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Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz Essay

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Updated: Sep 4th, 2021

The tragedy of life in our “liberated” society is not that freedom is denied us but that we don’t know how to deal with it (Hashmi, n.d.), Rather than accept what is our natural birthright, we defer to external authority and seek out distractions in order to avoid the responsibilities implicit in the exercise of free will. As a consequence, our lives are largely wasted in meaningless pursuits that enable us to exchange freedom for a lifetime of dependency—whether monetary, moral, or psychic. We live by proxy on the fringe of a man-made reality, deluding ourselves in the notion that our mission in life is to measure up to its standards. To a society that has forfeited the joys and challenges of romantic courtship for “recreational sex” as a youthful pastime, the idea that life can be enriched by exposure to the history, philosophy, and art of human culture no longer seems meaningful. It is ironic that by disavowing the source of Freedom we are losing our passion for life as well as our authenticity as free individuals (Hasmi, n.d.)

Of all the people in the neighborhood who are yearning for an escape from tradition and the poverty that seems to be its permanent handmaiden, none stands out more than the young and beautiful Hamida who is the novel’s central character. A beautiful, well built, brown-skinned and an orphan who is raised by a foster mother and who is slowly drawn into a life of prostitution. She never perceived genuine love between the residents of the filth-laden alley. She knows only of the existence of lust. A potent unfulfilled lust informs her dreams and empowers her fantasies. She wants to be rich, to have beautiful expensive clothes, to own many jewels; her husband, she believes, should be a means to providing these avaricious ends. ”Hamida is beautiful, vain, utterly self-centered, and driven by the need for material wealth” (Hashmi, n.d.)

In this story, Hamida portrays not as fallen woman, but rather as modern woman who have been exposed to new options and values and who have rebelled against traditional social expectations. She is forging a different future during a period of transition. Her existentialist choice was her lustful acts born from her ambitions. Women have the right to choose whom to love and especially whom not to love. Hamida’s agreement to marry Abbas made her to believe that it might be a ticket out of her mother’s household.

In her treatment of freedom, Hamida’s existentialist’s traits seem to imply that the human being is free to do whatever she pleases. The human being’s freedom is not only curtailed by the objective reality she confronts but also by her own limitations and inclinations. She is, to a large extent, the outcome of her own situation. Her being in the world is something she had no choice over. The human being’s freedom is based upon her political freedom; this is certainly linked to her social status and class origin. The extent of the openness of futurity for the human being lies in her present position and the objective reality the human being confronts. Hamida make no effort to avoid value judgments. The life of every man, whether she explicitly recognizes it or not, is marked by irreparable losses. Hamida cannot help aspiring toward the goods of this world, nor can he help aspiring toward the serene detachment from the things of this world which the traditional philosopher sought; but it is not within his power to achieve either of these ambitions, or having achieved them to find therein the satisfaction she had anticipated.

A human is a being that experiences life with respect to all these areas, and works throughout there lives to create the best life they can. The human searches for, and completely defines his beliefs. I believe in the existential idea of existence proceeding essence. “….first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards defines himself.” Hamida too in spite of her limited experience in life, she was aware of the great gulf between this humble young man and her own greedy ambitions which could ignite her natural aggressiveness and turn it into uncontrollable savagery and violence coldly calculating brain. Abbas departs Midaq Alley to join other local residents as modern-day equivalents of camp followers of the medieval past, who made livings sharpening swords, cutting hair or slaking the lust of soldiers.

Hamida accepted this change and everything else that goes with it: “She realized that he considered her name, like her old clothes, as something to be discarded and forgotten.” The pimp has even provided an English teacher for his whores, even though the best place to learn the language is on the job. In their treatment of freedom, existentialists seem to imply that the human being is free to do whatever he pleases. This is surely not the case; the human being’s freedom is not only curtailed by the objective reality he confronts but also by his own limitations and inclinations. He is, to a large extent, the outcome of his own situation. His being in the world is something he had no choice over. Sartre argues that the freedom not to be free is not freedom. But only rarely in the world does the human being chosen the negative course of non-being through suicide.

The human being’s freedom is based upon his political freedom; this is certainly linked to his social status and class origin. The existentialists fail to attach importance to the objective conditions that determine the human being’s state of being. They only draw the picture of the human being’s subjective attitude toward freedom. The extent of the openness of futurity for the human being lies in his present position and the

objective reality the human being confronts. Hamida desperately tries to escape her cage, claiming that “everyone in this alley is half dead;” however, she is met with a similar fate when she emerges into the outside world, entrapped into a prison of prostitution. Her “yearning for power centered on her love for money” and she pays the ultimate price with her dignity in “the streets of illicit love.” The essence of love was not manifested because the greed for lusts and the drooling

Radwan Hussainy is pious Muslim and regarded by the residents of as a religious scholar; he is often called upon to settle their disputes and to intercede in times of trouble. Radwan Hussainy is a Job-like character: He has lost all of his children to death, and his faith grows stronger through suffering. Radwan Hussainy is unsparingly tolerant of everyone else, but he is cruel and controlling of his faithful and subservient wife (Hashm, 2006). The role of Hussainy in the lives of the residents of Midaq is to help person who turns to them accept and affirm his/her distorted existence while conforming to accept normal. He firmly trusted God’s divine providence that brought him bountiful graces.

“He gave and He has taken back; all things are at His command and all things belong to Him. It would be blasphemous to sorrow” (Hashmi, n.d.). It therefore should not surprise us that Radwan Hussainy ignores His wife sorrow and her sufferings.

Mrs. Saniyya Afify is a wealthy and miserly widow who owns the second residence of the alley. She rents out the first floor to Dr. Booshy and the second floor to Umm Hamida and Hamida. A woman nearly fifty years old, she is driven inexplicably to remarry and prefers young men. This is very healthful, I am sorry (I did not receive.).

References

Hashmi, G. (n.d.). An Introduction to Naguib Mahfouz and Midaq Alley. Web.

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