Let me start by saying The Tree of Misery is not a bildungsroman. It is a generational family romance, but it does have some aspects that are possibly influenced by the bildungsroman genre and its exploration of Hussein’s ideas about his ‘modernity’ are interesting and possibly useful for understanding his other works that use the bildungsroman structure to explore the same ideas.
Education is a primary concern in the novel, particularly among Khaled and his family, as is usual with a bildungsroman, and not surprising given Hussein’s position as dean of literature. Within each generation, the coming of age of the younger members, or their inability to do so, particularly with the women, is a primary concern. Though the men make all of the decisions, it is the women in the novel that bear the brunt of the ill effects.
‘Modernity’ is a primary concern in The Tree of Misery. The novel attempts to capture the transition as Egyptian society becomes modern, as it is experienced on the level of a single family. Economic transformation is depicted, but through the eyes of the family as their commercial businesses become less profitable, being out competed by larger businesses from the city. Religious authority becomes less important and more ‘worldly,’ and the younger generation is less willing to blindly accept the demands of older generations.
Click here for my Review of The Tree of Misery