Sadegh Hedayat is the leading Persian writer of the century. He was born in Teheran in 1903 and committed suicide in Paris in 1951. His masterpiece The Blind Owl was written in 1930, after he had already travelled widely in Europe and absorbed European literary influences. The Kafkaesque quality of his writing has often been commented on, perhaps because his heroes are typically solitary, anguished, afflicted by the nightmare of the world. In his short story Tomorrow, written in 1946, Hedayat returns again to this theme of the solitary, disinherited and in despair, but in a context which reflects in concrete detail the changing conditions of Persian life. After the forcible abdication of Reza Shah in 1941 a great political and cultural ferment broke out in Persia; much of this ferment sprang from the foundation of the Tudeh (Masses) Party and the consequent growth of class consciousness among the working class and the literary intelligentsia. Although Hedayat was in no sense at one with the Tudeh Party, he too was affected by the ferment. In Tomorrow the solitary becomes absorbed, willy-nilly, into the mass movement; Hedayat’s tendency towards solipsism—formalized in his ‘stream of consciousness’ technique—becomes absorbed into a wider naturalism. Tomorrow evokes not only the anguish of the worker but the harshness of his conditions of work; not only his personal desperation, but the aspirations of his class.
How bloody cold! Putting my coat over my knees made no difference at all. I might as well not have bothered. The wind was really sharp, out in the street. No worse than yesterday though. How does he draught get in? Is it the broken pane or the cracks round the door? The fumes from the paraffin stove used to be even worse. Abbas always grumbled: ‘This cold shrivels you up’. There he was, breaking up type by the window. Well, I don’t care. That’s all behind me now—the smoky workshop; Asgar resetting the type; the gummy ink sticking to your hands; the racket of the presses; the way the water rusted the tank when the scum on it stopped it from freezing; the backbiting, gossiping, poking fun; the kebabs at the Haq-Dust; the icy bed. I suppose it’ll always be with me. I’m glad to be rid of it though.
What keeps me from sleeping? Is it the moon shining on my face? I ought to stop tossing and turning all the time. I’m on edge. I’d better forget the whole lot, forget myself. Then I might get some sleep. What am I, anyway, before I
Now I’ve got it. The draught doesn’t come from the air outside—it’s from somewhere else: it’s from inside me. Fair enough. And yet when I feel cold, I still feel I’ve got to drag the whole weight of my body, all huddled up, right down the whole length of the street. Why? What for? To drag myself home? And what a home! I’ve got strong arms though. There’s warm blood running through my veins, underneath the skin, flowing into my finger-tips. I’m alive. The life I live here though, I might just as well live at the other end of the earth. How enormous the earth must be. It’s spectacular. And yet what chaos it’s in. There’s no need to go into that; it’s all in the papers. Even war’s a kind of game for them, like football. At least they get frightened though, and shocked. It’s a stagnant pool which smells bad.
What if I went to Saveh? So I wouldn’t have to support myself. Never! To visit my father and his wife! I don’t miss the old man. And they don’t want to see me. I wonder how many brothers and sisters they’ve produced for me. It’s sickening. Not because the old man married another wife while my mother was still alive. No. But his nose drips on to his moustache all the time. He’s got little button eyes, blinking away, under his bushy eye-brows. And why does he always stuff candies into his pocket like a little child? And then he eats them in secret, without offering them to anyone. I’m not like him in the least. With his repulsive mud house, all the angles askew and all the ceilings too low. What a ruckus: children and cows and sheep and chickens all milling about inside. And yet it doesn’t seem to stop him patting his stomach in that satisfies way. How he beats his peasants about! He’s shouting and screaming at people from dawn till dusk. The bread you eat there’s poison, not bread at all. No, my place isn’t there. In fact, it’s nowhere. My father’s got his property rights there; he’s sunk his roots there. It belongs to him. It’s his. Property’s important. It’s really important. He’s got his life and his memories. But I don’t have a thing. Not even memories. Memories belong to people with goods and ties, whose life has a value. People who can enjoy spring showers or love in the moonlight. People with memories of childhood. Personally, I’ve got the moonlight right in my eyes. It stops me getting to sleep. My memories slide off my shoulders and fall to the ground. Single and alone. What better? My father’s very welcome to his memories. I’ve got no call to remember my childhood. Last year, when I was ill and
After six years work, my hands are still empty. Day after day after day. It’s my fault. Four years I was working with my cousin, but it’s two years now since he went to Isfahan and I haven’t heard a sound from him. He was a hard worker, always on the job. It’s him I’m going to look for, to team up with him again. Who knows? I suppose I’m putting all my hope in him. If I just wanted to look for work, why not go to some other town? There are plenty of places where I have friends and relations. What a farce strength is! Sheer brawn! What a disgusting farce! Well, what I have decided, I have decided. All clear.
There are a few places in the world which are devoted to happiness and pleasure, but there are places of unhappiness and misery everywhere in it. There are special places which exist just for a few people’s pleasure. Last year I worked as a waiter at the Cafe Giti. All the customers were well off—rolling with fabulous drinks, comfortable beds, warm heating, pleasant memories. It looks as if it was all ear-marked for them. It’s all theirs anyway. Everywhere they go, it sticks to them. Even the next world is theirs—you have to have money to do good. As for us, if a single day goes by without work, we go to bed without having eaten. But if a single night goes by without their having amused themselves, they kick up hell!