A Study of Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky A monograph submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the Degree of ” License ” in English Studies

A Study of Paul Bowles’s
The Sheltering Sky

A monograph submitted in partial fulfillment
of requirements for the Degree of ” License ”
in English Studies.

By
DONIA NAJDAWI
Under the Supervision of
Pr. HAMZA TOUZANI

2016-2017

DEDICATION:
I dedicate this proje ct to my fa mily a nd espec ia lly to my pare nts who will a lwa ys suppo rt me
and help me.
I also dedicate this project to my best friends for encouraging me.

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Table of Contents
Dedication…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. I
Introductio n……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….1
Review of Literature………………………………………………………………………. …………………………..3
Chapter one: Historica l Context……………………………………………………………………………………6
Chapter two: Paul Bowles Biography……………………………………………………………………………8
Chapter three: Orientalism………………………………………………………………………………………….10
Chapter four: Plot Summary and Analyze s…………………………………………………………………..13
Chapter five: Themes…………………………………………………………………………………………………18
Chapter six: The Main Characters In The Novel…………………………………………………………….21
Chapter seven: Symbolism in The Novel………………………………………………………………………26
Conclusio n………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..29
References…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………31

INTRODUCTION:
In the p rojec t that I’m wo rk ing o n I will ta lk abo ut both the no ve l The She lte ring Sky
and the a utho r Pa ul Bowles who has tra ve lled a lo ne into the Algeria n Sa hara to work o n the
no ve l. He is a n Ame rica n write r a nd co mpose r who beca me assoc iated with Ta ngier whe re he
lived for 52 years. The no ve l is abo ut three America n Tra ve lle rs tra ve lling in the North
Africa n Sa hara a nd te lls the story o f the Moresb ys ; Po rt a nd K it who are married fo r twe lve
yea rs, and the ir frie nd Tunne r who acco mpa nies the m in the jo urne y thro ugh the Sa hara. In
this no ve l I will e xa mine the three ma jor books that are : Te a In The Saha ra whic h prese nts
cha racte rs tha t are a ffec ted b y a war-torn world, the seco nd book is The Ea rly ‘s Sha rp Edge
that inc ludes Port’s p hysica l harm a nd death, a nd the third book The Sky whic h is abo ut K it’s
mental dissolutio n.
My resea rc h pape r co nsists o f se ve n c hap ters tha t are : c hap ter o ne : histo rica l co nte xt,
chap ter two : Pa ul Bo wle s b io grap hy, c hap ter three : Orie nta lism, c hapter fo ur : p lot summary
and a na lyzes, chap ter five : the mes, chap ter six : the ma in c haracte rs, and c hapte r se ve n :
symbo lism in the no ve l. I will first e xa mine the no ve l ba sed on historica l co nte xt, Pa ul
Bowles’s life a nd ho w he dec id es to mo ve fro m the United Sta te to Ta ngie r, Mo rocco, the n I
will talk about Orientalism because Paul Bowles is a Westerner. Orientalism is considered to

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be a Western style for organizing, dominating and having authority over the Orien. Finally I
will summarize eac h book in the no ve l a nd a na lyze a nd parap hrase it, a nd I will stud y the
symbolism in the novel.

2

Review of Literature:
Many c ritics re vie w the no ve l The She lte ring Sky inc lud ing Te nnesse W illia ms who
revie ws the no ve l in ‘ The Ne w Yo rk Book Re view ‘ a nd writes : ”it bring s the reader into
sudden, startling communion with a talent of true maturity and sophistication of a sort that I
had began to fear was to be found nowadays only among the insu rgent nov elists of France,
such as Jean Genet and Albert Camus and Jean-Pau l Sartre ” ( in Sawyer- Lauçanno, 1989 :
286 ). The no ve l is a n a ma zing wa y o f sha ring a nd e xc ha nging sk ills o f true a ffec tatio n a nd
maturity, it is a lso une xpected a nd co mes to the mind o f the re ader witho ut warning ( in
Sawyer-Lauçanno, 1989 : 296 ). Te nnesse W illia ms lik es the book a nd write s : ” it was the
product of the ex perience and contemplation of a truly adu lt mind ” ( Pau l Bowles, 1949 ).
Alice To k las is a lso attrac ted to The S he lte ring Sky b ut o n her o wn wa y, she writes : ” No
nov el since the Great Gatsby has impressed me as hav ing the force precision-de licac y that the
best of Fitzgerald has until yours ” ( in Sawyer-Lauçanno,1989 : 296 ).
On the other ha nd, Norma n Ma ile r c la ims tha t : ”Paul Bow les opened the world of hip
letting in murder, the drugs, the incest, the death of the Square. The ca ll of orgy, the end of
civ ilization. Th is fall w ill mark a double anniv ersary of sorts for Bowles, not just the 60th
anniv ersary of The She ltering Sk y but the 10th anniv ersary of his death ” ( in Sawyer-
Lauçanno. 1989 :XII ). Paul Bowles creates a world that is built on corruption, bombardment
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and se xua l re latio ns betwee n peop le. It is a unive rse whe re the re is no c ulture or c iviliza tio n
and o nly murder a nd destruc tio n that will lead to dea th. Howe ver Ga ry Pulsifer has
ano therview abo ut the no ve l a nd states tha t : ” The She ltering Sk y is one of the seminal nov els
of mid 20th century American fiction ” ( Pau l Bowles, 1949 : 88 ). Mo reo ver, the
re latio nship betwee n Bowles a nd his wo rk is immate ria l for the first understa nd ing to the last :
” Bowle s’s conception of the relationship between the author and his work is based on the
unimportance of the former to the grasp of the latter.” Bowles a lso dec lares tha t : ” the life
of a writer has no interest, what he lik es or does has no importance. There can be a relation
between life and work , but is just a supposition ” ( Paul Bowles, in Negri, 1990 :40 ). The
writer is no t impo ra nt, the readers will no t be impressed b y his perso na l life. Ho we ver, the
writer’s work is e verything a nd is the most impo rta nt a nd inte resting thing. On The
She lte ring Sky Bo wles is describ ing himse lf as a tra ve lle r and not a to urist, exp la ining that
a to urist is so meo ne who will go ba ck soo n, while a tra ve ller will no t re turn, as he c laims : ”
we are not Tourists but Trav ellers. Tourist is someone who think s of going home the moment
they arriv e, while the Trav eller may not come back at all ” ( Paul Bowle s, 1949 : 14 ).
Bowles who se life is made o f tra ve lling be lo ngs no more to o ne p lace tha n to the ne xt a nd
spends most of the time moving from one side to another.
On her part, Mic he lle Gree n write s abo ut The She lte ring Sky that : ” it cou ld hav e been a
collaboration between Albert Camus and Edgar Allan Poe – two of the writers whom Bowles
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most admired. Shot through with an ex istential despair and tinged with a sable glamour,
the book not only made Paul a fav our with critics but spawned a cult of readers who regarded
its author as an oracle ” ( Michelle Green. 1 992 : XV ). The book pre se nts the abse nce o f
hope a nd co mp lete lost that will crea te a worship o f reade rs who co nsider its writer a s a n
insp iratio n. The c ritics ha ve d iffe re nt views abo ut the no ve l, so me o f the m a gree abo ut the
sa me ide a, while the others ha ve a nothe r vie w. The S he lte ring Sky is a symbo l o f sp iritua l
ve nture a nd risk iness o f the co mp lete ly awa re perso n into ne w e xperie nce a nd prese nts the
isolatio n, solitude, and existentia l despair.

