Characters Round or Flat? Hud and Salih in Context

David Penchansky, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA IQSA International Conference 2021 “Giorgio La Pira” Library, Palermo, Italy
Panel 2. Characters, Narratives, and Strategies in the Qur’anic Text

E.M. Forster described two kinds of characters in stories, round and flat. A round character has complex and often contradictory motives, and is full of details. A flat character is motivated by a single desire or ideé fixe. (These categories were introduced to me in an article by Evan Kindley in The New York Review of Books.) At first glance, Hud and Salih, two of the Arabian prophets introduced in the Qur’an, seem flat. The stories follow one another in Surat Hud (verses 50–68) and are structurally almost identical. Hud warns the people of Ad against the worship of gods other than the one God. They spurn the warning and God destroys them but saves the prophet. God sends the prophet Salih to Thamud which results in a similar sequence of events. However, distinctive elements in each story suggest otherwise. For instance, in the first story, the people of Ad accuse Hud of possession by their gods. In the second story, Salih reveals “the she-camel of God” as a sign and a challenge to the people of Thamud. Two more quotes from Kindley give shape to my research interest: “Character [is the] container that gives shape to the materials it contains”, and “the load-bearing mechanisms for ideas that exceed them”. I propose to examine characterization techniques in the Sura 11 account of Hud and Salih.