boundaries.  Mernissi explains her early relationship with frontiers as she recalls what the headmistress at the Koranic school once said to her: “Education is to know the hudud, the sacred frontiers, said Lalla Tam,” (Mernissi 3).  This shows readers how important frontiers were in and outside of a typical harem.  Although the hudud is not a physical frontier, it restricts or protects (there is not a very clear distinction) those who share similar beliefs to Mernissi and her family.  Mernissi explains how this mental frontier had ultimately created the path that she would eventually take.  She admits that as the adults would explain that the frontier is something that must not be questioned, she mainly agreed out of respect or fear.  However, she still questioned this concept of boundaries in the back of her mind.  Mernissi writes, “But since then, looking for a frontier has become my life’s occupation.  Anxiety eats at me whenever I cannot situate the geometric line organizing my powerlessness,” (Mernissi 3).  From the very beginning, readers are shown just how powerful boundaries are and how they are set at a very young age.

Mernissi explains how the physical frontiers shaped how she lived her life.  Everything in her life had order and regulations.  For example, Mernissi describes, “First, there was the square and rigid courtyard, where symmetry ruled everything.  Even the white marble fountain, forever bubbling in the courtyard center, seemed controlled and tamed,” (Mernissi 4).  This description is especially important because it seems as though everything in Mernissi’s life must be “controlled and tamed“.  This is especially true for the women in Moroccan harems.  As we have learned through the novel, space is shared among many families in a typical Moroccan harem.  Within this space, women’s lives are very restricted in many ways.  For example, a man could have multiple wives living in the same harem.  Which means that women had to be especially respectful of each other’s space and of their husband.  Women were only allowed to perform domestic tasks and couldn’t indulge in personal pleasures.  We see this in various instances, including that of the radio.  This particular tale in the novel, shows just how restricted women’s lives are in a harem.  There are many other examples throughout the novel that show the importance of space and boundaries.

While the architecture provides physical boundaries as we see in detailed description on page 4 of the novel.  This is especially important to the overall message of the novel because it really shows just how life is for a girl growing up in a Moroccan harem.

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