Monday, April 2, 2012

Jason Ta on Wind through My Hair, a story of Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa


The gripping short story, “Wind Through My Hair”, by Iranian-Canadian author, Ava Homa, encapsulates the reader’s mind into the reality of Iranian politics, the universal concept of love, and the need for freedom. In subtle but provocative ways, elements of the story portray the bewitching nature of corrupt power in the newly formed government of Iran and its hindrance of the citizens’ humanity. Through the story’s narrative elements, specifically, the characters, settings, and symbolisms, we are led to believe that the struggle for freedom and peace cannot be accomplished as long as power and its corruptive nature exists. These elements are used to paint pictures in the reader’s mind to illustrate the regression of a once great nation to its current state of a dissolving civilization.
The majority of the story and its elements are expressed through the setting, and interaction and dialogue of Azar, the protagonist, and Reza, her friend and an important and significant character. The setting, Tehran (mainly in Azar’s apartment), poses an important element of the story because it forms a feeling within the reader’s mind in preparation for the story and narrative discourse. Additionally, it creates certain boundaries of the story world in which it is incorporated and the entities are found and the events take place.
Both Azar and Reza are the only round and dynamic characters throughout the story. In portraying the other characters, the author incorporates a method of dehumanizing (nick-naming) to indicate the degree of importance of them. “I look up the list of the most recent calls I’ve made: Liar, the Charlatan car purchaser; Reza’s is third last.” (Homa, 15) These characters, except for Reza, are depicted to be of lower importance and significance in the story and in the life of Azar just as most of the other characters in the story.
They are flat and static except for “Jerk”, who is flat and dynamic and assumed to be the divorced husband of Azar. Although there is little or no substance in “Jerk’s” character, his behavioural changes poses a haunting effect on Azar as she reveals her past views of love during her marriage which then transformed into passionate hatred. However, the author deliberately omitted whether Azar was still married or divorced. It was for good reason so that the reader may colour in the blanks with their interpretation of the meaning. This suggests that there is still attachment to a part of her marriage that proposed freedom and that her internal conflicts were seeded from the aftermath of this relationship. “Jerk was a good husband […] why then do normal things lead me over the edge? […] I devoted three years of my life to him, who was a dream man and was crazy about me, and who ended up … a vampire.” (Homa, 31)
There are multiple conflicts demonstrated in the story by the interaction and dialogue between Azar and Reza. The Internal vs. External conflict is Azar’s (and the women of Iran) struggle for freedom from the imprisonment of Iran’s laws and the judgement by people conforming to them.  “Turning my back at the window that opens to a city where twelve million people live […] I’m somebody that other women fear because they think I’ll seduce their men […].” (Homa, 29) Make no mistake, it is not that other women fear Azar, but the consequences heeded out by the government and the constraints of marriage if they were to be like her. This also indicates that the desirability, independence, and ‘higher’ degree of freedom of Azar are envied by the other women.
Another external conflict begins with Reza’s abrupt discussion with Azar about his insights on relationships while he attempts to cross the bridge from being a friend to a lover demonstrates his naivety and inexperience. He describes the transition as if it was like slicing through butter. However, his actions are similar to that of riveting a nail into a hole in the wall. But because of Azar’s internal conflict, brought on by her past, her coquettish behaviour is actually a sheath that her mind is caged within, and her heart hidden from intimate attachment. Not only is the sheath used to “protect” her, it is also used to prevent the inevitable consequence of their friendship being shattered if he were to heed further into the unknown. The regression of their friendship begun as Reza continued pressuring Azar with the temptation of forbidden love to achieve ‘freedom’.
Power will consume and corrupt its wielder. In due course, the wielder will set aflame conventions in search of its rewards. But some wielders use power as an unveiled curtain in the face of controversy and uncertainty to shield their insecurities.
The interpretation of Reza’s character is as Azar describes him to be: the cohesive bond between friends and potential freedom. The author is also portraying that his content and humorous behaviour is a symbol of people conforming to the laws issued by the government to determine what is appropriate behaviour, attire, and lifestyle. This is an invisible cloak that masks their true character. It represents the freedom that people lack because of a society’s expectation that people should behave according to laws and social norms, and not as themselves or who they wish to be. By conveying this message, the author invites the reader to self-reflect upon their personal experiences and social behaviour to fill in the blanks. This is meant so that the reader may further understand and possibly relate to the circumstances of the visible oppression in Iran.
The coercion of people in the past and present arises from the insecurities of men in power – the fear of losing the power of control. Although power can help achieve our aspirations, it can also bring destruction to those standing in its wake. It gradually corrupts us with greed and blinds us from reality. Power is like a double-edged sword – when a man wields it, he may conquer many in his lifetime but he will eventually lose sight of himself and cripple his sense of humanity. What is known of the past can be used to avoid the mistakes made by our ancestors, but in the case of the Iranian government, the mistakes in history are used as weapons. “Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” - John Dalberg-Acton
The narration of the story is done through the first person point-of-view of Azar. The purpose of this is to convey the circumstances in which women of modern-day Iran live in, and the oppression they suffer because of the political and societal views of the government. The implementations of laws by governments around the world exist to protect the rights and values of their citizens. What the laws don’t contain, though, is guaranteeing the freedom of people nor the protection of it. “When the power of love overcomes the love of the power, the world will know peace and freedom.” – Jimi Hendrix. Historic figures, like Imam Hussein and Martin L. King, although of different demographics, have struggled to gain freedom from oppression and have sacrificed their lives for the rights of freedom for humanity. The overall theme of this story is that freedom is a universal concept shared by people around the globe, regardless of their demographics, which can only be achieved if there is internal and external peace. And for internal and external peace to truly exist, power need not be amidst.     
The brevity of the story, being the lengthiest in the collection, “Echoes from the Other Land”, contributes to the foreboding issues of freedom, political dominance, and gender inequality in Iran. The title itself, “Wind Through My Hair”, deploys these issues throughout the story in conjunction with Azar’s headscarf – which represents the constriction of society’s structure. The author illustrates this meaning through the nature of hair in the wind and the incorporation of the headscarf. “I LOOSEN THE TIE of my headscarf as I turn from Niayesh Highway into street.” (Homa, 15) This suggests that the headscarf is a symbol of conformity to society’s expectations in which Azar hides within. “The lights of a police car flicker in my rear view mirror. I tuck in the loose strands of hair under my headscarf and tighten its tie.” (Homa, 35) The ending is open-ended in that we remain uncertain of her relationship with Reza and the outcome of her temporary feeling of freedom.
Through narrative elements, “Wind Through My Hair” effectively conveys the issues of political dominance and gender inequality contributes to the increasing need for freedom of women in Iran. The subtleness of the story symbolizes the nature of corruption seeds from power. This issue invites the reader to position themselves in place of the women in Iran to depict the struggle for freedom and glimpse into the circumstances of their world. In essence, in order to achieve and maintain the rights of humanity and peace, people around the world must unite to encumber the growth of corruption for the sake of our freedoms.

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