Differences in the Representation of the Saudi Culture and Religion in David Eggers’ Novel A Hologram For The King and Tom Tykwer’s Film Version Thesis Statement Sample


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Written by Dave Eggers and published in 2012, the novel A Hologram for the King tells the story of an American salesman, Alan Clay, who goes to Saudi Arabia on behalf of his company, Reliant, in a desperate attempt to sell an IT system to the king himself. Not only will this sale bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the company, and even more after king Abdullah’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade will raise (although it becomes obvious that it never will), but also, it will help Alan to get back to his feet and finance his daughter’s college education. Alan becomes frustrated with the poor conditions in the presentation tent where his team is supposed to present their product and with the king’s constant absence. Also, he is tormented by his own past and a lump on his back on which he blames for his poor state of mind, his lack of energy and focus. However, the trip to Saudi Arabia offers him the opportunity to meet Youssef, a driver with whom he develops a beautiful friendship, and Doctor Zahra Haken, who becomes his love interest.

Throughout the story, the themes of the death of the American dream, globalization and failure are developed by means of a melancholic tone. The flashbacks into Alan’s past allow readers to understand his motivations and background better. The failure of the American dream and globalization become an issue for Alan once his company is ruined after a poor decision to fabricate bikes in China, which offers the Chinese the know-how to produce the bikes themselves, at a much lower price. Confronted with debts and career insecurity, he needs to sell the house in order to pay for his daughter Kit’s college, but the house would not sell either. The story also provides an insight into the Saudi culture and way of life, but the issue is touched from Alan’s subjective and limited perspective, as a biased American who knew nothing about Saudi Arabia before coming to this country. He therefore is prone to commit mistakes, such as asking for alcohol at the hotel. Seen through his eyes, Saudi Arabia becomes an exotic and mysterious land that offers many promises but none of them actually comes true.

The film version of this story, released in 2016 and directed by Tom Tykwer is a classic Hollywood production which offers more satisfaction to the viewers in terms of a happy ending, but presents a much more stereotypical and limited view of Saudi Arabia. The focus of this analysis will be on answering the following research question: in what ways do the film and novel versions of A Hologram for the King misrepresent contemporary Saudi culture?

The film A Hologram for the King, starring Tom Hanks as Alan Clay, is only loosely based on the book and provides instead a Hollywood –style version of it, by focusing more on the commercial potential of the story, than on providing a fair representation of the Saudi culture. The filmmakers found it safer to present Saudi Arabia in a way that the audience already felt comfortable with as a cliché (Battersby). For this reason, from the first screen minutes, there are a few stereotypical images of Saudi Arabia, such as Alan sitting in a plane as the only man in a suit among Muslim pilgrims going to Mecca on pilgrimage and chanting a prayer, or a joke about a bomb in the car (“A Hologram”).

While the book also provides an Eurocentric view of Saudi Arabia, there are many differences in the way in which this country is represented in Eggers’s story. Thus, in the novel, there is much lower emphasis placed on cultural differences between the Muslim and the American societies, and a more profound critique of the economic realities that push Alan to come to this country. Even the utopian dream of the king regarding his Metropolis of Economy and Trade represents a metaphor regarding the future of American economy.

As compared to the film, in the novel, the lack of knowledge regarding the Saudi culture and religion is attributed to the main character, which is completely ignorant regarding this matter. In this respect, Galow shows that, when Alan flees a workers’ conflict on a construction site in the Metropolis, and reaches the furnished upper floor where he had a meeting, this incident “reveals the unconscious values that Alan brings from his upper-middle-class life in America” (Galow 176). However, Galow further argues that Eggers’s text does not endorse Alan’s perspective, but rather, it tries to reveal his mental processes (176). This is also shown in one scene of the book when Alan tries to imagine how he would make use of his connection to the king’s nephew, saying that “here, among the royals, he hoped that friendship had meaning” (Eggers 20). However, this passage shows that Alan did not have any cultural knowledge, which is essential in today’s business world. This aspect is completely missed in the film version, which internalizes this perspective and presents it to the viewers as an objective representation of Saudi life.

Therefore, there is a difference between the ways in which the novel and the film version present the Saudi culture and religion. As the paper will show, the misrepresentations of the Saudi culture and religion in Eggers’s novel are attributed to Alan’s own prejudice and misconceptions, that the text itself do not condone but the film presents a stereotypical view of Saudi Arabia that is presented as a realistic image of this country, thus joining a long line of Hollywood productions which are based on clichéd views of the Middle East.

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    Works Cited

  • A Hologram for the King. Dir. Tom Twinker. Perf. Tom Hanks. Lionsgate. 2016.
  • Battersby, Matilda. “A Hologram for the King: New Tom Hanks Film is Hollywood's Latest Stereotyped Vision of the Middle East”. The Independent. 2016. Web.
  • Eggers, Dave. A Hologram for the King. San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books. 2012. Print.
  • Galow, Timothy. Understanding Dave Eggers. University of South California.2014. Web.
5 September, 2023

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