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Family, Community, and Home Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Zeitoun, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon

Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the protagonist of Zeitoun, has found community in a number of places: in his family, in New Orleans, in the Muslim community, and in his continued ties to his Syrian relatives in Jableh, where he grew up. These community ties are all portrayed as coexisting, rather than mutually exclusive, showing that identity can be complex and changeable rather than monolithic. Zeitoun clearly takes pride in the community he has developed as an immigrant to New Orleans, where he worked his way up from being a seaman to running his own construction company. The trust that his neighbors put in him is one reason he wants to stay in the city when Hurricane Katrina hits, and to take responsibility for his various properties. He also feels a certain responsibility for New Orleans, which has become his home. This then influences his decision to paddle around after the storm in his second-hand canoe, helping victims wherever he finds them.

The book also shows Zeitoun’s motivations as more complex than those of a do-gooder alone. Through flashbacks of his childhood in Syria and the early death of his brother (a nationally ranked and acclaimed swimmer), we see how family and community give Zeitoun a reason to want glory and validation for himself—even while he also genuinely believes in what he is doing. Both Zeitoun and his wife Kathy feel alternately hopeful about and betrayed by the community they have created for themselves. On the one hand, everything they have done seems not to matter once Zeitoun is thrown into prison without being charged for anything. On the other, Kathy is able to use the numerous contacts that they’ve developed through their years in New Orleans to get her husband out months earlier than his friends. By the end of the book, the couple’s belief in the ties of community and home are shaken—they are far more vulnerable and mistrustful than before the storm—but they continue to rebuild the physical and emotional bonds that they had developed in earlier years as they attempt to recreate this community. Still, Katrina has undeniably challenged the sense of home that they had worked hard to construct.

Family, Community, and Home ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family, Community, and Home appears in each chapter of Zeitoun. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Family, Community, and Home Quotes in Zeitoun

Below you will find the important quotes in Zeitoun related to the theme of Family, Community, and Home.
Part 1: Friday August 26 Quotes

The banter they’d developed, full of his exasperation and her one-liners, was entertaining to everyone who overheard it. It was unavoidable, too, given how often they talked. Neither of them could operate their home, their company, their lives or days without the other.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun, Kathy Zeitoun
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

As we are introduced to the Zeitouns, we come quickly to understand that their lives are inextricably bound both in the obvious ways - they are a married couple - but also in the details of their day-to-day lives. After all, they are not only husband and wife but also business partners, not to mention co-parents. Kathy's first impulse when anything seems like it may go wrong is to pick up the phone and call her husband: one of these moments is what prompts Eggers to try to explain their relationship. He does not claim that it is a perfect one - indeed, he suggests that they are mutually exasperating as much as they act lovingly towards each other - but he does underline how much the relationship is one of mutual dependence and reliance. 


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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.

Part 2: Tuesday September 6 Quotes

But Zeitoun felt again that perhaps this was his calling, that God had waited to put him here and now to test him in this way. And so he hoped, as silly as it seemed, that his siblings might see him like this, on the water, a sailor again, being useful, serving God.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

Zeitoun has just been interviewed by a local reporter and asked about what he's been doing while in the city. Now he admits that he hopes one of his siblings will see the news broadcast and be impressed by what they see. They will realize, he hopes, that Mohammed is not the only one in the family who has completed admirable feats. Zeitoun's naturally competitive nature is evident once again here. Some of his motivations for helping others are indeed related to the social networks in which he takes part, and by which he hopes to prove himself. 

But Zeitoun also considers his task in New Orleans to be one of proving himself not only for his neighbors and family, but also for God. Zeitoun considers divine tests, such as those to be found in the Qur'an or Old Testament, to be central to his faith, and he sees this experience as something sent by God for him to fulfill and thus prove himself worthy enough. 

Part 3: Saturday September 17 Quotes

She had married a bullheaded man, a sometimes ridiculously stubborn man. He could be exasperating in his sense of destiny. […] But then again, she thought, it gave their marriage a certain epic scope.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun, Kathy Zeitoun
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

Kathy is remembering one particularly exaggerated example of Zeitoun's stubbornness, when he had suggested at the beach that they stroll towards a far-away rock, even when the walk ends up taking hours and becomes far more strenuous than either of them had thought. For Kathy, this anecdote is emblematic of Zeitoun's character in general. When he decides what he wants to do, nothing and no one can get in his way. Kathy tends to grow anxious over her family's safety, and yet she realizes that if Zeitoun wants to stay in New Orleans, there is no way she can stop him.

In some ways, Kathy finds this aspect of Zeitoun's nature incredibly maddening. For her it threatens to wear at the close-knit family life she has worked so hard to develop, the stability that was foreign to her for so long. Yet at the same time, Kathy admires Zeitoun's "bullheaded" character, which ensures that life around him is never boring or banal. Her frustration mingles and coexists with her admiration for this man who she feels so inextricably tied to.

