Edward Said coined the term "Orientalism" in his groundbreaking 1978 book Orientalism, which critiqued the West’s stereotypical perceptions of the East. In colonialist discourse the native was often seen as a source of rapacious sexuality, exemplified, as Said notes in this passage, in Gustave Flaubert’s writing about the Orient. Said and others have also explored how the Orientalist trope of white women being sexually violated by dark natives has been used to mandate and legitimize colonial forms of control and hegemony.
For more sustained exposure to Said’s thought, students might read the entire first chapter of Orientalism, titled “The Scope of Orientalism.”
Suggested Activity: Invite students to watch 4:14 - 7:51 (or the full forty minutes) of the film Edward Said on Orientalism and to read the excerpt from the book. To check for understanding, ask students to succinctly summarize Said’s arguments in these passages. Once you are sure they understand, ask them to point to examples of Orientalism in books, films, or other media with which they are familiar.
Then ask them to consider Oz’s “Nomad and Viper” in light of Orientalism. Have students scan the early paragraphs of the story to find the language used to describe the Bedouin from both the men’s and Geula’s perspectives. Ask them to make a list of the adjectives used to describe the Bedouin. Ask: what do you notice about these descriptions? Are they Orientalist? Racist? Do you think these descriptions are from Oz’s perspective or his characters' or both? Why do you think that?
To look closer at the Orientalist narrative surrounding sexual propriety or “dangerous sex,” ask them to reread Section V of "Nomad and Viper," paying close attention to the author’s lyrical use of pastoral imagery and the hint of an Arab Adam and a Hebrew Eve. Ask students to consider what exactly transpires here, and how that impacts their impressions of the grim denouement that swiftly ensues.