Sadeq Hedayat’s The Blind Owl serves as a Kafkaesque metaphor explaining not only personal alienation and a lack of self-understanding, but the struggle to come to terms with the Iranian national identity. The metaphor speaks of a society that is rife with ugly outside influences, represented by the odds-and-ends man, a perverse militarism, represented by the butcher, and is a society who has been raped and defecated of its beauty, represented by the female characters. Most importantly however is the narrator of the story. He is the personification of the struggle for identity; he is everything, and he is nothing. He is Iranian, but he is ugly and embraces a dark reality. At the end of the story, he chillingly realizes that he admires the brutality of the butcher and laughs as he murders his wife, symbolizing the utter decay of contemporary Iranian society. Hedayat portrays an Iranian society that is pitted in a losing struggle against itself, having been infused by so many terrible characteristics to the point where it not only does not understand itself, but also that it is doubtful for the narrator, or Iran, to find redemption or a cure for the “disease” which the narrator opens the story speaking of (Hedayat pg 1-3).
The narrator’s relationship with the other characters in the story provides a great look into the depths of Iranian society as depicted by Hedayat. Each main character is a representation of a particular aspect of Iranian society which Hedayat loathes and finds to be destructive. The butcher represents a grotesque militarism or even a sort of perverse satanic identity that is part of the Iranian condition which could be as a result of Reza Shah’s obsessive militarization of the country after his ascent to power in the 1920’s. The odds-and-ends man, who reads from the Koran every Thursday (Hedayat pg 53) is the personification of how diluted Iranian society was by Arabic influences. Even today the Arabic conquest of Iran is seen as a sore spot and Arabic influences were prevalent and seen especially by more aristocratic Iranians (of which Hedayat was) as a plight against Iranian society. The narrator’s wife and other mysterious female character represent the death of Iranian society as well as the rape administered at the hand of these outside, disgusting influences; the odds-and-ends man for example, who the narrator believes has slept with his wife (Hedayat pg 108-109).
“The bitch” as the narrator refers to his wife, has a strained relationship with him. She largely ignores him and it is hinted that she has taken various lovers throughout the story; people the narrator refer to as “rabble-men”. The tip of the iceberg comes when it is suggested that the odds-and-ends man has slept with the narrator’s wife. At this point, he “realized then why it was that the butcher found it pleasant” (Hedayat pg 122) cutting up sheep and decides to go through with his plan of murdering his wife. The narrator does not have a direct relationship with either the butcher or the odds-and-ends man throughout the book. Similar to a typical Iranian in the early 1900’s one might have only known of the decadence of society through observation. He does have a direct relationship, if one can call it that, with his wife, which represents the constant reminder present in the author’s mind that Iran has been raped and defiled.
The reality in which the narrator lives gives insight into Hedayat’s idea of the “death” of Iran. The narrator’s entire world consists of the confines of his room. In fact, he describes the room as having “some virus that poisoned all my thoughts. I felt sure that before me some murderer, some diseased madman, had lived in it” (Hedayat, pg 102-103). This quote shows how the narrator’s room, like Iran, suffered from a virus that poisoned it and those who resided within its walls. Numerous times throughout the story, the narrator refers to his room as a grave, noting that his bed always remains unrolled because he never leaves the room. The grave-like description of his room ties into the title, with owls being known in Iranian culture as graveyard creatures symbolizing death. Furthermore, prevailing images of darkness and shadows are all the narrator has to cling to, exclaiming that “The shadow that I cast upon the wall was much denser and more distinct than my real body. My shadow had become more real than myself. The old odds-and-ends man, the butcher, Nanny and the bitch, my wife, were shadows of me, shadows in the midst of which I was imprisoned” (Hedayat, pg 123). In his demented state, this was the only reality the narrator had to cling to, that of an ever-present and growing darkness, engulfing his world in shadows.
In this way, the narrator’s room is a sort of extension of the narrator himself, who then represents all that is wrong in Iranian society. He has no real identity; his face is that of the butcher, the odds-and-ends man, his Nanny, his wife, and his uncle all in one. He is downtrodden and in his demented state he has come to accept and marvel in a sense, at his own dilapidation. Moreover, instead of coming to terms with himself or trying to right the wrongs the narrator has turned to opium in order to try to escape from death and all that is ugly in the world. His degradation reaches a point where even the bliss of opium produces nightmares. Here Hedayat can be seen criticizing the widespread opium usage of Iranian society, which he probably believed was a form of mass escapism so that Iran would not have to face itself. As the narrator suggests, Hedayat paints a picture of Iran as a screech-owl, or as the title states, a blind owl. An owl, a creature living only in the darkness of night, represents death. However, like the narrator who cannot function as a human being and has lost his way in the world, an owl that is blind cannot find food in the darkness, and will be doomed to suffer alone until death.
Sadeq Hedayat opens the Iranian heart to reveal darkness and despair. The narrator, through his observance and relationship with the other characters in the story is the embodiment of the evils of Iranian society. Iran is a land that is like a graveyard; there are no beautiful springs, cypress trees, and blue morning glories, no exotic beauty dancing in an oasis, as the narrator’s many pen-cases suggest. Instead, there is an old man laughing, “a hollow, grating laugh, of a quality to make the hairs of one’s body stand on end; a harsh, sinister, mocking laugh” (Hedayat, pg 10). The narrator is left in a situation where he cannot tell dream from reality, living in a world where the nightmares of death that haunt him in sleep remain bloodied on his chest when he wakes. In this way, Hedayat sees no hope for Iranian society and believes it to be trapped in the confines of itself, with a disease that can only be documented to the shadows cast on its walls, never to be cured.