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Time in Mahfouz’s “Half a Day” and Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” Essay

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Updated: Aug 15th, 2020


In Kant’s Critique of Reason, the philosopher described time as an element derived from the mental framework (Heidegger 82). Additionally, he argued that the element defines the experiences of any rational agent. Time represents different concepts, including instant, intervals, dates, and durations. In the story, half a day, by Naguib Mahfouz, the author narrates the changes that occur on his first day in school. Additionally, the painting, persistence of memory, by Salvador Dali, depicts an isolated scene with melting clocks. The review focuses on the representation of time in the two literary works.

Half a Day

In Mahfouz’s story, a young boy, who also serves as the narrator, complains about being taken to school (3). He considers the decision a form of punishment and pleads with his father to reconsider. However, his father assures him that schools are institutions of knowledge that foster human development. The narrator describes the beautiful green streets with different crops, including pears and date palms.

Additionally, he describes his experiences at the new schools and the relationships with teachers. However, when the first day was over, the boy went to the gate expecting to find his father, but he was not there. In fact, he noticed that the streets had changed, and he could not trace his way home. The streets were filled with cars, and at one time, a boy offered to help the narrator cross the street. The narrator received one of his most astonishing revelations about his age when the young boy called him a “grandpa”.

The short story illustrates the uncertainties of time in the mind of the narrator. When he was being taken to school, his father insisted that the school was supposed to “make useful men out of boys”. Symbolically, the narrator was supposed to experience change after going to school. The narrator shows a transition from a traditional to a modern setting. In fact, the narrator describes the changes as chaotic and destructive. In the morning, the narrator explains that the streets were clear and beautiful with plants and fruits, but the scenario is different in the evening. The passage of time brings many changes to society. Additionally, the author shows that life is very short. The narrator changes from a boy to an elderly man in one day.

Time is relative to the changes that occur (Heidegger, 9). In one day, the narrator manages to interact with hundreds of children in a new environment. The boy claims that he fell in love with many girls on his first day. This claim shows that the day, as explained by the narrator, is a representation of time, rather than the hours that pass from morning to evening. The time, in this case, does not represent an instant, but rather a duration. It is a transformation phase for the boy and society. While the boy acquires knowledge and social skills, society experiences new transportation technologies and environmental degradation.

Persistence of Memory

Dali’s painting comprises a remote setting without plants and animals. In fact, the scene is similar to the edge of a desert or a beach. However, the most significant drawings are melting clocks. The concept represents a dream and the passage of time. According to Shabi, dreams are collections of unrelated things, objects, and people in unrelated scenes (par. 6). The clocks in the painting represent the passage of time as people sleep. Dreams occur when people sleep. Additionally, humans do not have control over their dreams. They are mental illusions that portray unrelated things in a scene.

The melting clocks can be literary interpreted as useless. In the painting, they are included to demonstrate that they are powerless in a dream. Time passes very fast as people sleep. In fact, dreams eliminate the effectiveness of time because people do not have control over them. Dali shows that the human concepts of time change in the dream state. Time is essential when analysed against relative scenes. However, when the time is taken as an abstract element, it loses its meaning and function in human lives. Additionally, the element of time decays and brings along significant changes into the human society.

The painting has a dried-up tree that has a clock melting on one of the branches. The scene can also be a representation of time that has led to the drying up of the tree. In fact, the clocks could also represent the duration the scene has taken to dry up. The clocks are gadgets of calculating and displaying the time. However, the gadgets are also susceptible to damage and wear (Shabi, par. 3). However, the damages occur after prolonged exposure to unfavourable environments.

The scene represents a desert, which is characterised by dry and hot climates. Additionally, the scene does not have any living thing, which could have altered the conditions of the scene. The weather exposes the clocks to extreme conditions that melt the plastic materials. The element of time is symbolically used to show the changes that can be experienced after a given period.


The two mediums demonstrate the uncertainty and relative aspects of time. Whereas the story shows significant changes that occur after a single day, the painting demonstrates the powerless nature of time in human dreams. Additionally, the scene focuses on four melting clocks that show how nature affects objects after continued exposure. Additionally, the melting clocks literary represent the effects of time to damages and wear. They show how plants dry up after duration of time. The story provides a comparison between the age of a boy in the morning and the evening. Additionally, it shows how the streets transform from empty and quite beautiful lawns to chaotic and dirty pavements.

The school day that is narrated by the boy is used symbolically to portray the duration of the study. In fact, the changes that occur in the neighbourhood are so significant to occur within the lifetime of the narrator. In fact, the magnitude of change makes him believe that they occurred very fast in duration comparable to a single day. The time spent at school also brings numerous experiences to the narrator. He attends music classes, fall in love with multiple girls and makes many friends.

He considers the experience amazing. Additionally, the narrator observed that the transformations created confusion and chaos because he could not manage to cross the street because there were very many cars, and the path to his home was completely changed. Time is an element that helps humans to perceive daily experiences and compare achievements and failures.

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. The Concept of Time: The First Draft of Being and Time. London, United Kingdom: A&C Black, 2011. Print.

Mahfouz, Naguib. “Half a day.” Something to declare: Selections from International Literature (1994): 3-6. Print.

Shabi, K. . 2013. Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "Time in Mahfouz's "Half a Day" and Dali's "Persistence of Memory"." August 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/time-in-mahfouzs-half-a-day-and-dalis-persistence-of-memory/.


IvyPanda. "Time in Mahfouz's "Half a Day" and Dali's "Persistence of Memory"." August 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/time-in-mahfouzs-half-a-day-and-dalis-persistence-of-memory/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Time in Mahfouz's "Half a Day" and Dali's "Persistence of Memory"." August 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/time-in-mahfouzs-half-a-day-and-dalis-persistence-of-memory/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Time in Mahfouz's "Half a Day" and Dali's "Persistence of Memory"'. 15 August.

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