Written in 1937 during the Reza Shah’s kingdom in Iran, The Blind Owl is stated to be the masterpiece of Sadegh Hedayat and a postmodern gothic product of the 20th-century oppression in Iran. Narrating his life to a shadow in the shape of an owl, the protagonist, who is also considered to be Hedayat himself by many critics, depicts a psychic journey that awes the readers to a certain extent. The novella is not easy to be criticized or comprehended, for it appears to be a cleverly crafted allegory at its core. The protagonist desperately narrates how he surrenders to the darkness; he cannot connect himself to the society and people, or rather the state of being a human; he is not suitable for life and is suffering in an existentialist crisis.
The novella consists of two different sections that appear to be happening with decades of gap, but having bizarre bonds with one another. It is rather difficult to differentiate the identity of the protagonist and the people around him in these sections; no character has a name and the narrator is an unreliable one, who has used opium and is in a state of ecstasy and paranoia. Thus, the boundaries of reality and dream are intermingled for the readers. He has desperately fallen in love with a mysterious woman, who appears in both sections with different characteristics; the woman is horribly murdered by the protagonist in both sections and little speck of regret is in the protagonist. His interpretation of these actions is completely beyond what a healthy man possesses. The readers are put into a cycle of dilemmas that are not easy to be solved; the excellent word choice and repetition of those words, that are bearing different motifs in each section, takes the readers deeply into the core of the protagonist’s mental illness. The reader takes the journey to the nightmare with the protagonist and as he pipes his opium they too, sense the darkness that he does. He is in love; an obsessive one that leaves him no way but to murder the woman to keep her for himself forever. He constantly speaks about the eyes and the lips of the lover; admires the beauty but contrastingly, disapproves of the bitterness of the lips.
At some points, this postmodern work of Hedayat, juxtaposes a multiplicity effect as a whole; it brings many nameless characters, including himself, that are difficult to identify, all of whom are in close reading, possible to be the protagonist himself. All the multiplicity, alienation, paranoia and madness are bearing one motif which is the dark cruel society against the individual. That is to be the main conflict in the heart of the book.
The author depicts the protagonist’s labyrinth of thoughts and discomfort in a different manner; he shapes a collage of distinctive views that the main character has on himself, characters such as a butcher, a bric-a-brac salesperson, or even in the second part of the novella, an unknown inferior Kafkaesque man in a broken relationship some time in decades earlier. Later on, he brings them all in one mirror and eventually sees himself; he unifies each fragment by the end, perhaps to demonstrate himself as everyone in the world; everyone under suppression and drowned into the darkness and their isolation.
Historically reviewing the book, it is important to remember that the 20th-century society in Iran was a changing point for women; they now possess relatively new kind of freedom, which appears unacceptable and hard to get along with to the protagonist; he fears his wife to be in extramarital relationships, for he knows there is not much boundary imposed from the society on her. He portrays himself inferior toward both women in sections of the book; a man without identity, self-alienated, invisible and lost in places and time. That is not all to this point: Jalal Alahamad, the Iranian socialist, translator and interpreter of the 20th century, regards the book as the product of censorship and silence in the country during this era. This silence is not only manifested in the press, but also in each word of the authors of the time. As a member of society, we begin to reject reality and live up to the nightmares we have, as they are the only things we possess. People, as the protagonist is, are dreadful towards their friends, family and even partners, and the mere friend remained, is a shadow to tell our nonlinear stories to. The book remains to be an art script that tells the condemnation of a society.
Looking at the author’s biography, it is not far from expectation to connect the novel to the author’s life and have a historical biographical view on this. The suicidal and rather gloomy tone of the book and obsession the main character has with death, and the fact that Hedayat himself, committed suicide ten years after writing this book, highlights the fact that the gloomy tone of the book is not an accidental pre-planned characteristic in the novel, but the author’s mentality itself.
If the allegory is taken under the focal point, the whole story is not just a fictional narration of a paranoid protagonist, regarding the censorship and then prohibition of the book by Reza Shah, but it is rather a political one, speaking about the country the author was born in, Iran. The women in the story could be a representation of the country, being raped by everyone and the protagonist, unable to do a single action, but to kill it, and paint its eyes in order to keep it alive forever.
Yet the novel remains open to be criticized with multiple understandings. Each reading unties a new knot and shapes a new image of the surreal existentialist depiction of the author. The reading of The Blind Owl, although as brief as it is, does certainly impact its audience and it is not recommended to those who are suffering from depression and paranoia.
Dr. Katouzia, Homa. Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl: An Introduction, Trips By C Culture
Trip Articles. University of Oxford, 2016.
Hedayat, Sadegh. Blind Owl (authorized by the sadegh hedayat foundation – first
translation into english … based on the bombay edition). Iran Open Publishing GROU.
Sharifi, Mohammad. An Essay on Buried Alive & Three Drops of Blood by Sdegh Hedayat.