Men in the Sun – Ghassan Kanafani

Manar Darkazanli


Seraj Assi


Palestinians are Refugees Today and Tomorrow

     “Those big clean fruits were beloved objects on [their] eyes” (Kanafani 77). Ghassan Kanafani, the author of Men in the Sun and The Land of Sad Orange, was one of the most talented Arabic prose writers who was born in Palestine in 1936 and left his home at the age of twelve. He eventually was assassinated by Israeli forces. This mass displacement of Palestinian people was a major part of Kanafani’s life and therefore, his pain drove him write continuously to bring light on the tragic situations Palestinians were enduring. The themes and messages of the stories throughout Men in the Sun and The Land of Sad Orange are written with the plight of the Palestinian people at the core, without specifically referencing this problem or the events that caused it. The theme of displacement in Kanafani’s stories is emphasized through the feeling of discomfort and distress present in all Palestinian characters, which stresses the broken bond between the Palestinians and their beloved country. This was elaborated in the novel Men in the Sun and other Palestinians Stories through the state of despondency, ache for their homeland and loss of heritage. As a result, this is a great inspiration for readers to analyze in depth this theme and therefor search for answers as to why Palestinians fled their native homelands and what tragic hardships they endured along the way reflected in Kanafani’s novel?

     In Men in the Sun, Kanafani was very intelligent in introducing each of the four men, their background and their way of thinking, their different character and outlook on life in a separate chapter. Many reasons have lead these four men to travel through the dessert in extreme heat and danger in search for a better life and job opportunities. The first character is Abu Qais, a farmer by profession and the oldest of the group which makes him a wise character. Throughout the trip, Abu Qias was missing his olive trees in Palestine which was elaborated in the novel Men in the Sun, when the author stated that “Sniffing his wife’s hair… after washing with cold water” (Kanafani 21) which reveals Abu Qais’s ache for his homeland, Palestine, and his wife. Some of the reasons that lead Abu Qais to leave his home was the search for money in Kuwait in hopes of sending his son, Qais, to school in addition to buying olive shoots and a cottage for his family. Abu Qais had struggled the most through this trip and had many thoughts of him dying, lost his breath and got sick many times, but he ever gave up. The second character is Marwan, a young man who had to leave to Kuwait, because he felt obliged and responsible to find a better job to support his family after his eldest brother disappeared and stopped sending money to the family. He quickly emerged as the leader of the group because of his energy and optimism. The third character is the good-hearted, naive Assad who had tried to flee to Kuwait twice because the money he used to get was from his uncle. His uncle was willing to to help him in any way, to start his life and marry his daughter, whom he didn’t want to marry, but accepted the money for his own good. Finally, the driver, Abul Khiazuran who already had a stable job but wanted to make more money. He promised to smuggle the three men through the borders of Iraq and Kuwait using the water-tanker in which they would hide in for not so long. As a reader, the sorrowful ending the driver caused wasn’t a surprise because when the driver pulled out the bodies, he -like the reader- asked himself a startling question: “Why didn’t you knock on the side of the tank? Why? Why? Why?” (Kanafani 74). A refugee will fight and stand still until death start chasing him, because then, death will be the ultimate solution and winner.

Kanafani used the deep symbolism which was seen when the bodies were disposed at a garbage dump and this shows how much refugees’ life is worth. Another charged symbol was money, and that was seen with Abul Khiazuran who had lost his manhood during war and dedicated his life to pursue nothing but money. It’s also important to note that Kanafani didn’t mention the Israelis/Jews in this story because he thinks that although they are the enemy and responsible for the loss of the Palestinians lives and homes, they are not a demon, just a group of people who occupied other people’s land who previously lived on it for hundreds of years. The gloomy ending relates to the Palestinian refugees who are dying under the heat of the sun, similar to when the refugees kept knocking continuously on the wall of the tank, crying, “we are here, we are dying, let us out, set us free,” despite their voices not being heard.

Moving to The Land of Sad Orange, this story revolves around a family who is forced to flee Acre and escape to Lebanon. The family experienced the worst forms of hardships, moving from one unstable place to another. The father was forced to sell the gold he had given to his wife as a wedding gift in order to survive, but it was still not enough. Also, it was noticed that the father’s personality had changed through the story’s events. In the opening, he was powerful, decisive, had saved another family’s son, had talked to the farmer, taking an orange as a reminder, while at the end he became ill, weak, exhausted, old, suicidal, despairing, and unwilling to fight. His character strongly reflects many Palestinian fathers who had felt the unbearably vast burden, for he suffers a breakdown in which he wishes to kill his whole family along with himself. The biggest hardship in this story was the loss of children’s innocence, since children aren’t expected to have real worries, while these children did.  It is important to note that the oranges are the story’s central motif. The oranges changed throughout the course of the story: when opened, the oranges are healthy ones and part of the family’s groves. Towards the end of the story, the oranges symbolize the land: they’re wilting and dying. The orange becomes something abstract, a distant memory rather than illustrative of the good life the family had before they became refugees. To be more specific, it symbolizes the refugees’ conditions, hopelessness and recognition of the actuality of loss. Kanafani mentioned that women used to pick up oranges from peasant’s basket and weep uncontrollably because the oranges reminded them of the homeland that had been taken from them. The family in exile, refugees, shriveled just as the oranges.

After reading Kanafani’s novels, it was very important as a reader to understand who the writer is and how their life experiences have shaped their literature. The political situations surrounding Palestine and Kanafani’s background played a major role in the symbolisms and themes of the stories. For example, in The Land of Sad Oranges, “And all the orange trees that your father had abandoned to the Jews shone in his eyes, all the well-tended orange trees that he had bought one by one were printed on his face and reflected in the tears…” (Kanafani 76). Comparing the two novels, the three men in Men in the Sun chose to leave their homeland to seek better opportunities, while in Land of Sad Oranges the enemy forced the family to leave their homeland. Both stories share the theme of exile and the figures demonstrate how well beyond desperate exiled Palestinians felt.  They also share the sense of breakdown and despair through their trip to settling down. In other words, the three people in Men in the Sun didn’t knock on the side of the tank because they were physically and mentally burned out, and they thought that death would be the ultimate solution. In The Land of Sad Oranges, the father thought that a bullet in the head for each member of the family seems very real.

The loss of land caused by displacement in Palestine was not simply a physical loss, but a loss of livelihood, family, history, and future all at the same time. The novel Men in the Sun and other Palestinians Stories is meant to bring awareness and change of a particular issue indirectly. Kanafani’s purpose of writing this book is to tell the stories of his people by representing the universality of their plight and give a voice to the voiceless and to those who cannot speak to the larger international society.



Kanafani, Ghassan, and Hilary Kilpatrick. Men in the Sun & Other Palestinian Stories., 1999. Print.


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