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CHAPTER ONE : Historical Context
The She lte ring Sky ( 1949) is a no ve l b y the America n a uthor a nd co mposer Pa ul Bowles
who d ied in Ta ngie r in 1999. Bo wle s’s work inc lude s the d iffe re nt c ha nges that Morocco
underwe nt fro m co lo nia l time to indep e nde nce ( Ha ll. 1997 : 2). Pa ul Bowles was the mo st
fa mo us Ame rica n writer who had lived fo r 52 years in Ta ngier a nd who bro ught atte ntio n to
North Africa n a nd Mo rocca n c ulture a nd so c ie ty ( Hall. 1997 : 2). The no ve l The She lte ring
Sky was p ub lished b y Jo hn Le hma nn a nd the e ve nts o f the no ve l take p la ce d uring 1949 in
North Afric a a fter Wo rld War II : the globa l a nd the most pop ula r war in history. The e ve nts
of the no ve l take p lac e in the Sa ha ra a fter ma ny years o f misery thro ugh depressio n a nd
insec urity ca used b y the Seco nd World War. During that time, the United Natio ns was
estab lished to e nco ura ge interna tio na l co-opera tio n a nd stop future conflicts. At that time the
United Sta te, the So viet Unio n, C hina, the United K ingdo m, a nd Fra nce b eca me the
perma ne nt me mbers o f the United Natio ns Sec urity Co unc il ( w.w.w. The UN Security
Council, May 2012).
The So vie t Unio n a nd the United State s arose a riva l super po wers whic h lasted fo r the
ne xt 46 yea rs. Mea nwhile, the influe nce o f Europea n grea t powers wa ned, while the
deco lo nisa tio n o f Asia a nd Africa be ga n. Po litica l inte gra tio n espe c ia lly in Europe,
emerged as an effort to end pre-war enmitie s and to create a common identity ( Herman
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Van Rompuy, From War to peace : A European Tale, 2012-2014 ). On the other ha nd, Pa ul
Bowles worked in the no ve l The S he lte ring Sky while tra ve lling thro ugh the North Africa n
Sahara to escape fro m the da ma ges ca used by the Seco nd World War. During his jo urne y,
Bowles de scribed the Sa hara as a trick that will destro y a ny Western Tra ve ller who c a me to it
unprep ared. The title o f the no ve l The She lte ring Sky was take n fro m a so ng ”Down Among
the Sheltering Sk y ” tha t Pa ul Bowles used to hear whe n he was a c hild. He na med the no ve l
The She lte ring Sky beca use it took p lace in the Sa ha ra whe re the re was o nly the sk y that will
protect the spaces fro m dark ness ( Bowle s. in Negri ( ed.). 1990 :40 ). The She lte ring Sky
was a lso prese nted as a n autob io grap hica l no ve l abo ut Paul Bowles past life who co mpared
himse lf with the c harac ter in the no ve l ; Port, who was a lso suffering fro m Alie natio n a nd
Isolation ( in Twentieth Century Literature, 1986 : 302).

