This article will be exploring youngest Nobel Prize laureate and author Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography.
I am Malala, an eye-opening recount of her challenging experiences fighting the Taliban for women’s rights to education.
Malala Yousafzai is a vocal education advocate who has famously stated: “I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.” According to UN reports, approximately 131 million girls around the world do not have access to an education (Rudd, 2018). Yousafzai’s insightful autobiography, published in 2013, follows the journey of her struggle to access education under the Taliban and how she used her strength and voice to spark change and awareness of the issue. Restricted to a world where women can only be housewives and mothers, she emphasises education’s value and fights for freedom within her home village in Pakistan’s, Swat Valley. Yousafzai’s ground-breaking autobiography, I am Malala, not only successfully highlights the importance and value of education but also emphasises the dominant discourse of oppression in rural areas of northern Pakistan under the Taliban rule. This is distinctly evident through her vivid description of the Taliban and their discriminatory attitudes in rural northern Pakistan. This is further enhanced through Yousafzai’s first-person narration and personal anecdotes. Additionally, the use of symbols and motifs within the text also aid in depicting Yousafzai’s strength and determination to advocate for education and women’s rights.
Yousafzai effectively uses descriptions and imagery of the Taliban to epitomise their representation and highlight their prejudicial attitudes in northern Pakistan. The Taliban, an extreme Islamic group, took over northern Pakistan and promised to restore peace and administer their own strict version of Sharia Islamic law (BBC, 2016). According to Mosharraf Zaidi, campaign director for an educational organisation:
‘The Taliban wants to control the minds of people. One way to do this is to prevent young people from getting an education.” (BBC, 2014).
Yousafzai uses engaging descriptions of the Taliban to inform readers of the underlying attitudes and beliefs of how restrictive the Taliban are and what life is like under their tyrannical rule. Through the skilful use of the simile “It seemed to us that the Taliban had arrived in the night just like vampires” (Pg.91), Yousafzai equates the Taliban to blood thirsty and vicious creatures in order to highlight their barbarous nature and position readers to empathise with the people of Swat. Additionally, Yousafzai mentioned women’s words “were like the eucalyptus blossoms of spring tossed away on the wind.” (pg. 118). This simile highlights that although women’s words hold beauty like ‘eucalyptus blossoms’, their value is not acknowledged, and their voice is suppressed by the Taliban. Yet Yousafzai stands for justice and her words being heard as she emotionally remarks:
“The Taliban is against education because they think that when a child reads a book or learns English or studies science, he or she will become westernised. But I said, ‘Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.’ Education is neither eastern nor Western, It is human.” (Pg. 136).
This reflection allows readers to appreciate Yousafzai’s burning passion to advocate for education. Additionally, Yousafzai skilfully uses personification as she associates education with being human, creating an emotive connection between the two and allowing readers to acknowledge the significance and gravity that education holds. Through the effective use of aesthetic features, Yousafzai is able to portray the unfair treatment of women and the condemnation of education through her representation of the Taliban.
Through the aesthetic feature of first-person narration, readers are able to explore Yousafzai’s opinions and thoughts as well as encounter experiences through her eyes. Through her intimate account of events, Yousafzai successfully places readers in her shoes and allows them to recognize the hardships of being a young woman trying to win against one of the cruellest Islamic fundamentalist terrorist movements. Yousafzai emotionally remarks:
‘For us girls that doorway was like a magical entrance to our own special world. As we skipped through, we cast off our head-scarves like winds puffing away clouds to make way for the sun then ran helter-skelter up the steps’ (pg. 2)
The two similes within these lines further encapsulates the importance of school for Yousafzai and allows readers to appreciate the value she places on school and her passion for education. She compares the doorway to a magic portal which opens her eyes to the outside world, gives her hope and sustains her fight for education. Yousafzai deems the school as her safe space as she can freely get rid of her headscarf which follows with the sun, something she associates with happiness and liberty. Readers are positioned to understand that even during their occupation of Swat, the Taliban could not take away her indescribable love for attending school. Further on, when Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban, she recalls:
“The sounds in my head were not the crack, crack, crack of three bullets, but the chop, chop, chop, drip, drip, drip of the man severing the heads of the chickens and dropping them into the dirty street, one by one.” (pg.203).
