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Critical Analysis of the short story "The Fort by” Ali Mazrui

M.N. Sulehri, M. Aslam Warriach

Critical Analysis

Ali Mazrui has presented a touching piece of literature in the form of “The Mother and the Fort. The story speaks of change, pride, escape, bewilderment and despair. “It was the story of change, of bewilderment, yes even of despair. Perhaps above all, it was the story of escape.” The writer has brought past and present together. The story presents a shift in destiny. The elite of yesterday is the downtrodden of today. The woman, who once had a coterie of slave girls to serve her, dies now in front of a car in a helpless and miserable way.

We come to know about the real story when the narrator arranges a sort of interview with 70 years old woman, Mwana Saada, who is leading an abject life in a poor and squalor locality. But in the very beginning of the story, we find that are cafes, restaurants, cars, and museums. The people visit café and hold conversations about modern life. They talk about women and their way of living. The women talked about in the café present a sheer contrast to the life Mwana Saada is leading. They not only attend marriage festivals but also go to the cinema for special movie shows. They adopt the latest fashion trends during wedding festivities. The life of women like Mwana Saada is ignored by those who are at the helm of affairs but the women discussed in cafes have their advocates like Old Hamisi. Gone are the days when women used to stay at home ‘cooking’ and ‘looking after children. Now there are British Council evenings for them. Along with other social activities, a women’s club has also been formed. Here we find an element of light satire. The writer has made such men an object of his satire as having nothing serious and constructive to do. They just while away their time sitting and gossiping in cafes.

Economic change is another important element that has been discussed in the story. For this purpose, Ali Mazrui has alluded to the emancipation of slaves in Mombasa, Kenya. The emancipation of slaves created two types of people: those who welcomed change and those who stayed clung to the old way of living and ultimately vanished. In the story, these people are represented by Omer, a former slave, and Bwana Masoud, the former master respectively. Omer utilizes his freedom and becomes one of the blooming businessmen. He is fully involved in the furniture manufacturing industry and changes his lot according to his own wish. On the contrary, Bwana Masoud cannot pace with the changing times and not only remains behind but also loses his vast coconut estate and ultimately his Abubaker too.

His pride and obstinacy do not allow him to be a partner in Omer’s business. It was a matter of shame for him to be the partner of his former slave. Following his pride, he rejects Omer’s offer of taking Abubaker as his trainee carpenter. If Bwana Masoud had accepted either of Omer’s proposals, his and his family’s conditions might have been entirely different. At least the acceptance of the second offer could have prevented his son from becoming a jail and succumbing to consumption. But he did not leave his pride that caused his destruction. As Mwana Saada says, “But whoever said that pride preceded a fall must-have had our family in mind.”

Effect of change and economic disparity is once again stressed upon in the description of Mwana Saada’s locality and especially of her room. When the narrator reaches there, he tells us about the condition of her room. “There was a little light in the room. But there was enough for me to see that the mud walls had begun to crumble; that a small opening in one wall and a parting in the palm thatching above was all the ventilation the room got; and that the furniture consisted of a wood-and-rope bed, and old Arab Lamu chest serving partly as a table, a prayer mat, two battered aluminum cooking pots and the usual large red clay pot of drinking water in the corner. I remember thinking what a contrast this dwelling provided with the new municipal flats across the road.”

To cut the long-short we can say that the author has told the story of change by focusing on the life of one family. He points out that the men of soil are those who keep with the pace of time and take it by the forelock. We will make progress in the real sense of the word when we know the fact that these are the days of machines not of slaves.

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