7

CHAPTER TWO : Paul Bowles biography
Paul Bowles who was born o n De ce mbe r, 1910 New York, Us, is a n America n no ve list,
sho rt sto ry writer, poet, tra nslator, a nd c lassica l music co mposer who has lived in Ta ngier for
mo re tha n 40 years. Bowles wa s very interested in music, he a tte nd ed co lle ge at the
university o f Virginia a nd stud ied with Aaro n Cop la nd b e fore mo ving to Paris in 1930. Pa ul
Bowles’s father wa s a co ld ma n, he had tried to k ill Bowles b y le a ving him naked o n a
windo w during a storm, this broke the re la tio nship with his fa ther. Howe ver, Bo wle s’s
mo ther made his c hild hood perfect a nd a lwa ys re ad Natha nie l Hawthorne a nd Ed gar Alla n
Poe to him. Pa ul Bowles was a suc cessful ma n who wrote ma ny stories a nd musica l works
suc h a s Pie ce s by Te nnesse W illia ms a nd Orso n We lles, a lso no ve ls inc lud ing The
She lte ring Sky, Le t It Co me Do wn, The S pide rs Ho use , Up Alone The Wo rld, a nd Too
Fa r Fro m Ho me . In 1931 Bo wles mad e his first visit to Ta ngier whic h la ter b eca me his
ho me, and re turned the fo llowing ye ar to North Africa tra ve lling to othe r p laces o f Morocco
inc lud ing Fe z a nd Marrak ec h whic h he lik ed ve ry muc h beca use o f the ir Orie nted mysterio us
atmosphere.
In 1938 Bowles married a n a utho r a nd p la ywright; Ja ne Auer, b ut the ir marria ge was not
perfect beca use Ja ne was a le sb ia n, yet were very a ttracted to eac h other. In 1947 Bowles
moved to Tangier with his wife Jane to work on his novel The She lte ring Sky which was not
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accepted b y the Do ub leda y beca use it was not a no ve l for the m. Bowles lived for 52 years in
Ta ngie r a nd beca me symbo l o f America n Emigra nts. In 1950 he p ub lished his first sho rt
stories titled A little Stone whic h e xc luded two o f his most great sho rt sto rie s : Page s Fro m
Cold Point a nd The Delicate Pre y. The fo llowing years in 1952 Bowles p ub lished his seco nd
no ve l Le t It Co me Do wn a nd in 1955 he p ub lished the third no ve l The Spide r Ho use . In
1962 Bowles P ub lished a co llec tio n o f short sto ries titled A Hundre d Ca me ls in the Co urt
Ya rd a nd a lso p ub lished e thno grap hic essa ys e ntitled The ir He ads are Gre e n and The ir
Hands are Blue . In 1967 Bo wles P ub lished a nothe r co llec tio n o f short storie s ; The Time of
Frie ndship a nd wrote a n a utob io grap hy ; Witho ut S to pping in 1972. In 1975 The
Obliv io n See ke rs, a Bowles’s tra nslatio n o f se lec tio ns fro m Isabe lle Eberha rt app eared.
During the rest o f the 1970’s and the 1980’s Bowles co ntinued to use the ge nre o f sho rt
fictio n in his writings. He a lso wrote no n fic tio na l works suc h as Po ints Time , a se lec tio n o f
eve nts in Morocca n history thro ugh the centuries p ub lished in Engla nd in 1982 ( Sawyer-
Lauçanno. 1989: 407 ). After the dea th o f Ja ne, Pa ul co ntinued to live in Ta ngier a nd in 1995
returned to New York to pa rtic ipa te in a fe stiva l abo ut his music. In 1999 Bowles d ied o f
hea rt attack at a hosp ita l in Ta ngie r at the age o f 88, his bod y was b urnt in Spa in a nd his
ashe s spread o ver New Yo rk’s shore nea r his b irth p lace ( Sawyer-Lauçanno, A Biography of
Paul Bowles, New York , 1989 ).

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CHAPTER THREE: Orientalism
Orie nta lism is the Occ ide nt kno wled ge abo ut the Orie nt a nd prod uce po wer, do mina tio n
and he ge mo ny. The Orie nt mea ns the East a nd re fers to anything that be lo ngs to the Eastern
world suc h as the Midd le East or the Far East in re la tio n to Europe. The Orie nta l mea ns the
Eastern a nd re fers to a nything that be lo ngs to the Orie nt or the Ea st. It ha s bee n used b y the
West to mea n c ultures, peop le, countries, and goods fro m Orie nt. Orie nta lism re fers to the
diffe re nt formula ted Weste rn conceptio ns o f the Orie nta l Other whic h is the repre se nta tio n o f
Asia, Midd le Ea stern, a nd North Africa n peop les, or the trad itio n o f Occ ide nt litera ry a nd
scho larly interest in co untries a nd peop les o f the East ( Lowe. 1991 : 3 ). In o ther words,
Orie nta lism is a d isco urse tha t p rod uces the Orie nt Po litica lly, soc io lo gica lly, sc ie ntifica lly
and ima gina tive ly. It is a lso a method o f think ing ba sed on a n existe ntial d istinc tio n betwee n
the Orient and Occident ( Lacey and Poole ( eds.). 1996: 195 ).
Orie nta lism is d ivid ed into la te nt Orie nta lism a nd ma nifest Orie nta lism ; the first o ne is the
unto uc hab le certa inty abo ut what the Orie nt is. The Orie nt is see n as we ird, sep arate, sile ntly
diffe re nt, se nsua l, a nd has d irectio n to wards despo tism. On the o ther ha nd, ma nisfe st
Orie nta lism is the vario us stated vie ws abo ut the Orie nta l soc iety, la ngua ges, history a nd
soc io lo gy. It a lso inc ludes informatio n a nd c ha nges in k nowled ge abo ut the Orie nt a s we ll
as policy decisions founded in Orientalist think ing ( Edward W. Said. 1978 : 206 ). In Earlier
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Orie nta lism, the first Orie nta lists were the 19th ce ntury sc ie ntists who tra nslated the writings
of the Orie nt into English based o n a truly e ffe ctive co lo nia l co nq uest that req uired
kno wled ge o f the de fea ted peop les. Exa mp les o f ea rly Orie nta lism ca n be see n in Europea n
photo grap hs, pa intings, a nd a lso in ima ge s fro m the World’s Fa ir in the U.S in the 19 th a nd
early 20th ce nturies. The pa intings crea ted b y Europea n a rtists d escribe the Arab world as a
stra nge a nd myste rio us Desert whe re hare ms a nd be lly d a ncers, re fle cting a lo ng history o f
Orie nta list fa ntasies whic h ha ve continued to permeate popular c ulture ( Edward W. Said.
1985: 122 ). O n the o ther pa rt, Mode rn Orie nta lism ca n be fo und in c urre nt W este rn ima ges
of Arab c ultures, these illo gica l, untrustworthy a nd d isho nest ima ges are idea s into whic h
Orie nta list sc ho larship ha s de ve loped ( Edward W. Said. 1985 : 123 ). The re latio nship
between Westerners and their Oriental Others is usually based on power and dominatio n.
The Occ ide nta l hab itua lly sees the Orie nta l Other as primitive, immora l, or a s exce lle nt
nob le sa va ge. The co ncep t o f Otherne ss a nd d ivisio n betwee n the Occ ide nt a nd the Orie nt
were prese nt b y the time o f Ho mer’s The Iliad whic h describ es the wa r tha t Achaean princes
had with Troy, and the Odyssey whic h describes the ad ve ntures o f Odysseus during his re turn
fro m the Trojan war to his k ingdo m o f Ithaca ( in Hutchinson and Smith ( eds.). 1996: 111 ).
The Ro ma n poet Virgil pre se nts the Orie nta list ima ge s o f a fa sc ina ting b ut unfa ir Orie nta l
go vernme nt tha t prod uces a certa in k ind o f Orie nta l ma n a nd wo ma n, a nd a k ind o f Orie nta l
space within which characters destroy each other ( Maier. 1996: 34 ).
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In the Aenied, the Orie nt is linked with so ftness, co mfort a nd id le ness, a nd the d iffe re nce
betwee n Western a nd Easte rn wa y o f life is coded ( in Maier. 1996: 47 ). Moreo ver, the
Orie nt ga ve ma ny mate ria ls for Occ ide nta l ima ginatio n a nd a gre at possib ility fo r the Western
se lf. It was a lread y a reaso n fo r Western se lf-d ra ma tiza tio n a nd d iffere ntia tio n, a nd a lso a
fle xib le d ra ma tic space in whic h Occ ide nta ls co uld p la y o ut the ir se lfish ima gina tio n (
Kabbani. 1986: 11 ). Orie ntalism da tes fro m the time o f Europea n Enlighte nme nt a nd
co lo niza tio n o f the Arab wo rld. It pro vides a ratio na lizatio n for Europea n Co lo nia lism based
on se lf-serving history in whic h the West finds the East as e xtre me ly d iffe re nt a nd inferio r (
Said. 1985: 70 ). In add itio n to tha t, Pa ul Bo wles is a W este rner, bo rn a nd bro ught up in
America, his cultura l se lf is part o f the trad itio n tha t goes back to his c ultura l Ac estra l
includ ing Homer, Aechylus and Virgil ( Edward W. Said. 1985: 90 ).

