Woman at Point Zero: Summary, Analysis & Quotes

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Crystal Hall

Crystal has a bachelor's degree in English, a certification in General Studies, and has assisted in teaching both middle and high school English.

''Woman at Point Zero,'' written by Nawal El Saadawi, is a novel based on the author's conversation with a female prisoner who was executed at Qanatir, a penitentiary in Egypt, in 1973. Updated: 09/27/2019

Woman at Point Zero

Woman at Point Zero, by Nawal El Sadaawi, tells the fictional story of a reluctant prostitute who has been sent to prison in Cairo, Egypt, for murdering her pimp and who's preparing to be executed. Having herself been previously jailed in 1981 for protesting the mistreatment of women, Nawal El Sadaawi empathizes with the victim in this fictitious tale of what happens when a person has long since passed his or her breaking point.

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  • 0:04 Woman at Point Zero
  • 0:31 Synopsis
  • 1:45 Analysis
  • 3:32 Quotes
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Firdaus, the protagonist, has been a victim throughout her entire life. After confessing to the murder of her pimp, she is sent to prison to die. Firdaus eventually agrees to share her life story with a female psychologist and writer, including how she saw her father hurting her mother and how her own uncle assaulted her as a child. As a young lady, Firdaus was genitally mutilated and endured a forced teenage marriage to a man nearly five decades her senior. She had no relationships that did not end in abandonment, even with the pimps who carelessly took advantage of her. As a female in Egypt, any attempts to improve her financial and social positions never came to fruition. Now her destiny is to live without free will, education, or ambition.

With no idea of how to have healthy, positive interactions with others, Firdaus flails her way through life, simply trying to survive its tortures. After being hit by Marzouk, her current pimp, she finally reaches the point of no return, unapologetically killing Marzouk out of rage and terror. Waiving several opportunities to appeal her death sentence, Firdaus welcomes her fate. Ironically, she is excited about the prospect of dying as a means of living. After her hanging, she believes that she will finally possess herself, instead of being owned by the government, religion, and the opposite sex.


Nadal El Sadaawi illustrates the tormented and downtrodden life of Firdaus, an Egyptian woman whose futile attempts at happiness and success are ever-present throughout the novel. Although a convicted criminal, her plight results in sympathy from the reading audience. The author uses vivid imagery to evoke an emotional response from the reader. By describing the poverty-stricken environment in which Firdaus spent first her childhood and then her adult years, readers may sympathize with, and even relate to, her unstable environment.

The plot of the story is a bit out of order, but it gives the events of Firdaus' life a chance to unfold in her own time. Instead of beginning with foreshadowing, the story skips straight to the crisis, in that Firdaus is already on death row for murder. Narrative exposition is used to reveal the details of Firdaus' life, from her abusive and neglectful childhood, to her lost educational and financial opportunities, to the harm she suffered at the hands of men, and the poverty she endured through it all. Throughout the exposition, there is both conflict and rising action. Firdaus struggles with everyone: her parents, her uncle, her boyfriends, and her pimps. Most of all, she struggles with herself and her unsuccessful attempts at living a happy and fulfilling life. Her many crises are the foundation for the rising action, which leads to a feeling of anticipation.

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