The discourse of Class Inequality in The Discontented by Leila Abouzeid

In the short story by Leila Abouzeid, the author narrates an exchange of views between two cousins – one a high placed officer and the other a poor worker. The author uses the social backdrop of Morocco to present her story. The story captures the inequalities evident between the affluent and the deprived sections of the Moroccan society by describing the trappings of the households of the two central characters of the work. In essence, the theme is one of highlighting the prevailing disparities in wealth and well being between two members belonging to different social classes of the Moroccan society.

To put the short story in context, the following statistic pertaining to academicians in Morocco raises a relevant point. Since 1981, average earnings for non-manual workers have increased by almost 40 per cent in Morocco; academicians’ earnings since then have increased by just one per cent, which means that their middle-class status is under threat, and they’re starting to wear a haunted, underclass look. But, as recent as the early 1970’s, things were looking much brighter for the middle classes. Back then it was believed that academic scholars are on a social parity with lawyers, only with access to more, and better, resources and with other trappings that bestow social status. But, the present state of affairs and the lack of enthusiasm for academic jobs paint a grim picture of the nature of class disparity within Morocco, which is related to the kind of disparity depicted by Abouzeid. For instance, the custodian says “My pay is very low. The Children are endlessly in need of things, costs keep rising and no one gives a damn about us” (The Discontented). This utterance clearly captures the sentiments expressed above about the state of the middle classes in Morocco.

The labor unions, which have been pivotal in improving the working conditions of the working classes, have traditionally been very active in Moroccan politics. But the recent trend is unfavorable to the labor movement. The adverse trend is manifest in the kinds of youth conferences taking place across Morocco. One can see the difference:

“The beer-bellied salt-of-the-earth types who still pervade the delegations of the old manual unions at labor unions could never be mistaken for the small businessmen and their wives with the conservative sections. One can hear the difference: many labor union delegates may be quaffing Chardonnay not bitter these days, but there is no equivalent of the upper-class baying for G-and-T’s which will echo round the Imperial hotel at Casablanca”. (Gross, 2006)

Despite the government’s efforts to court the middle classes, the class make-up of the country retains status quo. If the recent elections had been decided by the AB social class of managers and professionals, a conservative leader would have ascended to the leadership position. The Conservatives managed a 10 percentage point lead among ABs, according to a leading poll-research institute. It ran level with the socialist party garnering a greater share of white-collar votes as well as the skilled manual workers’ votes. The following passage further illustrates the anti-democratic tendencies of the Moroccan economic policies: “In many respects class divides have sharpened. A new “super class” has emerged, the lives of its members characterized by Messrs Adonis and Pollard as Casablanca; servants; second homes; globalism; the best of private education, health and leisure . . . and intermarriage between professionals with both partners on large incomes.” (The Economist, 2007)

It is evident from the story that the officer clearly belongs to the aforementioned “super class”. The author describes the display of affluence in the officer’s house with good detail. For instance,

“Urged on by his wife, the custodian finally arranged to visit the official. But when he arrived at the latter’s house, he felt intimidated by its grandeur. A European-style edifice in the middle of a green lawn, it was surrounded by rose beds and slender willow trees….a servant opened the door and showed him into a spacious parlor containing an unimaginable assortment of furniture and objects”. (The Discontented)

Many political commentators believe that class is on the decline, but the general public in Morocco is not convinced. To the contrary, class antagonisms may even be increasing the proportion of the general public thinking that there is a “class struggle” in Morocco, as is confirmed by several polls – the rise of around 60% in the early 1960s to 81% in the mid-1990s. In the context of the short story, the class inequality is not purely material. For instance, the custodian and the officer differ in their intellectual levels as well – in the way they perceive and live their respective lives. This is made clear by the author when she writes, “Dazzled, he gazed around the room ….wondered what sort of wood was on the walls, where the rugs and house-wares had come from, and how much it had all cost” (The Discontented).

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