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CHAPTER FOUR: Plot Summary and Analyzes
The She lte ring Sky b y the America n a uthor Pa ul Bo wle s is abo ut three America n
tra ve llere s; the Moresb ys: Port a nd K it who are married for twe lve ye ars, a nd the ir frie nd
Tunner. Affected b y the Seco nd World War, the Tra ve llers make a jo urne y thro ugh the
Sahara to escape fro m the d isaster ca used b y the wa r. Port, Kit and Tunner first visit Oran, a
c ity in Algeria. Port is sa tisfied with his tra ve lling, b ut K it is bothe red b y fe ar that e ve ry we ird
eve nt on the ir jo urne y will lead to death. During this time, Port is sed uced b y a n Arab
prostitute a nd has se x with her. In Ora n, the Moresb ys a nd Tunne r e nco unter the Lyles; a n
odd mothe r a nd he r so n Eric. The y o ffe r Port a ride in the ir c ar to Bo ussif, lea ving K it a nd
Tunner to take the train where Kit surrenders to Tunner’s sexual advances.
At Bo ussif Port a nd K it stop to be a lo ne a nd ha ve perso na l mo me nt o n the top o f a rid ge in
order to get c loser to eac h o ther, a nd to so lve the ir ma rita l d iffic ulties. Fro m Bo ussif, the
three Ame rica ns make the ir wa y to Ain Krorfa, the d irty to wn. At this period, Port tries to get
rid o f Tunne r a nd a rra nges for him to go with the Lyles to Messad. Me a nwhile, the Mo resb ys
go to the sma ll to wn in Algeria, Bo u No ura, where Port d isc o vers that his passpo rt is missing.
Lie ute na nt D’Arma gnac who is the co mma nder o f the loca l military post, find s tha t Port’s
passport has bee n so ld in Messad a nd a rra nges for Tunne r to return to Bo u No ura with it.
However, Port over comes by fever and insists to Kit to leave for El Ga’a.
13

The More sb ys go to El Ga’a, the hidde n de sert to wn whe re no o ne co uld te ll the m
anything. Port fa lls ill with typ ho id a nd ca n’t e ve n wa lk. During this time, K it finds o ut tha t a
me ningitis ep ide mic has shut down the o nly hote l o f town. K it sta ys with Port in a sma ll
roo m that se rves as infirmary for the Fre nc h so ld iers in Sba. At this mo me nt in the dese rt,
Port is suffe ring fro m a fa ta l fe ve r and ima gining himse lf destro yed b y a la rge car: he sets
bleed ing in the doo rwa y o f a ca nd y shop until he a wakes to run a wa y fro m a n attacker who is
co ming to step into his bowe ls. K it is unab le to he lp Po rt a nd sneaks into the night to meet
Tunner who is arriving from Bou Noura. That night, Port dies.
Afte r the dea th o f Port, K it wa nders in the Sa hara a nd is p icked up b y a tra ve lling c ara va n.
She beco me s the lo ver o f Be lq assim who marries her a nd imp riso ns he r in his ho use where
she turns into a se xua l victim b y the yo ung Be lqassim a nd a n o ld co mpa nio n. K it is la ter
dressed as a n Arab bo y in orde r to trick Be lqassim’s wives. K it spe nd s the majority o f her
time sleep ing in a dark roo m using sleep in order to re ma in mind lessly co nte nt. After a while,
the wives d isco ver that K it is a girl a nd hit her bad ly, b ut late r he lp he r to e scape fro m
Be lqa ssim. Eve ntua lly, K it is sa ved a nd bro ught to Ora n whe re Tunner is wa iting fo r her, b ut
by now she has fa lle n into mad ne ss. The no ve l e nds with K it wa ndering into the stree ts
towards an unknown destiny.

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The ma in c ha racters in The She lte ring Sky ; K it a nd Port, a re desc rib ing the mse lves as
Tra ve lle rs a nd not To urists. The y co nsider the To urist as so meo ne who hurries back ho me at
the end o f a few weeks, while the Tra ve ller ma y no t co me back a t a ll. Another d iffe re nce
betwee n the Tra ve ller a nd the To urist is the ir partic ular tho ughts o f the ir c ulture. That mea ns
that the To urist accept his own c ulture witho ut q uestio n, while the Tra ve lle r co mpare s it with
the Other a nd re fuse s tho se e le me nts he does not like. The re is a co nnectio n be twee n Bowles
and Port : Bo wle s has a lwa ys tried to escape fro m the da ma ges ca used b y the war a nd Po rt
a lso hopes to find insp iratio n in the Sa hara. Mo reo ver, the ma rita l prob le ms a nd secre ts
betwee n Port a nd K it simula te tho se betwee n Pa ul a nd Ja ne. Bo wles himse lf co nsiders The
She lte ring Sky as a n a utob io grap hic a l no ve l fro m me mo ry. He a lso wrote the grea test part o f
the story while travelling through the Sahara.
On the other ha nd, the Sa hara is described in The She lte ring Sky as a trick, a stra nge
la ndscape tha t has the power to destro y the Western Tra ve lle r who co me s to it unprepared.
The Sa hara is a lso repre se nted in the no ve l as a dry la ndscape where there is nothing to
protect ma n e xcept the shining sk y ( Bowle s. 1978: 251 ). Furthermore, the North Africa n
desert sed uce s Port a nd K it who wa nt to e xp lore life o utside the limits o f Weste rn c hok ing
mo ra lity, c ulture a nd so c ia l co nve ntio ns. The Sa hara pro vides a n approp ria te a rea for the
esse ntia l se lf-e xa mina tio n that Bo wles’s Western c harac ters show the mse lves to it ( Bowles.
1978: 101 ). The Sahara also shows that there is neither protection nor security anywhere
15

