“As for life’s tragedies, our love will defeat them. Love is the most effective cure. In the crevices of disasters, happiness lies like a diamond in a mind, so let us instill in ourselves the wisdom of love.”
― Naguib Mahfouz, Midaq Alley
Today I will discuss with you the whole Medaq Alley by Najib Mahfouz (1947). The novel tackles social conflict and deals with humanistic values. Mahfouz has successfully made the novel very vivid through a detailed description of characters and events. He was very clever with his choice of words that I actually heard noises of the alley when I was reading it.
The novel is set in an old alley named el Medaq in Cairo during the Second World War, it narrates the lives of several characters that live /work in that side street. These characters are somehow related to one another.
It is hard to tell who the main character in the novel is, but most critics settled on Abbas and Hamida because they are the most mentioned characters in the book.
♥♥♥This analysis is from a colonial perspective regarding Egypt’s economic/ political/ social status during the 1940s. ♥♥♥
So let us begin
Midaq Alley is the representation of the Egypt situation in the 1940s. It is situated in the heart of Cairo; as Mahfouz described it, the alley is a dead end street that is very small and shadowy. Actually, the author has made it clear that the sunlight never really hits the street except around midday. It is important to mention that most of the events that took place in this alley are when the sun is going down. Thus, one can say that the author’s tone is a depressed one. Perhaps the situation of Egypt at that time troubles him as an Egyptian and he transmitted his feelings through the description of the alley.
Furthermore, I believe that the shops located in this street are of great significance in highlighting Egypt’s condition. First the Basbousa shop (Basboussa is a traditional sweets cake). The author informs us that the owner of the of this shop uncle Kamil is always asleep which means there were no clients to buy the cakes he sells. The sweet cake is a representation of the delightfulness of life, and the fact that uncle Kamil’s business is dead illustrates the bitterness of Life of Egyptians in the 1940s. Moreover, in the street, there is a Company office run by the character Salim Alwan. The company, to me, represents Egypt’s economy for that it is the only commercial side in the alley. The economy of Egypt in the forties was not at its finest, in fact, it was very low. Similarly, the owner of this company Salim was sick in the novel and I believe this symbolically symbolizes the economy at that time.
Furthermore, the author describes the coffee shop owned by Kirsha as the only vivid place in the alley. In fact, he depicts it as the light of the street after the sun goes down. The coffee shop symbolizes the place of connection between people. It is the place where people gather together and chat after a tiring day. Perhaps it is the only energetic place in the street. Egypt in the colonial period was still holding the aspect of unity and solidarity despite the tension caused by the presence of the colonizer. I personally love the atmosphere of the coffee shop and I adored all of the charac
ters associated with it ( Radwan Hussainy, Kirsha, Sheikh Darwish, uncle Kamil’s ….etc)
Abbas / Hamida
As I have mentioned before Egypt was not just symbolized in the alley, in fact, Abbas and Hamida embodied the 1940s in many aspects. Hamida is the prettiest girl in the street. She’s so proud and always looking forward to getting out of Medaq alley. She desires to be rich and wealthy. Abbas, on the other hand, is the humble guy who loves the alley so much and he’s quite okay with his situation. Abbas loves Hamida and he wants her hand for marriage. In order for him to marry her, he goes to work outside the city to raise money for the wedding. Hamida on the other hand, cannot decide if she really wants him as a husband or not and that’s because he is poor. While Abbas is gone, Hamida meets a pimp who convinces her to be a w****. The wealthy life of a prostitute seduces her into actually becoming one. After Abbas figures out the path that she has chosen, he decides to take revenge and kill her pimp who was responsible for seducing her after all. The scene of Abbas’ attempt to revenge is the most powerful scene in the whole novel. It is indeed very tragic because when Abbas was headed to the location where Hamida’s pimp is, he found her drinking and dancing with the English soldiers. In this particular scene, I felt Abbas mixed emotions of love, anger, and betrayal. At that moment he realized she was the one to blame for being a prostitute. Sadly, when he was trying to get Hamida out from the British soldiers’ hands he got killed ……
I honestly felt so sad while reading this passage and also so amazed by the amazing metaphor implemented in this scene.
I believe that Abbas and Hamida are both representatives of Egypt. While Abbas present the ambitious side of the Egyptian youth in the forties, Hamida symbolizes the pretty side of Egypt. Hamida to me is the riches of Egypt and the exploited wealth of the country. In effect, in the novel, she is used by the British, but I believe her position indicates more than just being a prostitute. The poor young man, Abbas, was killed by the British while trying to save his lover Hamida. Surely, this what colonialism do, it eliminates everyone who tries to take back what once was his
This scene is highly symbolic and illustrative. Probably, the most moving scene in the book
Appropriation and Mimicry
It is true that these concepts are associated with the postcolonial theory; however, they can fit this colonial work. First, appropriation is manifested in the character if sheik Darwish. Apparently, he was a former teacher of English and he always tries to insert English vocabularies in his utterances. This character in particular shows how the British culture is influencing the Egyptians. Mimicry, on the other hand, is shown in Hussein’s clothes; Mahfouz depicts the clothes of each character and he shows how the way Hussein dresses differently from other characters.
I genuinely enjoyed reading this classic; it was the kind of a book that pushes me to think and analyze characters and events beyond their contextual frame. hence I learned a lot about Egyptian history and the Egyptian culture. as a matter of fact, this was my first nook ever for Najib Mahfouz and certainly not the last.