Through this spine-chilling anecdote, Yousafzai incorporates onomatopoeia to add gravity and depth as well as creating an impression of sensual immediacy. Onomatopoeia also serves to reinforce or revive painful remembrance, within this line specifically, Yousafzai is highlighting the ruthlessness of the Taliban as she uses the word “crack” to replicate the sound of a bullet and “drip” to replicate the sound of her blood. Through this aesthetic feature, Yousafzai has aided in creating a feeling of helplessness and appal from the reader. Therefore, through an intelligent use of first-person narration alongside with aesthetic features, Yousafzai is able to elicit an emotional response from readers and further portray the sacrifice and strength of women on the front-line opposing restrictions under the Taliban and promoting the rights of women to an education.
Lastly, through her eloquent use of symbols and motifs, Yousafzai expertly empowers women to engage with fighting for rights to access an education in northern Pakistan as well as emphasising the value of education. Yousafzai skilfully uses motifs in her work, an interesting example is her use of the motif, the burqa. The burqa is an outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover themselves in public, which covers the body and the face. Yousafzai uses the burqa within the memoir and symbolises it as an impediment to women’s rights. According to Yousafzai, the burqa is depicted as a symbol of women’s cultural inferiority in Pakistan, for example, Yousafzai recalls:
“One day my mother went shopping with my cousin as she was getting married and wanted to buy things for her wedding. A Talib accosted them and blocked their way. ‘If I see you again wearing a scarf but no burqa, I will beat you,’ he said.” (Pg. 142).
This shocking anecdote not only confronts the audience with the inhumane treatment of women from the Taliban but also expertly portrays the burqa as a symbol of women who are forbidden from educating themselves. Additionally, Yousafzai implies the burqa is “like walking inside a big fabric shuttlecock with only a grille to see through and on hot days it’s like an oven.” (Pg. 55). Through this thought-provoking simile, Yousafzai creates a feeling of sympathy for women who live under the merciless rule of the Taliban. By using this veracious and expressive language, she is able to evoke a powerful image of the unjust conditions, therefore further illustrating the burqa as a symbol of the hardships women face under Taliban controlled regions of Pakistan. Furthermore, another symbol illustrated in her autobiography are Yousafzai’s schoolbooks. Yousafzai recalls:
“She also said I must leave my schoolbag because there was so little room. I was horrified. I went and whispered Quranic verses over the books to try and protect them.” (Pg. 148).
This emotive reflection explores the meaning of Yousafzai’s schoolbooks to her. This invites the readers to understand the significance Yousafzai’s schoolbooks hold, representing the education she has received and the education she hopes to pursue in the future. They are a source of faith that she will be able to achieve her goal of promoting schooling for all girls. Through these evocative symbols of the burqa and Yousafzai’s schoolbooks, Yousafzai is able to portray the ill-treatment of women and how much education has had a positive influence on her life.
In conclusion, today I analysed Yousafzai’s use of description to epitomise the representation of the Taliban, her skilful use of first-person narration and her compelling use of symbols and motifs. Through these techniques, we are able to appreciate the strength and resilience of Malala Yousafzai as well as the other women in Northern Pakistan, under the Taliban’s rule. Yousafzai gives an honest insight into the oppression faced by women and also provides an authentic perspective on the significance of education. I am Malala informs us of the pressing issue that is currently present around the world, a lack of education for women in developing countries, such as Pakistan. Today, many take education for granted, I believe this book is a symbolic reminder of the importance and value education holds.
- BBC. (2016). Who are the Taliban?. Retrieved on 18/8/19 from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718
- BBC. (2014). Why the Taliban targets schools. Retrieved on 18/8/19 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/30521100/why-the-taliban-targets-schools
- Rudd, B. (2018). UN reveals global number of girls not in school is increasing. Retrieved on 25/8/19 from https://www.bridgeinternationalacademies.com/un-reveals-global-number-of-girls-not-in-school-is-increasing/
- Yousafzai, M. (2013). I am Malala. Great Britain: Weidenfeld & Nicolson