because happiness and security have been destroyed by the Second World War.
Muc h o f the suffe ring o f Po rt’s fate is ca used b y his fa ilure to dete rmine the results o f his
own actio ns. Firstly, Port is sed uc ed by a bea utifu l Arab prostitute na med Marhnia who te lls
him the sad story o f the three da ncers: Outka, Mimo una a nd Aic ha who whe re in lo ve with a
ha ndso me Ta rgui, a nd we nt to drink te a with him in the Saha ra but e ve ntua lly d ied. Ano ther
exa mp le o f Port’s e xperie nces is his try to ha ve se x with a b lind Arab girl. These e xperie nces
a lmost lead to his dea th. This is linked to port’s attitude whic h is not based o n lo ve a nd
stability, but on a narcissistic desire of forbidden experiences ( Bowles. 1978: 28 ).
Seco nd ly, K it like Port’s obse rvatio n o f natives is amb iguo us. S he e ithe r mee ts d irty
na tives or bea utiful o ne s. O n her jo urne y, K it fee ls e xc ited a nd fa sc ina ted b y the na tive s o f
the Sahara espe c ia lly tho se who a re fe minised b y the ir use o f Ko hl a nd Ve ils a nd who are
linked with the Orie nta l wo ma n. K it later beco mes iso lated, she is no mo re fa sc ina ted b y
Tunner or a ttac hed to Port. K it a lso beco mes libe rated whe n Port d ies a nd is free to go her
own wa y towa rds her fated ob livio n. Kit’s fa te leads to the a lie na tio n o f e motio na l fa ntasy
that the Sa hara has lo ng insp ired. Port d ies beca use he ca me to understa nd himse lf a nd Others
but has nothing to learn, a nd K it be gins he r learning thro ugh a jo urne y full o f d istress a nd
suffering. The Moresb ys destiny is tra gic. The co up le is a parado x, it app ears a t the sa me
time as a symbo lic co up le in whic h eac h me mber is depe nde nt o n the other ( Bowle s. 1978:
100 ). Kit’s attitude towards life is completely opposed to that of Port. She is simply terrified
16

by the silence and emptiness that deeply touch Port ( Bowles. 1978: 100 ).
Ge nera lly, The She lte ring Sky e xp la ins the me eting o f the two d iffere nt c ultures whic h
are : the mode rn lo gica l We ste rn wa y o f life a nd the ete rna l se nsua l a nd sa va ge Sa ha ra n o ne.
It is a lso abo ut the ne gative e ffec t of the Orie nta l Isla mic c ulture o n Port a nd K it. Port for
insta nce goes b y a n o ld Arab is cap tured b y a n ide a tha t the ma n is a ffected b y a n infec tio n
disease. On the other part, K it is a lso ca ught by two native figures ; Be lqassim a nd Amar,
who ha s the sa me desire a nd who use her se xua lly. S ince this Alie n wo rld is full o f vio le nce
whose peop le a re a nima ls and no t huma n be ings, K it raped witho ut merc y in the pre se nce o f
Belqassim and his partner.

17

CHAPTER FIVE : THEMES
Paul Bo wle s e xp lo res multip le the mes in The She lte ring Sky whic h inc lude Tra ve lling
that is the ma in sub ject in the no ve l. The Mo resb ys, Port a nd K it, a re tra ve lling fro m o ne
place to a no ther starting the ir jo urne y fro m Ora n to Bo ussif, a nd fro m the re to Ain Kro rfa
arriving a t the to wn o f El Ga’a. Kit a fte r her husba nd’s dea th keeps mo ving to co ntinue
drifting in the Sa ha ra to the unk no wn destiny. Anothe r the me is ma rria ge, K it a nd Po rt are
married for twe lve yea rs b ut the y reac hed a n impa sse in the ir ma rita l re latio nship a nd are no
lo nger e nga ged with eac h other se xua lly. Fo r sa ving this ma rria ge, Port tries to be c loser to
Kit espec ia lly in the ir d ista nt a nd unco nnec ted part o f the world, b ut finds it d iffic ult b y the
presence of Tunner who is closer to Kit.
The most impo rta nt the me in the no ve l is Ad ulte ry : Port c heats Kit and has se x with a n
Arab pro stitute, a nd a lso tries to sle ep with a no ther b lind da nce r. K it is a lso unfa ir to her
husba nd a nd c he ats him with the ir c lose frie nd Tunne r who uses drink to break down her
reserve. Mo reo ver, the the me o f se xua l assa ult is a lso p rese nt in the no ve l. K it is raped
witho ut merc y by two Native ma n : Be lq assim a nd Ama r. This sho ws the dark side o f the
Alie n world whic h is full o f vio le nce a nd poep le who are like a nima ls more tha n huma n
be ings. On the other ha nd the More sb ys are d rive n b y fear a nd re gre t whic h will le ad the m to
catastrophe. For Port, a fear that his marriage is dissolving sends him into flight to the last
18