Part 4: Saturday September 17 Quotes

He had long believed that the police acted in the best interests of the citizens they served. That the military was accountable, reasonable, and was kept in check by concentric circles of regulations, laws, common sense, common decency. But now those hopes could be put to rest.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

Confined for 23 hours a day to his cell, with nothing to do but think, Zeitoun muses painfully on the subject of his imprisonment and what it implies for his view of American society and the American government. Earlier, Zeitoun's attitude towards prejudiced citizens was described as one of a "disappointed parent," who believed their intentions were good, their values real and true, if only covered by a veneer of weakness or fear. Now he is beginning to question such a basic assumption, given that he has witnessed cruelty that seems to play nonchalantly, even gleefully, with injustice. He can no longer expect that Americans are mostly good deep down, nor can he even expect that their uglier sides will be "kept in check" by community values and common sense, much less by laws and statutes. He is beginning to feel that there is a disease at the very heart of the institutions of his adopted country, from the police to the military, if such institutions have allowed a case like his to go on.

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.

Part 4: Tuesday September 27 Quotes

Kathy fell apart. She wailed and screamed. Somehow this, knowing that her husband was so close but that these layers of bureaucracy and incompetence were keeping her from him—it was too much. She cried out of frustration and rage. She felt like she was watching a baby drown, unable to do anything to save it.

Related Characters: Kathy Zeitoun
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

Kathy has finally gotten incredibly close to knowing where her husband is and being able to contact him, or even track him down and see him. Now she knows that a court hearing will take place, but no one will give her the information about it, saying that it's "privileged information," even though she's Zeitoun's wife. Until now, Kathy has been anxious and upset, but has maintained her cool enough to do all that she can to find her husband. Now she breaks down. While Zeitoun is on the inside of the bureaucratic nightmare, she is attempting to break through it from the outside, and is coming up against just as many examples of incompetence and frustrating irrationality as Zeitoun has experienced. Kathy has fought to persevere through not knowing if her husband was alive or dead, but now this is almost worse, since she knows he is alive but cannot reach him - for no reason of her own.

Part 4: Thursday September 29 Quotes

They held each other for a long moment. She could feel his shoulder blades, his ribs. His neck seemed so thin and fragile, his arms skeletal. She pulled back, and his eyes were the same—green, long-lashed, touched with honey—but they were tired, defeated. She had never seen this in him. He had been broken.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun, Kathy Zeitoun
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally, Zeitoun is released and he and Kathy are reunited. But what was supposed to be an occasion for great joy and relief becomes instead, for Kathy, one of enormous disillusionment and sadness. As she embraces him, she sees the physical reminders of what he has been through. Not only is he thin and unhealthy-looking, but the very look in his eyes is different, defeated and exhausted. This both upsets and frightens Kathy. She has not been able to talk to Zeitoun and does not know in any detail what he has been through: she can only see the effects.

Like the natural tragedy of Katrina, the human-scale violence done to Zeitoun thus also creates material traces. However, these traces cannot speak to the full extent of what Zeitoun went through. Until now, Zeitoun and Kathy have shared almost every detail of their lives together, calling each other several times a day through their roles as husband and wife in addition to business partners. Now a gap has widened between Kathy and Zeitoun, one that she cannot see how she'll be able to bridge.

Part 5: Fall 2008 Quotes

The Zeitouns have lived in seven apartments and houses since the storm. Their Dublin Street office was leveled and is now a parking lot. The house on Dart is still unfinished. They are tired.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun, Kathy Zeitoun
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final section of the book, Eggers takes stock of the Zeitoun family's experiences in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Zeitoun's hellish arrest and imprisonment may be over, but the aftershocks of that experience continue to affect the family. In part, these difficulties are shared by many other families in the years after Katrina. The Zeitouns lost their home and office, and now, years afterward, they still do not have a completed, ready place to call home.

In addition, of course, the difficulty of the Zeitouns in settling back into regular life is compounded by the isolation they feel in coming to terms with the prejudice and bureaucratic incompetence of the official response to Katrina. Their exhaustion stems not just from their material uncertainty, as they are forced to move around continually without settling down, but also from the emotional aftermath of the weeks following the storm.

As he drives through the city during the day and dreams of it at night, his mind vaults into glorious reveries—he envisions this city and this country not just as it was, but better, far better. It can be.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun
Page Number: 325
Explanation and Analysis:

Zeitoun is proud of having restored over a hundred homes with his company in the years after Katrina. This passage, following a number of more sobering details about the struggles of the Zeitouns in the time following Hurricane Katrina, seeks to end the book on a more optimistic note. Indeed, Zeitoun's attitude here is portrayed as more positive, thanks to the success he's been able to regain in his professional life. For him, his job is more than a way to pay the bills: it is symbolic of his desire to change his community for the better.

Rebuilding New Orleans is of course a matter of physical, material reconstruction, but it is also, according to Zeitoun, a chance for the community to reimagine what it would like to be and how it might change. There is a chance, he thinks, that people may become more inclusive, and that if he just perseveres long enough, he will see this changes happen. Zeitoun thus remains committed to his country and smaller communities even despite the unfairness of what he went through, refusing to entirely lose hope that transformation is possible.