Insight into god’s creations: Midaq Alley
The book Midaq alley by Naguib Mahfouz is composed of many symbolic ideas that represent the truth of middle eastern society. While digging deep into the words of Mahfouz himself, the reader is able to come to the conclusion that each character represents an important part of Egyptian culture, while also showing the need for modernization and growth within their society. Mahfouz was able to utilize symbolism to portray issues within gender roles, upward mobility, religion and marriage through his characters and cultural setting that allowed them to address a direct message to the reader without actually telling them.
Throughout the book, there is a variety of conflicts that takes place. The conflict is essential when it comes to symbolism because it adds the what may eventually be needed to perceive the covered message. The book displays the numerous types of struggles such as man vs. society because of the change in gender roles due to homosexuality. Another struggle presented in the story was man vs. self, there was a large amount of recurring problems. These included Hamida’s detachment from Abbas and also from her secure lifestyle to Abbas’s hesitant and indecisive character nevertheless Mrs. Kirshas’ search for a true companion.
The story all takes place in a very cultural time. The author explains about the Egyptian and Islamic Culture and how impactful it was due to the time period. Gender roles are a big part of this time, and specifically the role of women and the inequality they had to deal with. With everything going on such as World War II and the British trying to influence their culture. The story explores different political attitudes, Ibrahim Farahat and Kirsha. Ibrahim Farhat the politician promises to bring conditions back to the old Wafd ideas of 1919. Kirsha is pessimistic about change in a corrupted political world. Ibrahim Farahat: The merchant on Nahasin Street and runs for political office and hosts a campaign event near the alley. He is very stingy considering that he is a businessman.
Themes are relevant throughout each story. Many themes are presented in the book and the time being. Religion took a big part because of the situation the world was in as a whole, referring to World War II. There was also concepts developed because of marriage, jealousy, egyptian nationalism, gender roles, and sexuality. Upward mobility would also take apart of an important role because of the different social classes each of the main characters are on.
Symbolism; is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities, symbolic meaning attributed to natural objects or facts. The story use excessive amounts of indirect suggestions.
Naguib Mahfouz has wrote the character of Hamida as a symbol for Egypt. Hamida exemplifies her culture but yet turns against it. Hamida serves as an exceptional symbol of Egypt in this time period. She is ambitious, and refuses to be bound by tradition or by her lowly class. “You eat and drink my food but you are never grateful. Do you remember all that fuss you made about a dress?” Hamida asked in astonishment, “And is a dress something of no importance? What’s the point of living if one can’t have new clothes? Don’t you think it would be better for a girl to have been buried alive rather than have no nice clothes to make herself look pretty?” Her voice filled with sadness as she went on: “If only you had seen the factory girls! You should just see those Jewish girls who go to work. They all go about in nice clothes. Well, what is the point of life then if we can’t wear what we want?” (Mahfouz,27 ) Similarly, Egyptians were rebelling against the long-standing British rule.
Hamida was also a symbol for Beauty, Feminism, Power and Desire: “Hamida was in her twenties, of medium stature and with a slim figure. Her skin was bronze-colored and her face a little elongated, unmarked, and pretty. Her most remarkable features were her black, beautiful eyes, the pupils and whites of which contrasted in a most striking and attractive way. When, however, she set her delicate lips and narrowed her eyes, she could take on an appearance of strength and determination.” ( Mahfouz, 24)
Another symbol that stood out was the deeper meaning to the radio, it stood out as a sign of development. Storytelling is replaced by the radio at the cafe. “We know all the stories you tell by heart and we don’t need to run through them again. People today don’t want a poet. They keep asking me for a radio and there’s one over there being installed now. So go away and leave us alone and may God provide for you . . .” ( Mahfouz, 31) “The radio will never replace us.” ( Mahfouz, 6) ” 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.'” ( Mahfouz, 9)
Then the mirrors symbolize the duality and hypocritical ways of Midaq Alley. Before Abbas went and confronted Hamida, and asked for her hand in marriage. He “gazed critically at his reflection in the mirror.” (Mahfouz, 80) Abbas leads a double life. Abbas dresses up as one of the high societal beings and meets Hamida. He portrays himself as a high end of society in order to impress Hamida. However in reality he’s a poor barber who can barely afford the suit he is wearing. This represents a societal standing of duality. People show themselves to be something when in reality they’re really something different. This is called leading a double life or having a two faced life. Such actions in Midaq Alley aid in the characterization of certain characters from the novel. When it’s Hamida’s first morning as a prostitute: “she got out of bed and went to the dressing table, standing there in astonishment gazing at the mirrors surrounding it.” (Mahfouz, 224) Hamida, at this point in the story, has chosen to spend her days as a prostitute as opposed to her sheltered life in Midaq Alley. Hamida is torn between her two lives. She has an existing personality in her origins in Midaq and now she has a new identity, living in the city. The duality of her nature causes her destruction in the end. Through the symbolism of mirrors, Mahfouz clearly points out the problematic community that the characters dwell in. The characters are concerned with enhancing the reputation that is put out for them they eventually turn out to perishing in the end.
Finally, Husniya is ” fierce and strong, ” it aso reverses the common trope of domestic abuse. She beats her ” cowering ” husband. Hamida practices her power throughout every man that she attracted, however she refused to get pregnant and become servile knowing she deserved better. Mrs.Saniya Afify is self-sufficient although she complains about wanting a husband, he would only be used for companionship. As Egypt was throwing off the shackles of the British power, these women are upcoming from the gender roles that have stood for centuries with that day in age.
In conclusion, the reader can now understand what the author had to present with the indirect messages. The little symbols that were introduced, give the reader not only a better picture but a look at a bigger picture of which the truth behind middle eastern societies look like. When unscrambling the words the reader can clearly determine that each character represents an important part of Egyptian culture.
Mahfouz, Naguib. “Midaq Alley Chapters 1-5 Summary and Analysis.” GradeSaver: Getting You the Grade, www.gradesaver.com/midaq-alley/study-guide/summary-chapters-1-5.
“Midaq Alley Summary ; Study Guide.” BookRags, BookRags, www.bookrags.com/studyguide-midaq-alley/#gsc.tab=0.ooo