hosp itab le re gio ns o f the Sa ha ra. For K it, a fea r o f the unna med de ath co mb ined with guilt
over her one time fidelity with Tunner sends her into madness.
The She lte ring Sky is a sad no ve l : the tra ged y o f Port’s fate is the result o f his inab ility to
think abo ut the co nseq ue nces o f his own a cts. Port led b y S ma il betra ys K it with a bea utiful
Arab p rostitute, a n e xperie nce whic h nearly led to his dead. Eve ntua lly Port fa lls ill with
typ ho id a nd d ies. K it’s tra ged y is the se xua l use b y two na tive me n who rape her vio le ntly, a
suffera nce that led her to mad ne ss. Moreo ver, the importa nt the me in the no ve l is re le va nt to
me nta l illness : a fte r Port’s death, K it is me nta lly a nd e mo tio na lly de tac hed fro m e verything.
She is raped b y Be lqassim a nd other me n a nd beco me s the ir sex sla ve. She a lso doesn’t
accept whe n she ‘s forced to marry he r rap ist. This ha rd exp erie nce leads her to mad ness a nd
craziness.
The no ve l represe nts a c lear ima ge o f iso latio n inc lud ing the post wa r iso latio n : Port sa ys
that Europe ha s destro yed the who le wo rld, he re vea ls his true iso la tio n fro m Others b y sa ying
that huma nity is eve ryo ne b ut o ne’s se lf ( John W. Aldridge. In Paul Bowles : The Cancelled
Sk y. 2010 ). Port a lso shows his iso latio n thro ugh the wa y tha t he a lwa ys crosses Othe rs a nd
ma nip ulates peop le ( John W.Aldridge. in Paul Bowles : The Cancelled Sk y. 2010 ). There is
a lso the the me o f se lfishness : the unhapp y co up le, Port a nd K it, ca re abo ut eac h othe r but in
return o f wha t K it gives Po rt o r wha t Port gives K it. Besides that, the the me o f d eath
includes the death of Port by typhoid and Kit fear about the unknown death that can be hidden
19

behind the unknown events.

20

CHAPTER SIX : The Main Characters In The Novel
Port is o ne o f ma in c haracte rs in The S he lte ring Sky. He is a n America n write r who
tra ve ls thro ugh Africa with his wife K it a nd the ir frie nd Tunner. He has bee n ma rried to K it
fo r twe lve years b ut the y are e stra nged fro m e ac h other. Po rt has se x with a yo ung Arab
prostitute a nd trie s to sleep with a nother b lind da nce r b ut she d isappears be fo re he ca n e ve n
ta lk to her. In sp ite o f the marita l p rob le ms be twee n Port a nd K it, he fee ls jea lo us a nd tries to
ge t rid o f Tunner b y se nd ing him with the Lyles to go to Messad. Mo reo ver, Po rt is a
tra ve ller who is a ngry by the fact tha t e ve n the most primitive c ultures are beco ming
despo iled : ” Europe has destroyed the whole world…” ( Bowles. 1978 : 95 ). Europe has
sto le n a nd destro yed e verything, happ iness a nd sec urity are no mo re pre se nt in that world that
is full of violence and murdering.
Port’s a ttitudes to Others a re ne utra l co mpared to other c harac ters in the no ve l in the se nse
that he treats his co mpa triots a nd na tives eq ua lly ( Bowles. 1978 : 157 ). He desp ises Tunner
the Lyles a nd the natives for the ir sne ak y wa ys. After a cc using him o f the the ft o f his
passport beca use he was a native, Port ad mits that Abde lkader, the hote l owner a t Bo u No ura,
has more d ignity tha n the Lyles a nd Tunner ( Bowles. 1978: 157 ). Moreo ve r, Port hates the
Frenc h fo r ha ving dra ined the p lace o f its happine ss : ” the happiness, if there still was any,
ex isted elsewhere : in isolated rooms that look ed onto bright alleys where the cats gnawed
21

fish-heads; in shad ed cafés hung with reed matting, where the hashish smok e mingled with
the fumes of mint from the hot tea; down on the rock s, out at the edge of the Sebk ha in the
tents; beyond the mountains in the great Sahara, in the endless region s that were all of Africa.
But not here in this sad colon ial room ( Bow les. 1978: 57 ). Everything is destro yed b y the
Frenc h a nd happ ine ss is no more a part o f Port’s life . Port’s think ing o f a uthe ntic Africa is
id ea l. He re gards the p lace a s better tha n rea lity, b ut co nsiders the peop le as the most bad a nd
evil huma n be ings. The peop le in Africa are de vo id o f a ny trace o f huma nity a nd trick a ny
tra ve ller who co mes to the ir p lac e unp repared : ” how friendly are they? Their faces are
mask s. What little energy they hav e is only the blind, mad desire to liv e, since no one of them
eats enough to giv e him his own personal force. But what do they think of me? Probably
nothing. Would one of them help me if I were to hav e an accident? Or would I lie here in the
street until the police found me? ” ( Bowles. 1978: 22 ).
Port’s first enco unter with a n Arab, S ma il who led him to Marhnia, is full o f d istrust a nd
susp ic io n. Po rt fee ls frighte ned b y wha t he sees as c ha nges in S ma il’s c harac ter a nd b y his
evasive ness think ing e ve n to stop fo llo wing him ( Bowles. 1978: 32 ). The seco nd e nco unter
is with Marhnia who ha s sex with Port and who te lls him the tra gic story o f the three danc ers
who d ie in the Sa hara while wa iting for the ir lo ve r Targui to co me a nd drink tea with the m.
Eventua lly, Port dies by typhoid in a French colonial military post.
Port in The She lte ring Sky represents the life of Paul Bowles and his unhappy marriage
22

