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Arabic Novel “Midaq Alley” by Naguib Mahfouz Essay

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Female characters in the Midaq Alley and the master narrative of nationalism

Most of the women in Midaq Alley support the community life, the way it is in the traditional setting. Nationalism is the preference of one’s country, its norms and culture over those of other places. Apart from Hamida, most women do not show discontent with the life they lead, and their national values. Husniya, the baker’s wife, works routinely with his lazy husband at their bakery by repeatedly disciplining him. She considers it her duty to be with him no matter what he does.

Mrs. Afify loves the place that provides her with peace to keep her money. Only her loneliness feels uncomfortable with her. Umm Hamida fits in the society of the Alley quite easily. She engages men and women who want to get married. For most women, Midaq Alley is a good place for their daily businesses.

One of the women who uphold national values is Mrs. Kirsha. It is shown by her respect for her husband. Kirsha operates a café where he spends his time until midnight. He again spends time with his peers from midnight until dawn (Mahfouz 38). Mrs. Kirsha complains, but not publicly. She considers it her duty not to break her marriage, as she is required by the community values. When her husband grows fond of a boy for sexual reasons, she seeks help from Radwan Hussainy before exposing her husband to the public. The procedure she follows abides by the standards of her society. First, she confronts her husband, then she seeks help from one of the elders, and lastly, she publicly exposes her husband’s guilt. She undergoes all these procedures to keep her family values unchanged.

Mrs. Kirsha values Midaq Alley. It is seen when she speaks with her son who wants to leave Midaq Alley for a foreign land. Hussain Kirsha, his son, despises Midaq Alley. She regards it as madness, or that the devil has deceived her son (Mahfouz 59). According to Mrs. Kirsha, Midaq Alley is a peaceful place to live. Her son should not despise the place where he was born and raised. Her husband shares the same view too.

On the other hand, Hamida is a girl who despises Midaq Alley for its low standards of living. She exclaims that all people in Midaq Alley are half-dead, except for Hussain Kirsha (Mahfouz 15). She despises the simple routine she wakes up to every day. Most women consider that she is unfeminine because she dislikes children. It is confirmed by her conversation with Ibrahim Faraj that she hates the idea of repeatedly getting pregnant (Mahfouz 101).

She wants to be married by a wealthy man, someone likely to drive her away from the Alley. Her feelings about the Alley are different from the perception of most grown-up women. Most women would not mind being married to a simple man who will live in the Alley for the rest of their lives. The narrator describes that “anyone could tell that her yearning for power was centred on her love for money” (Mahfouz 22). Hamida has a strong longing for items that cannot be found in the Alley. She wants fine clothes, and to lead lives similar to those led by the British. Women in the Alley hated her because of her lust for money. It was different from what a majority of women were longing to get.

Mahfouz use of Sheikh Darwish’s character

Mahfouz uses Sheikh Darwish to give the impression of an old saying that says that there is nothing new under the sun, or that history repeats itself. Most of the instances that Sheikh Darwish comments he appears to tell people that what has happened are not new to the world. They have happened in other places as well.

Mahfouz gives his intention of using the character to refer to incidences in history, repeating themselves in our daily lives. Darwish mumbled, “The poet has gone, and the radio has come. This is the way of God in His creation. Long ago, it was told in_tarikh, _ which in English means ‘history and it is spelt…” (Mahfouz 7). In this part, Mahfouz may appear to tell the reader the intention of what he is going to use the character. He uses the character to tell the reader that what has occurred, once happened in the past.

Darwish’s sentiments on love are part of history too. He claims that “Oh, Madam, love is worth millions, I have spent, madam, for love of you, a hundred pounds, but this is just a paltry sum!” (Mahfouz 29). His comments on love appear to draw attention on what people have done for love through history, and until today it has not changed. When Radwan Hussainy takes off for pilgrimage, he seems to plead with him to speak to God to weaken the effect of love on humanity.

He also appears to affirm his sentiments on love at the death of Abbas that until one dies for love, love has not committed to anything. He comments, “there’s no good in any love without death” (Mahfouz 145). It appears as if he thinks that death is a confirmation of true love’s existence. Mahfouz tries to say that the deepest intensity of love results in death. It is historical, but it still occurs in the modern world.

Mahfouz uses Darwish to tell the reader that homosexuality is not new to the world. It has a name, which confirms its existence. When referring to Kirsha’s scandal, Darwish claims that “It’s an old evil. In English they call it ‘homosexuality’ and it is spelt h-o-m-o-s-e-x-u-a-l-i-t-y. But it is not loved.” (Mahfouz 54). Mahfouz creates the claim that homosexuality may appear strange in Midaq Alley, but it is not new to the world. It may be ridiculed, but it still exists.

