My World of the Unknown is a short story that is part of Alifa Rifaat’s larger collection of short stories, Distant View of a Minaret. The collection Distant View of a Minaret was published in 1983. Nearly all of her works in this collection discuss the issues of female sexuality and its suppression, the pressures and control of culture, and death. Set in rural Egypt, she also takes on the topic of loss of culture in this area, though her female characters, usually the protagonists, were faithful to their religion, Islam, and their fate in their patriarchal society.
Alifa Rifaat is actually her pen name, as she was born Fatimah Rifaat. She lived in Egypt her entire life, practicing the Islamic traditions and culture. In an Islamic society, the women are protected and ruled by her husband or by her oldest brother, depending on if she is married or widowed; this theme is oftentimes reflected in her writing as well. Alifa herself entered an arranged marriage at her parents’ request, and was not able to attend college as she was soon widowed and left to raise her three children. Because of the controversial and sexual nature of her writing, she adopted her pen name Alifa Rifaat to avoid any dishonor that may have cast onto her and her family.
In My World of the Unknown, the narrator is a woman who is married but doesn’t have a very intimate relationship with her husband. She sees a snake and falls in love with it at first sight. When she tells her husband about this snake, however, he boards up the crack to prevent it from coming back. It is common knowledge that the serpent is a symbol as well as a biblical allusion to the snake that tricked Eve who convinced Adam into eating the fruit from the Forbidden Tree. However, this snake is actually a female spirit, said to be a blessing but actually seduces the narrator in a way that isn’t demonic. The snake is something that helps Rifaat’s story convey its theme of the sexual connection that is important in a successful relationship.