with his wife Ja ne Bowles. Po rt symbo lizes death whic h is the worst thing in life. He has lo st
eve rything a nd beco mes me nta lly a nd p hysica lly ill until he d ie s. Po rt a lso represe nts the
Western Traveller who is tricked by the sneaky ways of the Natives.
Kit Mo resb y is the seco nd importa nt c ha racte r in The She lte ring Sky. S he a lwa ys goes
with he r husba nd Port to e xotic p laces. Kit is mo re susp ic io us tha n Port abo ut the possib ility
of the e xiste nce o f a p lace whic h is no t a ffected b y wa r a nd da ma ged b y Western c ulture. S he
considers that the peop le o f eac h co untry are ge tting more like the peop le o f e very o ther
country ( Bow les. 1978 : 16 ). Moreo ver, K it see s things a nd e ve nts as o me ns, she fears that
she co uld ne ver ima gine the wo rst tha t was kept for her. K it fee ls guilty a nd has a lwa ys
une xpec ted, uncerta in c ha nge s o f mood ( Negri ( eds. ). 1990 ). Later, K it c ha nges : she who
has fe lt guilt o ve r he r re latio nship with Tunner, re fuses it now. S he who wa nted c lose ness
with Port, look s for de tac hme nt ( Negri (eds.). 1990: 60 ). After Po rt’s dea th, K it beco mes
free a nd wa nders in the Sa hara b ut is ca ught b y Be lqassim a nd a n e lde r co mpa nio n who rape
her vio le ntly. As a result, she beco mes mad a nd wa nde rs in the dese rt towa rds a mysterio us
destiny. Like Port, K it a lso rep rese nts in The She lte ring Sky Janes Bowles a nd he r unhapp y
marria ge with Pa ul Bowles. K it symbo lizes the obed ie nt wife that fo llo ws her husba nd fro m
place to place without complaining. But eventually loses her temper and becomes mad.
Tunner is a fe w years yo unger tha n Po rt, he is desp ised b y Po rt a nd K it be ca use his
satisfactio n shows him as unaffec ted by the terrible consequences of the war. He is
23

pessimistic, a nd a simp le to urist who is sure o f his America n c ulture a nd va lues. Tunner in
unab le to understa nd the wa y o f life o f the na tives, the ir stubborn co nversa tio n o f prices whe n
the y b uy o r se ll fo r e xa mp le. He is a lso p ut o ff b y the be ha vio ur o f these p eop le who m he
ha tes ( Bow les. 1978: 257 ). Ho we ver, Tunne r’s percep tio n o f natives is sp lit. He does not
de mo nise the Natives b ut a lso idea lise the m. Tunne r’s view o f the Na tives a nd the ir wa y o f
life is mo re the result o f a pa rtic ular imp ressio n tha n that o f a n ob jec tive obse rvatio n o f, a nd
contact with the m ( Bowles.1978: 254 ). In add itio n, Tunner’s d islike o f wo me n is c lear
thro ugh his re la tio nship with K it who m he doe s not rea lly lo ve b ut wa nts o nly to add to his
co llec tio n. ” His ov ertures to her had been made out of pity because she was a woman, and
out of v anity because he was a man, and the two feelings together had awak ened the
acquisitiv e desire of the trophy collector, nothing more ” ( Bowles.1978 : 254 ). Tunne r in
The She lte ring Sky is the minor c ha racte r whose p rese nce e nab les the co up le Port a nd K it to
pla y e ffec tive ly. Tunne r a lso impose s mora l do minatio n over his frie nd s : ” when Port is all
ego and Kit is all id, Tunner is all sup er-ego. By tyrannizing equa lly ov er ego and id, Tunner
k eeps them in check ” ( Olson E. Stev en. In Twentieth Centry Literature. 1986: 338 ).
The Lyles a re a we ird co up le prete nd ing to be mother a nd so n. The y ho ld prejud ices o n
eve rything Alie n to the ir British c ulture whic h the y ne ve r do ubt ( Bowle s. 1978: 70). The
Lyle s desp ise the Arabs a nd co nside r the m as a stink ing, lo w race o f peop le with nothing to
do in life but snoop on others ( Bowles. 1978 : 71 ). The other secondary characters includ e
24

Be lqa ssim a nd Amar : two na tive figures who ha ve se xua l desire a nd who rape K it witho ut
pity. The y bo th rep rese nt the vio le nt wo rld in whic h peop le are like a nima ls more tha n
huma ns. Moreo ver, S ma il is a lso a n impo rta nt cha racte r who led Port to a bea utifu l Arab
Prostitute named Marhnia who sleeps with him and then robs him.
The re latio nship b etwee n the c harac ters in The S he lte ring Sky is ve ry co mp lica ted. Port is
not happ y with his wife K it a nd the ir marria ge is full o f prob le ms a nd sad ness. Ho we ver, Po rt
a lwa ys need s the prese nce o f his wife, a need whic h forms into a desire for a n urge nt wish
that K it wo uld be to uc hed in the sa me wa y as he, b y iso la tio n to infin ite things whic h the
desert o ffe rs. The re la tio n betwee n Port a nd Tunne r is built o n hatred : Port is a lwa ys
desp ising Tunne r for no t be ing a ffected b y the te rrib le co nseq ue nc es o f the war. Port is a lso
jea lo us o f Tunner beca use he is so c lose to K it, so Port a lwa ys tries to get rid o f him a nd se nds
him with the Lyles to go to Messad. Port a nd K it a lso de sp ise the Lyles a nd co nsider the m as
bad people who use sneaky ways of tricking.

25

CHAPTER SEVEN : Symbolism In The Novel
Paul Bowles in his no ve l The She lte ring Sky uses symbo lism. The She lte ring Sky hides
darkness a nd nothingness be hind it, the sk y is re fere nced, pro tec ting the innoce nt fro m d eath
and b la nk ness. The sk y is a symbo l o f light b ut be yo nd it the re is o nly space, infin ite b lack
space. Yet it p rotec ts us fro m the d ark “we think of the sk y as light and bright, but actually if
you could get beyond, you would find only space, infinite black space. And therefore I was
saying, don’t believ e in the sk y, don’t believ e in anything ex cept the fact that it protects us
from the dark , because beyond it is just black ness ” ( Bow les. In Negri (ed.). 1990 : 40 ). ” you
k now, said Port… the sk y here is v ery strange. I often hav e the sensation when I look at it’s a
solid thing protecting us from what’s behind.” Kit shuddered… ” but what is behind?”.
“nothing I suppose, just dark ness. Absolute night ” ( Bowles. In Negri ( eds.). 1990 : 40 ).
Port a nd K it are unab le to re le ase the mse lves to life beca use o f the ir co ntinua l aware ness o f
the abso lute night whic h the y both fee l is be hind The She lte ring Sky. W hile Port is
fa sc ina ted b y the e mp ty space surro und ing life, K it is te rrified o f suc h a nihilistic visio n,
whic h re mo ve s a ny mea ning fro m her e xiste nce. The sk y is a lso a symbo l for the e nd o f
one’s time existe nce. Port is impre gna ted with sad ness a nd the notio n o f no thingness. ” he
had not the energy to ascertain his position in time and space, he also lack ed the desire. He
had come back through v ast regions from nowhere; there was the certitude of an infinite
26

