A man in search of Zaabalawi who is believed to be a healer is featured in this story. The author, Naguib uses several techniques of literature to explore the use of symbolism in his story. Through technique, we will find out that the search of Zaabalawi in the story is actually the search of peace within our souls. In order to achieve the theme of symbolism, the author has used figurative language in the text including symbolism and irony.
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According to the phrase, “Finally I became convinced that I had to find Sheikh Zaabalawi,” (Mahfouz, 1) the intentions of the first person are revealed. The young man is in search of cure of his long time illness. In the beginning of the story, the son asks his father about the existence of Zaabalawi, from my point of view this is an allusion.
The conversation between father and son went on with more reference to Zaabalawi in the quest to provide symbolism in the story. The father tells his son (Mahfouz, 6), “May his blessing be bestowed on you, he is a remover of all trouble and worries, if it were not for him, I would have died miserably.” In this case, symbolism has been used in the sense that the father found inner peace which has enabled him to be alive and the same can happen when one finds inner peace.
Throughout the city, the protagonist, who is the son, finds places that are characterized with hopelessness and desperation except two places, which is an observation he made when he visited the inner city.
He writes, “I went to Birgawi residence situated in a thickly populated quarter. I found out that time had eaten into the building that nothing was left of it to save antiquated faade and a courtyard in which, despite it being supposedly in charge of a caretaker, was being used a rubbish dumb” (Mahfouz, 23).
At the end of his statement above, the protagonist uses a simile and personification that are “rubbish dump” and “time eating up the building” respectively. Symbolism is used in this scene because the protagonist visited the Birgawi residence, a symbol that he is found in places of despair and ruin.
Because he was overwhelmed by what he was searching, he gives in to despair which he communicates ironically in the following manner, “while others openly made fun of him, labeled him a charlatan, and advised me to put myself in the hands of a doctor as though I had not done so” (Mahfouz, 26). Due to the events that were unfolding in the story, this statement is ironical. The people telling him to see a physician were not seriously meaning it.
Further allusion to Zaabalawi is brought when the protagonist is involved in a conversation with an artist. Interaction with the musician brings out use of symbolism in the story which is seen from the following statement about Zaabalawi: “It was easy enough with him in the old days when his practice of abode was known. Today, though, the world has changed and after having enjoyed a position attained only by potentates, he is now pursued by the police on a charge of false pretences.
It is therefore not an easy matter reaching him, but have patience and be sure that you will do so” (Mahfouz 75). This is symbolic because it implies the change in times, unlike the old times when people searched for inner peace, people of his time live in a world of despair without searching inner peace. Further symbolism is seen from the musician statement that, “Do not give in to defeat,” implying that for one to find inner peace, it is a difficult task.
The protagonist search is due to lack of awareness which becomes a symbol of an individual’s search for inner peace. The story is ironical because all along, Zaabalawi has been inside him waiting for him to realize.
Mahfouz, Naguib. “Zaabalawi” in The Time and the Place: And Other Short Stories Cairo: The Cairo Triology, 1992.