Beneath My Mother’s Feet Summary

Amjed Qamar

Beneath My Mother’s Feet

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Beneath My Mother’s Feet Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar.

The young adult novel Beneath My Mother’s Feet by first-time author Amjed Qamar was published in 2008. A coming of age story about a young teenager growing up in modern-day Karachi, Pakistan, the novel paints a sometimes grim picture of what life is like for women in a deeply oppressive patriarchal society. Although the story ostensibly traces the protagonist’s search for a way to break free from the cycle of obeisance to some degree, the small window of opportunity open to her and the limits placed on her options demonstrate the stifling nature of this culture. Some readers find the book’s relentlessly bleak depiction of all men over the age of ten unnerving – but it is clearly the novel’s point that when there are no expectations for men’s behavior except that they are superior to women, many will end up domineering and tyrannical.

Fourteen-year-old Nazia has grown up in a typical lower-middle-class family in a poorer district of Karachi. Several generations back, her family lived in the Defense – a gated, wealthy part of the city – but were forced to move after their financial situation worsened. Now, Nazia goes to an all-girls school, where she is a good student and is gently teased for her goody-two-shoes ways. Her father is a construction worker and her mother is a housewife who makes a little money through sewing.

The family is deeply patriarchal. Nazia’s days are spent preparing for her eventual arranged marriage, taking care of her younger siblings, and watching her mother try to keep the household running while obeying the whims of her father and her older brother.

The situation is hard, but sustainable, until one day her father comes home from the worksite with a broken leg. The injury turns the family upside down. Without her father’s income, they will run out of money to buy food very quickly. At first, kind neighbors help tide the family over by sharing what food they have. Soon, it is clear that Nazia’s father is happy to remain injured, unemployed, and thus free to do whatever he wants. Disgusted by his irresponsibility, the neighbors abandon the family to its fate.

In order to cope, Nazia’s mother decides to take Nazia out of school so they can work as maids in the wealthy part of town, in houses that are more luxurious than Nazia could ever imagine. This work must be done in secret because if anyone ever knew that Nazia had been a maid, she would be unable to marry well – this kind of work is considered degrading and unsuitable. At first, Nazia believes that as soon as her father sees what she has been reduced to, he will do something to intervene – but he doesn’t care. Quickly, she learns that the men in her life are cavalier and unreliable.

To make a bad situation even worse, Nazia’s shiftless older brother steals her dowry – the money that has been scrupulously collected over years to ensure that she will be able to get married (which is really the only way for a woman to be financially provided for in a culture this deeply patriarchal and oppressive). When Nazia’s mother complains about this to Nazia’s father, he reacts with anger at being bothered, lashing out at both women with violence. He now has no interest in doing anything other than drinking and gambling.

The women realize that all responsibility for the family now lies on their shoulders. One possible solution for them might lie in a marriage proposal Nazia receives from Salman, her well-to-do cousin. On the one hand, he is willing to marry her without a dowry. On the other hand, being married to him would mean a life even more completely ruled by a man than the one she is leading now.

As Nazia struggles to figure out the right thing to do, she meets Sherzad, a young servant boy who works in one of the houses that Nazia is cleaning. Although the master of the house treats him terribly – sometimes abusively – the boy is unwilling to buckle and give up the hope of a better life. Inspired by him, our protagonist realizes that she must find a creative solution to her own situation, and possibly help her new friend in some way.

In a stroke of luck, Nazia’s old teacher, Ms. Haroon, offers the teenager the chance to stay with her and possibly train to eventually become a teacher herself. Leaving behind her mother and the rest of her family, Nazia takes Ms. Haroon up on her offer, rejecting Salman’s proposal. As she is planning her own departure, she helps Sherzad run away from his master’s house. The novel ends on a hopeful note, as both Nazia and Sherzad consider their possible new futures.