A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia
Princess Reading Guide and Discussion Questions
- In the introduction to Princess, Sultana tells the reader that, “It is wrong, however, to blame our Muslim faith for the lowly position of women in our society.” Why do you think both the author and Princess Sultana make repeated assertions about the poor treatment of women not being a result of Islam?
- In what ways, if any, did the historical foundation of Saudi Arabia and the growth of the Al Saud family help form Saudi society and culture?
- In “Childhood”, Sultana describes some of her childhood interactions with her brother Ali and other members of her family. In what ways was her childhood similar or different to your own? Do you believe that Sultana’s culture has a large effect on her interactions with her family?
- In “Family,” Sultana describes how the education of girls is viewed in Saudi culture. Do you think education is an important factor in determining the roles and/or rights of women in Saudi or any other society? Explain.
- Sultana and her family live very extravagantly due to their immense wealth. How does this compare to your lifestyle? For Sultana and her family, does wealth lead to happiness? How do her living arrangements mirror her life?
- As a child, Sultana has very fierce anger towards Ali. Do you think her anger is justified? Why or why not? Do these feelings go beyond typical sibling rivalry?
- “My Sister Sara” shows the reader the changing relationship between Sultana and Sara. “Sara had been veiling since her menses, two years earlier. The veil stamped her as a non-person, and she soon ceased to speak of her childhood dreams of great accomplishment. She became distant from me, her younger sister who was as yet unconcerned with the institution of veiling. The sharpening of Sara’s distance left me longing for the remembered happiness of our shared childhood.” Has there ever been a time when you felt a distance growing between you and a close family member? Does Sultana and Sara’s culture accentuate the distance between the two in adolescence? How?
- Sultana continues, “It suddenly became apparent to me the happiness is realized only in the face of unhappiness, for I never know we were so happy until Sara’s unhappiness stared me in the face.” What are the sources of Sara’s unhappiness?
- Sultana and Sara’s mother expresses sorrow for Sara’s situation upon the announcement of Sara’s marriage yet is not a position to change her daughter’s future. How does their mother try to juggle her role of trying to comfort her daughter while trying to prepare her for the inevitable? Does her mother realistically have any other choices?
- What does Sara hope to have her father understand by using the quote, “Victory breeds hatred, for only the conquered are unhappy.”? How can this quote be applied beyond Sara to all of Saudi society for both men and women?
- Why do you think Sara did not bring her belongings with her in marriage? Why do you think Sultana takes a new interest in Sara’s possessions?
- Sara takes drastic measures to attempt escape from her miserable circumstances. Do you think this was the only way out for her? Explain.
- How does Sultana and Sara’s mother break cultural norms when she stands up to Sara’s mother-in-law? How might this change Sultana’s view of her mother and women in general?
- How is marriage viewed in Saudi culture? Who is in control? How does this compare to your own culture?
- Saudi Arabia is a theocracy, or a country whose laws are tied directly to the predominant faith. How does this give the Mutawas power? How does this differ from countries that where the laws are not tied directly to the religion?
- As punishment for possessing banned materials, Ali has the write, “God is great, and I have displeased him by running after the corrupt and immoral ways of the Godless West.” Who is the “Godless West” and how does this illustrate Arab feelings towards western culture?
- What is your reaction to Ali’s friend, Hadi? Have you ever known anyone with similar characteristics?
- Sultana goes through many changes both in body and spirit while in Cairo. Sultana says, “I felt as though I had been electrocuted; my brain felt burned, my mouth hung open, and I stared blankly at my brother. I had my first thought that all – All – men are wicked.” How is this a turning point in Sultana’s life?
- How does a Muslim funeral and grieving process differ from your own?
- What was the purpose of “Lively Lips” and why do you think it was so important to Sultana? Did you ever belong to a secret club? What were the similarities or differences between your group and Sultana’s?
- In what ways does the abbaya buying experience change Sultana’s life?
- The events that happen to Randa, Wafa, and Nadia again show the extreme power men have over women in Saudi culture. What was your reaction to these punishments? Keeping in mind cultural differences, were any of these punishments appropriate? Why?
- Compare the plight of foreign women in Saudi Arabia compared to that of Saudi women. Which group suffers more?
- In what ways does Sultana break cultural norms when she hears news of her wedding and throughout her engagement? In what ways is her experience different from that of most other Saudi women? Does Sultana fit a stereotype of a “typical” bride? What was the mood in Sultana’s preparation room prior to her marriage?
- In what ways is Kareem different from other Saudi men read about in the book. Why might this be? Although Sultana did not pick her husband, would you consider her “lucky”? Explain.
- Upon meeting various Americans, Sultana decides that she likes them. “I believe this marvelous mixture of cultures has brought civilization closer to reality than any other culture in history.” What do you think Sultana means by this statement? Do you agree with her analysis?
- How does Noorah’s own bitterness from marriage affect Sultana? Does this fit with common “mother-in-law” stereotypes? How?
- Sultana’s pregnancy occurs at a time of strife in her marriage. How does this pregnancy alter both her and Kareem’s future together? In what ways is the birth process similar and different from that of your own culture?
- How do the laws and customs of Saudi Arabia ensure the constant unequal treatment of women?
- What do many Arab women believe about Western women? What leads to these assumptions? Given what Arab women have been told, are they justified in their opinions? How do you think this affects the relationship between Arab nations and Western countries?
- The “Woman’s Room” is a form of extreme punishment for women who are deemed to have tarnished a family’s honor. Do you believe that this particular punishment is more or less severe than the others seen throughout the book? Explain.
- What forces have lead to the situation of male dominance in Saudi culture? Are there any ways in which women benefit from such a situation? Explain.
- How does Sultana’s escape from Saudi Arabia both strengthen and weaken her marriage? Do you agree with Sultana’s actions?
- What is the disappointment of the Great White Hope? How does this situation backfire for Saudi women? In what ways does this lead to future tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia?
Princess Reading Guide and Discussion Questions prepared by:
Joelle Broberg, Educational Consultant
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