Academic journal article ARIEL

Masks or Souls?: Halide Edib's Politics and Her Pacifism as a Playwright

Academic journal article ARIEL

Masks or Souls?: Halide Edib's Politics and Her Pacifism as a Playwright

Article excerpt

Abstract: In this article, I discuss Halide Edib's play Masks or Souls? (MOS) as anti-war literature by a Turkish female intellectual and activist who lived between the two World Wars. The article provides a more complete portrayal of Edib, who has often been reduced to a nationalist novelist. I also argue that MOS contains autobiographical insights. There is evidence in MOS, for example, that Edib became a pacifist on the eve of the Second World War. Another war Edib fought was against the ideas and ideologies within the military and intellectual circles of Turkey. Through the actions and comments of several characters in the play, Edib also criticizes the reforms and westernization processes that took place immediately after the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Finally, I counter the neglect this play has suffered by calling into question some of the nation- and region-based hierarchies prevalent in literary studies.

In 1953, Halide Edib, (1) a famous Turkish novelist, wrote a play in English called Masks or Souls? (MOS henceforth), based on an earlier, Turkish version of her play. (2) The play offers an extensive, cynical critique of ideologies of some contemporaneous governments (those of Turkey and Europe in particular) and the affairs that had been taking place in several countries like the founding of the League of Nations (which she supported) and some extreme right-wing movements (which she did not). The Turkish version was originally serialized in Yedigun Weekly in 1937 as Maskeli Ruhlar (Souls with Masks) and published in Turkish in 1945 as Maske ye Ruh (Mask and Soul). The play still has not been staged in Turkey or elsewhere, a curious fact, to which Hulya Adak also draws attention ("An Epic for Peace xvii). (3)

I consider this play to be Edib's contribution to anti-war literature as a Turkish female intellectual and activist and see it demonstrating the reshaping of her ideas between the two World Wars. This essay provides a more complete portrayal of Edib who has been categorized as and reduced to a nationalist female novelist. There is no question that she was a fervent nationalist during Turkey's War of Independence (1919-22), which she considered an anti-imperialist struggle against the Allies. However, her views altered over time and from the various experiences of traveling, leading her to become a pacifist on the eve of the Second World War. There is enough evidence for this change in MOS, already clear in its serialized Turkish version in 1937. Another war Edib fought was against the ideas and ideologies within the military and intellectual circles of Turkey. Adak claims that MOS "brings forth Edib's pessimism about the second decade of the Kemalist revolution" (xvii). (4) This frustration, the consequence of what I refer to as her intellectual war, complicates Edib's pacifism as reflected in MOS. Through the actions and comments of several characters, Bay Timur being the major one, Edib criticizes the top-down structure of the reforms and the westernization processes that took place immediately after the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923. On the basis of Edib's other works, it is conceivable for her to be a nationalist and pacifist simultaneously with sometimes inevitable ambivalences, as in the case of Mahatma Gandhi, with whom Edib managed to see during her stay in India in 1935.

Moreover, by equating the character of Nasreddin Hoca, (5) the most durable Turkish folk philosopher and humorist, to Shakespeare, Edib constructs him in the play as a potential peacemaker without overbearing political statements, who at the same time combines the cultures of East and West. (6) Simultaneously, she introduces his tolerance and use of witty humor, widely known in Turkey, to an English-speaking audience. Hoca serves as a constructive figure to restore hope for peace in the play against the dark atmosphere in Europe at the time as well as in Edib's personal life, including her experiences with war and exile. …

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