Corruption is a portrayal of moral and psychological dissolution that captures a universal theme, which is ingrained in many countries, especially the developing ones.
Because of his integrity, Mourad, a 40-year-old deputy director of planning, faces too many hurdles to cope with new concepts in his community. He is dipped in a community of greedy people who justifies every wrong deed and disguises nocuous actions in the shape of necessity. He narrates all his hard times while trying to cling to his moral, opposing all distracting attempts from all who surround him. He refuses to cut corners and go with the tide, so he gets stuck.
Initially, Mourad scorns his pragmatic subordinate’s wheel-greasing, and a supervisor’s assurance that such “flexibility” actually constitutes “a parallel economy” that everyone but Mourad takes for granted. His greedy wife’s contemptuous taunting pushes him to compromise his principles, with a faint hope that would help his hard situation. But then, all aspects of his life collapse before his eyes. Moreover, as he tries to persuade himself that what he did is normal, he falls into hallucination and physical illness, and his overactive mind keeps creating horrible fancies. Mourad’s fall from rectitude into compromise is not exactly the stuff of tragedy, but how he was trapped.
The writer did not write beautifully about tragedy, but the actuality of experiencing it. He clearly articulates his point about corruption and the wide spread of wheel-greasing, and combines that with the best kind of character to reveal it; a man already corrupted with his inner conflict. However he does not pay much attention to the pacing of the novel. There is excessive narration of some points that adds nothing to the story. The protagonist sails in the same dilemma for so long and some scenes need trimming. Too much narration and useless prolongation made the story at some points boring.
Mourad: He is the protagonist and narrator of the story. A straight-arrow person who adopts morals that seems to oppose the main line in his work and community. His inclination to live in peace is faced with a fierce disapproval from his greedy wife and pressure of society. All who surrounded him kept his feet where the ground is most slippery.
To unravel Mourad’s character through his own narration, I found a hesitant person with no resolution or clear determination, someone who prefers to stay in his comfort zone “shell” with no radical changes. A man who adheres to a moral he was brought up on, but still, he was not strong enough to live up to them.
There is a turning point, breakdown, which has a great role in changing Mourad’s character that occurred even before the first line of the novel. Something turned him from a determined person with ambition to someone whom self-estrangement had devoured. This breakdown can be detected in his marriage. He chose the girl he loved so much, decided to marry her and make a family. But then, he was trapped, and many things revealed to him that the girl snared him and he fell right in it. This severe isolation because of this breakdown seemed unlimited. He felt lost and unable to find his way to reality once again.
At some points of the story, Mourad’s character fluctuates. At the beginning he seemed to be completely self-indulgent and living in his own realm away from the real one.
Then he tended to escape from himself, when he found such machinery cannot function well furthermore. As the core of his principles is tweaked and he no longer feels comfortable with such new changes, he sought escape with no return. He escaped to nowhere and wanted to find a refuge away from his inner self and turn into nobody!
The thirst to escape seemed permitted to take a tight hold of him and that was like a temporary solution for him. “Escape! Travel to the farthest point and never look back to make sure if there is someone chasing you.”
Finally he tried to find the missing part of him or someone who resembles him, which he found in Nagia -his widowed cousin- then in Nadia, the broken girl who shared with him lots of deficiency in character; like loneliness, deep sorrow and the tendency to be isolated from the society.
Mourad’s character is so deep, and forming the character itself was a challenge to the author, to pick this type of someone who suffers self-estrangement and alienation, someone who is schizophrenic.
Mourad seemed to be alienated from the first few pages. He envisions the world as not relating to him. He lived in his “shell” trying to keep his realm perfect and not harmed. He didn’t detach himself from the society, in his case of alienation; separations are present but not evident or manifest in the person’s social performance. He enjoys the splendid private awareness of his own internal equipment, which he feels that others can’t see. Life then becomes a series of private mental pictures which generate excitement partly because they are secret from others.
But then, when he felt the danger was thrashing its net to catch him, he could do nothing but escape. Such escape was a response to any situation seemed to be vaguely dangerous.
He spent too much time trying to collect the broken pieces of him, sailing in the same dilemma; he stayed petrified in his state of indecision. After being involved in bribe path, he couldn’t live fully in this new way and also he felt it was too late to switch things to normal again. And then, his life went dripping from bad to worse.
Mourad seemed defeated by his society, such changing in character is a direct function of social and familial pressure and a resultant of noxious social pressure which is are sufficient explanations of abnormality. The increasing needs of life, the changing of morals and the growth of venal which is compared with harsh living for honest employee.
He felt self-alienation within his own family which he created. And the feeling of alienation toward his community appears in detecting a lot of faults with no response as if it isn’t actually happen. He seats himself as a narrator, who tells clearly what he sees, but with no clear role. As if this external world doesn’t relate to his inner peaceful one, and he should keep distance in order to stay sane. His mind was vacillating between communicating and withdrawal with no obvious reason. Then he implied himself that this alienation is inevitable.
He avoided closer competitive relationships, in which genuine feelings is involved that the later stages of maturation or the growth of independence appear largely meaningless to him as he felt toward Nagia . Also he was unable to express ordinary aggressive feelings, like when his wife was scorning him with too much contempt he just went away with no reaction.
When he imagines his death, he believes that committing suicide is Ḥarām and still his way to find peace. So he makes it happen by others who harmed his life and brought him to that moment and then he would feel helpless even upon his death. He surrenders entirely and just gives his imagination free rein to weave more plots to his death. As if it would be the only thing to release him from such estrangement which controls him from long ago.
