An Analysis of the protagonist’s journeys in Mohamed Choukri’s "For Bread Alone"

Thesis (M.A.), 2009

13 Pages, Grade: 90


In 1973 the English translation— For Bread Alone— of Mohamed Choukri’s Al-Khubz Al-Hafi was published. This first part of Choukri’s extraordinary autobiography is written in a very simplistic style, which Paul Bowles, the translator of For Bread Alone, also described as a “technique:” Choukri’s narration is the work of an “illiterate” who has not yet learned “to classify what goes into his memory” (5). The novel illustrates the protagonist’s struggle to survive under exceptionally difficult circumstances, namely extreme poverty and violence. Indeed, Mohmed Choukri states that “all my life has been a response to one challenge after the other.”[1] The novel is constructed as a rihla (journey)- both an earlier ‘external’ one of physical movement, and a later one, which this paper will describe as ‘internal.’ First this paper will explore the external journey, which leads the protagonist Mohamed to different cities and places, and it will analyze the language, structure and content which express this travel; this first journey is dominated by his family, whose relationship with Mohamed is also central to this study. Furthermore it will examine the transition from this journey to the internal one by means of the content and the structure of the text. The internal rihla, which prevails in the second part of the novel and which the paper will address by means of the text’s language and content, obviously is not separate from the external journey since the story is about the development of one and the same person. The second journey, that describes his existence as a teenager, replaces the first physical one, lived as a child. However, this paper will divide the two rihlas in order to carve out its differences and to show Mohamed’s development, which eventually leads to his emancipation through literacy. Finally, the paper will address some personal impressions and remarks on the novel.

For Bread Alone begins with Mohamed’s very childhood, when he lived and moved from place to place with his family. As it is usual for a small child, his whole existence was built around the family. Once he became a teenager, he developed more separately and managed life on his own. The structure of novel shows this passage very clearly: the first six chapters describe the movement with his family and they are dominated by the physical journey the family covers - their trips from one city to the next or from one quarter to the other. Each travel is introduced at the end of one chapter and the following one begins in the new place introduced beforehand. Advancing to the subsequent part of the novel, which focuses essentially on his internal journey, from the seventh chapter onward, the protagonist returns to Tangier where he is still in movement but within the boundaries of this city. He does not change anymore completely his local reality and social environment. As well the language employed divide the external from later developing the internal journey. The novel depicts social and economic reasons or hunger as motivations for the family’s steady travels . However, the reasons for the family’s changes of location do not matter to the protagonist because they are presented as mere facts that he must acknowledge, which is expressed through the language employed to describe the advent of a new journey: “I heard them talking about a trip to Tetuan. They were still discussing it when I went to sleep” (22). The day after the family left. The parents do not explain why the family has to move, nor does Mohamed ask for the reason.

Despite the fact that the journeys are very significant and crucial in the text, they are hardly described. The end and the following outset of most of the first seven chapters introduce the change of location, however, they do not describe explicitly the movement or the new place the family travels to, which undoubtedly are characterized by largely different realities, people and circumstances. The protagonist does not express positive or negative emotions about the journey itself, and neither does the reader learn about the beauty or external characteristics of new places. They are merely acquiesced as different realities, which he comprehends for example through “certain differences between myself and the other boys of the neighborhood, even though some of them were poorer than I” (16). It seems that he is still too young to reflect about the movements, places and people he encounters. Only in the latter, internal journey, will he seem able to increasingly grasp the realities around him. Then, he remembers his experiences, places he passed and people he met. His almost apathetic perspective on the physical travels apparently show, that every day in his young life presents a challenge and that his main aim was to survive and to meet all the problems he had to deal with instead of enjoying for instance, the “snow” on which he had walked for the first time (41).

It is the family that determines the early external travel, which prevails in the first six chapters; Mohamed moves with his kin, or because of them, as in the sixth chapter out of fear from his father’s violence. Each of the initial chapters begins with an episode about a person of his kin and furthermore Mohamed’s accounts mainly focus on the relationship with his father as well as with his mother in this early period. His father is depicted as an extremely cruel, brutal and row person. He creates such a frightened situation through his violence against the family, that Mohamed feels the father’s terrifying presence even in his absence. “He is not at home but he is here because I’m afraid of him” (65). His exceeding authority induces the protagonist to assign him a special relationship with Allah- “I hear, O messenger of Allah” -and to compare him to God (68). His father’s brutality does neither save his mother, who suffers from his outbursts of anger and laziness as well. Mohamed, instead, she treats well but she fails to protect him and his siblings from their father. After the father’s absence due to his internment in prison, she accepts him back into the family home and thus renders further abuses possible. Mohamed understands her weakness and is greatly disillusioned by it. “My love for her is bound up with my hatred for him” (65). Gradually the first six chapters introduce the protagonist’s disengagement from his family, and also set the stage for his more conscious internal journey. One important event in this development is Mohamed’s understanding of his father’s hatred. By the end of the sixth chapter he comprehends that the reason why his father is so hostile to him and why he abuses him so badly is because he has to share the mother with Mohamed.


[1] Nirvana, Tanoukhi, “Rewriting Political Commitment for an International Canon: Paul Bowles’s For Bread Alone as Translation of Mohamed Choukri’s Al –Khubz Al-Hafi,Research in African Literatures Vol. 34, No. 2 (2003): 133.

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An Analysis of the protagonist’s journeys in Mohamed Choukri’s "For Bread Alone"
Ben Gurion University
Arabic Literature
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ISBN (Book)
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different aspects of the protagonist’s rihla, external journey, internal journey, different motives and themes, whereto the journey is leading him
Quote paper
Sophie Duhnkrack (Author), 2009, An Analysis of the protagonist’s journeys in Mohamed Choukri’s "For Bread Alone", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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