Another aspect that may be developed from Mahfouz’s use of Darwish is that strange things happen in the land of those who speak English. He may appear to create an appeal that issues like homosexuality that do not have a name in Madiq Alley are well known in English. He appears to claim that strange behaviours that may happen in the Alley have been copied from the British, or foreigners.

Mahfouz may confirm his intent on the use of Darwish when he speaks to the politician. Ibrahim Farhat, the politician, asks for prayers or blessings, but Darwish claims, “May the devil take you” (Mahfouz 80). It may strengthen the impression of distrust given to politicians. Mahfouz tries to criticize politics indirectly, which matches Darwish’s impression that politicians are evil.

In his entire use of Darwish, Mahfouz tends to indicate two things. One is the foreign origin of moral decay, and the other is the repetition of historical events in a new age.

The impact of the novel on cultural fiction, standardizing the language, removal of mutual incomprehensibility, and mimicking the structure of a nation

Mahfouz has objectified and mimicked the Muslim community using the novel concerning their faith and their way of life. One of the strongest points he brings out is the mentioning of God and the prophet in almost everything that people do, including good and evil. For example, Uum Hamida and Mrs. Afify smoke cigarettes, but they are not ashamed to mention God in their conversation when their faith forbids.

Kirsha knows well that the Islamic faith forbids homosexuality, but he recommends that Gods will clear it out in His own way. It is the same perception that Hamida gives to Abbas that it is by God’s will that she ended up a prostitute. Mahfouz appears to critique how people are filled with talks of God in their mouths but doing exactly the opposite of what their faith requires. He mimics faith by not using the actual name of the Prophet to avoid offending Muslims.

The novel standardizes language, encourages literacy, and the removal of mutual misunderstanding through the lives of its characters. Sheikh Darwish has been used to encourage literacy. He constantly spells the words he says in English because most of the people he speaks to have no knowledge of the foreign language. When Abbas returns from the British camp, he claims that Darwish will not be the only person that understands English. He makes it feel like an achievement to learn a foreign language.

Mahfouz uses Radwan Hussainy to remove of mutual incomprehensibility. Radwan Hussainy gives the kind of perception that a man of faith is supposed to have. His behaviour is exemplary. His calmness and happiness are remarkable, even after the loss of his children, and his quest for higher education. The novel tends to show that missing higher education is a great loss, at least to some people. Hussainy gives mutual understanding to the society by his explanations of life situations, and how he tries to solve disputes amicably.

Mahfouz has effectively portrayed the life cycle of Arab culture. The novel gives a picture of the simple life that the Arab community once lived. They lived peacefully, wishing each other well in the name of God and the Prophet. Everyone minded what another was doing, and wished to help those who were in need. Midaq Alley was constantly affected by rumours, which both men and women engaged in spreading.

The novel indicates that everyone gave a special contribution to society. There was a baker, a barber, a dentist, a matchmaker, landlady and landlord, and others who give their unique contribution to their simple lives. Radwan Hussainy expressed his kindness and grace as much as God had provided him. Mahfouz creates cohesion of the simple lives of the Arab culture. They lacked electricity, but they were rarely affected by world war.

The novel gives the impression that conflict started to affect the Arab culture as individuals yielded to envy. Hamida continuously longs to be married to a wealthy man and elopes with Ibrahim Faraj because he looks wealthy. He ends up being recruited as a prostitute. Abbas in his envy of Hussainy and the modern world signs up with the British Army so that he could buy Hamida what the rich buy for their wives. Hamida’s impatience causes both of them to lose the better part of their lives. Hamida claims, “Money might be a dead tongue in other places, but in Midaq Alley, it was very much alive language” (Mahfouz 82). Mahfouz shows how the imaginary Arab culture has been corrupted by foreigners and the local people’s lust for money.

Works Cited

Mahfouz, Naguib n.d., Midaq Alley. 2014. Web.

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IvyPanda. "Arabic Novel "Midaq Alley" by Naguib Mahfouz." February 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/arabic-novel-midaq-alley-by-naguib-mahfouz/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Arabic Novel "Midaq Alley" by Naguib Mahfouz." February 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/arabic-novel-midaq-alley-by-naguib-mahfouz/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Arabic Novel "Midaq Alley" by Naguib Mahfouz'. 28 February.

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