sadness at the core of his consc iousness, b ut the sadness was reassuring, because it alone was
familiar ” ( Bowles. 1972: 11 ). Port and K it are tra ve lling thro ugh the ir own pe rso na l hearts
of dark ne ss, we ighed down b y me tap horica l ba gga ge the y carry with the m, a nd b y eac h o ther
( Bowles. 1978: 200 ).
The d isto rted roads tha t beco me norma l symbo lize Port’s life , while the desert symbo lizes
the abse nce o f his life a nd e xiste nce, a nd the re sult o f his searc h whic h is dea th. Port tries to
escape fro m the da ma ges ca used b y the Seco nd Wo rld War, a nd tra ve ls to North Africa b ut
finds the Sa hara as a dry la ndscape where the re is nothing that prese nt life e xcep t the sk y
which only protects from darkness.
Paul Bo wles’s no ve l The She lte ring Sky represe nts Bowles’s be lie f in the abso lute
hope lessness o f the who le a ffa ir o f living. During the time whe n Port a nd K it wa nder
a imlessly fro m o ne p lace to the other, unco nsc io usly seek ing a who le ness in life , the y fee l
the y ha ve lost, the Sa hara beco mes a symbo l o f the ir sp iritua l e mptiness. Po rt a nd K it wa nder
in the desert like e mpty e migra nts p rotec ted o nly b y the co nd itio na l na ture o f the ir c ivilized
consc io usness ( Paul Bowles. New York : The Ecco Press, 1957: 128 ). Moreo ver, the sk y
hid es a nd she lters the pro ta go nists fro m the horro r o f ob livio n in a n e mpty world. The re are
no mo me nts o f sp iritua l insight to be be yo nd the limita tio ns o f the inhib iting se lf, just
madness and death. Port and Kit are forced to undergo a painful ripping-awa y of their
27

c ivilized e go in a universe stripped o f me a ning that o ffers no hope o f rede mp tio n or insight
into a ny higher mea ning o f life ( Lawrence D. Stewart, Paul Bowles. 1974: 28 ). As Bowles
makes quite c lear: ” nature is not antagonistic, she is merely indifferent. Not caring. And if
you use the word god in the place of nature, then I think you get ev en closer to it ” ( Lawrence
D. Stewart, Paul Bowles: The Illumination of North Africa ( Carbondale and Edwardsv ille ):
Southern Illinois Univ ersity Press, 1974: 28 ).
On the o ther ha nd, Port’s c harac ter in The She lte ring Sky is a n e xa mp le o f mode rn ma n’s
fa ilure to tra nsce nd his inhere nt nihilism b y find ing mea ning in a n e thic o f respo nsib ility a nd
partic ipatio n in life. As ma n has co me to rea lise a nd ac cept that the use o f reaso n ca nnot he lp
to so lve the myste ry o f e xiste nce, in fac t that no fina l e xp la na tio n o f e xiste nce is possib le, the
full o f re spo nsib ility for c reating a pa tte rn o f o rder a nd mea ning no w fa lls o n him a lo ne (
Charles I. Glick sberg. 1963: 96 ). As Glicksberg state s: ” is the painful decision which the
godless man mak es to be rooted in life here on earth, to giv e up the Romantic lie of the
Absolute, to be entirely on his own at last ” ( Charles I. Glick sberg, the Tragic v ision in
Twentieth Century Literature ( Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ ersity Press: 1963: 96 ).

28

CONCLUSION:
The She lte ring Sky is a grea t no ve l b y the America n a utho r Pa ul Bowles, it is a n e xa mp le
that sho ws Bo wles life with his wife a nd his e xp erie nce in North Africa. The She lte ring Sky
represe nts two peop le, K it a nd Port who a re e mo tio na lly e stra nged fro m eac h o ther, the y are
in lo ve b ut funda me nta lly separated b y e motio na l impa sses, fea r a nd inab ilities. Port hopes
that the ad ve nture will bring the m back to gether b ut the ir vie ws o f life a nd o f the desert are
differe nt : Kit is afraid of the desert, while port is fascinated by it.
The She lte ring Sky is a n ima ge o f the sp iritua l ad ve nture o f the co mp lete ly co nsc io us
perso n into mode rn exp erie nce. It a lso rep rese nts two d iffere nt c ultures : the modern
inte llec tua l W este rn wa y o f life, a nd the time less, se nsua l Sa ha ra. The no ve l shows the
ne ga tive d ra ma tic e ffe ct o f the Orie nta l Isla mic c ulture o n Po rt a nd K it. Pa ul Bowles
exa mines the wa ys in whic h America n inco mp re he nsio n o f Alie n c ultures lead to the
abso lute destructio n o f the a uthor’s life : the marita l prob le ms betwee n the co up le in the no ve l
simulate those between Paul and his wife Jane Bowles.
The She lte ring Sky is a n e xa mp le that sho ws the Morocc a n c ulture a nd soc iety, a nd
a lso pre se nts the da rk side in the Alie n world tha t is full o f vio le nce. The no ve l e xp lo res
ma ny sub jec ts suc h as Africa, ma rria ge, the 1940s, World War II, adulta ry, iso la tio n, a nd
Arabs. It is a clear image that shows how the Western Travellers are represented in the North
29

Africa n Sa hara. The no ve l a lso describes a new world; a natura l Orie nta l wo rld p redating a nd
exc lud ing a ware ness. The c harac ters in the no ve l esc ape fro m the be lie f a nd hard ness o f the ir
Western c ulture to co me to the a lie n, Orie nta l o ne in orde r to find time lessness a nd bo und less
space. Moreo ver, the p la ces in The She lte ring Sky are o f a ma zing d ive rsity, while the
cha racte rs are tra ve lling in North Africa, I mo ve with the m fro m o ne p lace to a nothe r in a wa y
that gives me a clear idea about space and time that are diffic ult to obtain.

30

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bowles-a-caution-ta le-fo r-tourists

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