Developing a Text Response for In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

Front Cover

Topic Prompt for In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

‘Although men dominate Suleiman’s world, it is his mother who holds it together’.  Discuss.

Break down the topic prompt = what are the key terms in the topic?

  1. Men dominate Suleiman’s world = who are the men and how do they dominate?
  2. But his mother holds it together = how does Najwa ensure Suleiman is safe?
  3. What does discuss mean? = put the case for and against a main contention and end with some statement of your own position
  4. Do you agree with the topic prompt? = if yes, then state your main contention as to why you agree Suleiman’s mother is the one who holds it together
  5. The Introduction = clearly state your main contention so that it answers the topic question
    1. Start the introduction with a Hook that shows you understand the bigger picture of the context
    2. Link The Hook back to the main contention


 [The Hook] From 1969-2011 Muammar el-Qaddafi was internationally condemned as a dictator and autocrat whose authoritarian administration violated the human rights of Libyan citizens.   During his turbulent reign men held all the positions of power, made all the important decisions, were able to carry weapons and wield power over life and death.  As the title suggests, Suleiman lived in ‘a country of men’, a place where women had few rights or opportunities. [End of The Hook]  Suleiman’s mother, Najwa recognised her subservient place: “I must be a good wife, loyal and unquestioning, support my man regardless”.  Yet it is a place she accepts with reluctance and resents her lack of freedom and independence within her society.  However, despite her flaws, when she needs to, Najwa uses all the resources at her disposal to keep her family intact and her son safe from harm.  She is the central figure in Suleiman’s life and as dominant a presence in his life as his father is.  She expresses her emotions and thoughts clearly and forcefully.  It is through her that Suleiman learns not only about love, but about the realities of the society he lives in.

 Body of Essay

Link all paragraphs through a logical progression of ideas that develop the argument.

Introduction =  States the main contention.  Despite the limited means available to her, Suleiman’s mother ensures the family stays together and that Suleiman remains safe.

Body Paragraph 1 =    Discusses ways in which men hold power, politically, socially, domestically.  Examples include Najwa’s father as well as her husband, the roles of men in the neighbouring families.  This paragraph responds to the first part of the topic how men are dominant.

Body Paragraph 2 =    Considers some limitations of male power and ways in which it leads to conflict and dislocation.  This paragraph moves on to limits of male power which explains the other side of the topic.

Body Paragraph 3 =    Leads into a discussion of how Suleiman’s mother provides necessary qualities and values in this male-dominated world.  This paragraph takes up the second part of the topic which is the importance of Suleiman’s mother.

Body Paragraph 4 =    Expands on examples of ways in which Suleiman’s mother keeps the family together and protects Suleiman.  Covers Suleiman’s emotional needs as well as physical safety.  This paragraph uses textual examples to show how Najwa holds his world together.

Body Paragraph 5 =    Considers Najwa’s character in a broader context.  This includes the constraints of patriarchal culture, her sometimes unconventional behaviour, her complexity and how this impacts on the mother-son relationship.  This paragraph moves on to consider Najwa in relation to male power which in turn combines both parts of the topic.

Conclusion =   Sums up the discussion ie. men dominate in the family and the wider society, but Suleiman’s mother keeps the family together and places Suleiman’s well-being above all else.  She is not without faults but develops a strong and lasting bond with her son.

 The Conclusion

The men in Suleiman’s world have power and authority, but they move through his life without becoming close to him, or providing the knowledge he needs to make sense of his world.  It is his mother who, despite her flaws and vulnerabilities, provides continuity and intimacy, who places her son’s needs above political views or social expectations.  Above all, as Suleiman puts it, there is ‘always love’, and this love between mother and son provides the necessary stable centre throughout Suleiman’s experiences of change, loss, betrayal and exile.

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