International Journal of

Arts , Humanities & Social Science

ISSN 2693-2547 (Print) , ISSN 2693-2555 (Online)
Social Justice and Greimas’s Semiotic Square: Women in Prison in Salwa Bakr’s The Golden Chariot

Abstract


The genre of women in prison literature sheds light on a rich storehouse of an unexplored segment of society. As such, it needs to receive more attention from scholars and educators to promote its readability to a wider audience. The purpose of this often-neglected genre is to show how women prisoners are perceived by a wide majority of the supposedly good citizens as constituting a sub-human level that does not deserve to be heard. On top of that, the stories of women prisoners are often exceptionally rich in information about the various elements of their human experience, the societies they were shaped by, their value systems and the highly asymmetrical systems of domination and subordination. and can offer a valuable understanding of ways to reform such societies. A lot of the attention is given to exemplary women who are either active feminists or silent subjugated objects, and between those two ends of the spectrum, a wide range of stories are lost and voices are turned silent. More importantly, looking at women’s stories in prison and their complex subjectivities becomes more illuminating when those stories are compared and contrasted in different societies. In order to make that comparison, Greimas’s semiotic square comprises an effective tool in creating a visual structure to the contraries and contradictions manifested in the text. For the analysis, I chose to focus on The Golden Chariot by the Egyptian writer Salwa Bakr’s and the American best seller which became a Netflix series Orange is the New Black written by Piper Kerman. The two texts challenge the abstract image of a ‘typical female inmate.’ The two texts communicate who those women are, their subjectivity and their sense of self, and their own understanding of and feelings about that time in their lives. The two texts share the common purpose of reintroducing the desire and dream for a communal mode of existence that is less oppressive and manipulative to all its members. The two texts also explore the layers beyond the self to depict how women re-structure power, race, and kin relations in prison, while examining the intricate connection between the personal and the social scene. I argue that the social, economic, and individual squares are the same in both societies, “The conjunctions of those relations form a fundamental network that governs human social behavior and practice.” (Wang 341-342). The analysis investigates the intersectionality of women suffering, how those stories are interrelated as well as how certain cultures and individuals perceive relations between entities in the most profound and subtle sense that reveals the ugliness of moral hypocrisy.