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Mohammed Zeitoun Character Analysis

Zeitoun’s oldest brother, a competitive swimmer who was the fastest in Syria and one of the top swimmers in the world. He traveled everywhere and was fêted by kings and presidents, before tragically dying in a car accident when Zeitoun was a child. Zeitoun idolizes Mohammed and in many ways looks up to him still.

Mohammed Zeitoun Quotes in Zeitoun

The Zeitoun quotes below are all either spoken by Mohammed Zeitoun or refer to Mohammed Zeitoun. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Zeitoun published in 2010.
Part 2: Wednesday August 31 Quotes

Mohammed’s accomplishments implied—proved, really—that the Zeitouns were extraordinary. It was incumbent, thereafter, on each and every child to live up to that legacy.

Related Characters: Mohammed Zeitoun
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback, one of many that make up the narrative of Zeitoun's time spent in New Orleans, the book uses examples and stories from Zeitoun's past to help explain some of his motivations in the present. Mohammed's life and tragic death are never far from Zeitoun's mind. Having long idolized his brother, Zeitoun never believed he could equal Mohammed's achievements: but now that Mohammed is no longer alive, he feels that he needs to sustain his brother's legacy by doing something extraordinary himself.

The book thus paints Zeitoun's motivations as complex, though realistic. He is not shown to be an entirely selfless hero: like anyone else, he wants validation from his family and community, and seeks out ways to prove that he can live up to his brother's legacy. Of course, this is not mean to take away from the admirable nature of Zeitoun's actions in New Orleans after the hurricane. It is rather to stress the complicated set of desires, dreams, and memories that work to characterize each person's motivations and to help us understand why people act the way that they do.


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Part 4: Saturday September 17 Quotes

He had risked too much in the hopes that he might do something to match the deeds of his brother Mohammed. No, it had never been a conscious part of his motivation—he had done what he could in the drowned city because he was there, it needed to be done, and he could do it. But somewhere in his gut, was there not some hope that he, too, could bring pride to the family, as Mohammed had so many years ago? […] And was this imprisonment God’s way of curbing his pride, tempering his vainglorious dreams?

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun, Mohammed Zeitoun
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

Still trapped in his solitary cell, Zeitoun has the chance to return to his actions on the canoe after Katrina with a more honest, reflective eye. He recognizes that his motivations were not entirely selfless. Of course, he was motivated by a realization that there was a real need for people in the city to be rescued, and when he heard cries for help his first response was to go to their aid. But he also begins, now, to admit to himself that he wanted to live up to his brother's legacy, to do something that would be just as admirable in the eyes of his family and his community.

Now, Zeitoun continues to draw on his faith in order to understand and structure his response to his current situation. Having understood his time helping others as a kind of divine test, he now sees his unjust imprisonment as another kind of test, or even a kind of divine punishment. He wonders if his vain hopes for glory were destined to end in misery and indignity, if only so that God might show him the folly of such selfish dreams. At other moments, Zeitoun has been certain that the institutions involved are at fault for his imprisonment: now, he combines that view with another one that has more to do with his individual morality and relationship to his faith.

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Mohammed Zeitoun Character Timeline in Zeitoun

The timeline below shows where the character Mohammed Zeitoun appears in Zeitoun. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Friday August 26
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
...to work, still thinking of Jableh. His mother is no longer alive, and his brother Mohammed died young, but his other siblings are spread out through Syria, Spain, and Saudi Arabia,... (full context)
Part 2: Tuesday August 30
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
...that he hasn’t seen in years: he and his siblings are playing with their brother Mohammed, 18 years older, in the bedroom shared by the younger boys in Jableh. Abdulrahman’s five-year-old... (full context)
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Mohammed had often been away, racing in Greece and Italy and the U.S., and was featured... (full context)
Part 2: Wednesday August 31
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Zeitoun crawls back into the house to look again at the photo of his brother Mohammed. He also sees another picture, this one of Mohammed with the vice president of Lebanon,... (full context)
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
...be created between Arab states. One celebration was a 30-kilometer race between Jableh and Lattakia. Mohammed watched all the preparations and was part of the crew of one guide boat. Midway... (full context)
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
Another photo shows Mohammed’s first major victory in 1959, in Lebanon, when thousands cheered him. The next year he... (full context)
Part 2: Sunday September 4
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
...roof. Then Mahmoud, their father, discovered the hobby. He had been impatient and irritable since Mohammed’s death, and he said that this hobby was pointless and a waste of time. He... (full context)
Part 2: Tuesday September 6
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Crime, Justice, and Injustice Theme Icon
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
Islam and Islamophobia Theme Icon
...good works: the siblings have always been competitive, measuring themselves against each other and against Mohammed. Zeitoun feels that God has called him to do this, and he hopes his siblings... (full context)
Part 4: Saturday September 17
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Crime, Justice, and Injustice Theme Icon
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
...that an unconscious part of his motivations had been to live up to his brother Mohammed—but now he thinks he risked too much. He wonders if his imprisonment is God’s way... (full context)