H.H: Mourad’e venal subordinate, who is portrayed as a pushful and pompous person with a vacant mind. He didn’t persuade Mourad directly to get involved in this filthy game of bribe, but he was a mirror reflecting his future by going through the path of wheel-greasing. He played hidden trikes to attract Mourad to their depraved company. And that, of course, would have facilitated Haj Hamid’s mission and wealth growth. His voice doesn’t echo a lot throughout the novel, but his actions do loudly. Although he is subordinate, he knows very well how to use his position and make the best profit out of it by all illegal means. After attracting Mourad to the game, he played the role of master who directs him. What he only knows is how to get much money illegally and invest them to make the best profit.
Halima: She plays the role of the greedy wife, who has no interest in life but to get all she needs and compare between their conidian and her sisters’. She has a vital role in pushing Mourad to the abyss just in order to get what she wants. She doesn’t care too much about principles or moral. She didn’t care about links between them in the face of her own needs.
The language of scorn was her intimate to shower Mourad with his failure in comparison with her brothers-in-law. The author didn’t pay attention to show the links between them but everything was off after their marriage. And lately, he describes her voice as hoarse and so loud as if he didn’t hear her before.
Nadia: She is Mourad’s reflection on the mirror of reality. Both of them holds sorrow and shares portion of misfortune. She seems hazy somehow as the narration didn’t bring her to life, perhaps because she represents the dwindled and broken pieces of Mourad and so to highlight the destroyed part of him. Or perhaps she isn’t real, and was only created by Mourad’s imagination, to find someone shares with him hard times in his life.
Mourad was distracted by the sound of his internal machinery and awed by his realization of the synthetic nature of his own and presumably others’ existence. His internal machinery could diminish his capacity to know or feel others. He is concerned with his own interior filtering, processing and reacting equipment, and that harmed both his imaginary realm and the real one, and spoilt his inner peace.
He get used to replying the dialogues over and over again, trying to fix any lacuna and make it better. For example, when he was accused of stealing the photocopy machine, he tried to reply the forthcoming dialogue between him and the investigator beforehand, trying to find quick solutions. Those shut dialogues imprisoned him and deepened his estrangement to the real world.
However, there is a featured dialogue with his supervisor about “flexibility”:
Supervisor:”.. a little of flexibility makes it much more better.”
Mourad: ” It depends on to what extend this flexibility could be applied.”
And he continued about “parallel economy” saying: ” The system knows well that many salaries are not quite enough for applying needs of people, and they know that human intelligence can find solutions to these problems. So, they turn a blind eye to what people do.”
And the one with his subordinate H.H.: “… it is all a game. And you have to conquer the crowd, stepping from one spot to another and overcome all hurdles by deleting useless matters like obsession and qualm.”
The beginning sets up the overarching conflict that mounted up to the disgraceful end. This conflict is internal, and the writer represents it in two inner voices, each of them opposes the other. The voice of conscious that guides Mourad to be good and stick to his principles, regardless what people say or blame him for not being flexible. While the other evil voice snatches him to the abyss against his will, and urges him to keep his eyes shut to his former principles and follow others’ words.
But he couldn’t make a decision and his steps were shaking with no solid ground to tread. The conscious voice is so confined and ineffective although it was the one that accompanied Mourad for longtime.
The evil voice at the beginning could find no room, but then, it could control Mourad completely. It was potent and blamed him for giving an ear to the other one, as if they are foes. And so Mourad was tormented by this inner conflict. He was hesitant about which one to follow and that agitated the evil voice to wrap him up.
Mourad had no hard clashing conflict with other people as the one within himself which he couldn’t master, but that wasn’t pretty evident until he had fled from the disharmony in his society by accepting their way of life and submitted to wheel-greasing, he rediscovers this same disharmony in himself and the he finds his only refuge in escape to anywhere, the destination wasn’t important, escape in itself was his aim.
But then falling into hallucinations and physical illness, he cannot stay in tranquility as he though before. The possibility of being trapped and deceived hanged almost upon every step he took after accepting the bribe.
The other conflict was represented in the future of his sons (illness of karima and education of waseet) that also tormented him and added up to his anguish.
Even when he tries to justify his deed of accepting bribe, he can no longer feel peace within himself. He faces obstacles one after another connected in the pearls of bribe. And finally he discovers after bribe the worst was not past, but yet to come.
There are good images in the story that supports the idea: (Grain of sand): that describes Mourad as a man of principles who adheres to his integrity. And how his position in the system affected all work, and the machine couldn’t function well because he refused bribe.
(Flexibility): although it’s a good description in general, in this novel it holds a nasty meaning. Everyone should be flexible in order not to great stuck or broken. On the other hand you shan’t do that blindly, it also needs tactics.
(Parallel economy): an expression used to justify the bribe and illegal ways people follow to raise their salaries.
(Vitiligo): perhaps the writer was exaggerating the white and red spots on his skin, but I think he wanted to highlight the idea of being totally affected. And then he could be watched by all around for it is on his face and can’t be veiled.
There are some expressions that imprint on the soul the dreary fact of some developing countries; the way of welcoming people doesn’t depend on their rank or position, but it is all about the financial profits they can do illegally. Also, a skilled venal never could be detected, and he always tries to find someone and wash his mind turning him into a scapegoat and carry on his previous affairs.
The author used the present tense to make all these events lively and vivid, and envision it as a matter of today and shows that the pandemic happens every single day and would continue in the future. So, the idea of bribe is timeless with no interruption or ceasing.
Johnson, Frank. (1963). Psychological alienation: isolation and self-estrangement, psychoanalytic review. P.371:397.
El-Sawaer, Ibrahim. (2005, April). Alienation in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novels. Retrieved from http://www.alrai.com/article/217567.html