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Middle Eastern Literature

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The novel ‘Midaq Alley’, written by Mahfouz, introduces the reader with Arabic culture. The story has a very special plot following several characters that all live together in the teeming back street in Cairo. The setting brings the reader to the times of the World War II, the time of British Army stationing in Cairo. Midaq Alley is considered as a poor side street, which has a few houses and shops. There are about two dozens of characters that are centered in the novel.

The major themes that are noticed through the novel are marriage, religion, jealousy and gender roles. Other thought-provoking themes that appear in the novel are Egyptian nationalism and wartime opportunities. For example, the notion of marriage in the novel is transactional; moreover, it is expected to get married, especially for a woman, because that is the only way to make her future secured. One of the reasons for that is Hamida’s bouncing between so many engagements and affections.

The way Mahfouz presents religious aspect makes no doubt that he had a religious upbringing. It is noticeable how explicitly the author describes his Islamic characters, such as Sheikh Darwish and Radwan Hussainy. It is also interesting to observe the way each character is forced to balance his/her ethical decisions against the Islam Code and how it helps to understand such aspects of society as the place women that are hold in the alley.

The notion of jealousy seems to be present in every character. On one hand, it can be a reflection of economic difficulties of those times. On the other hand, it seems like it is Mahfouz’s tool that demonstrates universal quality speaking from the inside of the author’s soul to the whole humanity.

Considering the gender roles in the novel, one can think of the British influence on Egypt. However, on the example of Hamida we can see that women still have beauty as their primary asset. Thus, many characters are being contemptuous of those females who have power.

The proof of their beauty is Abbas’s feelings that he is “now marveled at the strength of love, its power and its strange magic. He thought it right that God had created mankind capable of love and then left the task of developing life to the fertility of love” (Mahfouz 37). The aforementioned quote represents Abbas’s purity of heart and his idealistic thoughts about his potential union with Hamida. However, he considers Midaq Alley deficient; thus he imagines their future that is full of simple pleasures and love.
The readers start feeling the atmosphere of Arabic culture from the first sentences of the novel. For most people, this culture is associated with going to these countries as a tourist and visiting the cafés or restaurants. Thus, the author brings the reader to the café named Kircha’s, where he is able to feel the atmosphere of decorations of that café, where “its walls decorated with multicolored arabesques… give off strong odors from the medicine of olden times, smells… now become the spices and folk cures of today and tomorrow” (Mahfouz 1).

The usage of corresponding synonyms makes the reader not only see the surroundings, but also feel the scent of the air of those times. It is noticeable from the very beginning that Mahfouz is fond of the place he describes as he calls it ‘relic’ and ‘precious’ one. He is imposed it upon the places like this alley, which is completely isolated from all of the surroundings and, at the same time, has its own world. Thus, using various literary means Mahfouz brings us to his time, his culture and his surroundings he personally prefers.

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