20th century themes in Midaq Alley
Cairo Egypt, as well as the rest of the world today, is going through fast changes quite often. In Midaq Alley, Naguib Mafhouz slows down the fast paced changes in Cairo during World War 2 by revealing the intimate lives of the Alley inhabitants. The roles that the characters are born into are no longer wanted by the younger generations due to the hopeful gains offered in the material world. By referring to and utilizing the four 20th century themes of, global interrelatedness, identity and difference, the rise of the mass of society, and technology versus nature while reading, the audience can better understand life in the Middle East. Midaq Alley helps make clear what the innermost workings and true spirits of Arab population and culture are, and how they face the same struggles as the rest of the world does. In order to understand how global interrelatedness is a vital subject in Midaq Alley, one must pay attention to what is occurring in the silent but transparent background of the story. Although there is no mention of exactly why the British Army is in Cairo during World War II, their presence directly affects the inhabitants of the Alley. The military is providing Egyptian natives many employment opportunities, and as a result, it has given them wealth and stability that they never thought was attainable. Amongst the somewhat fortunate people of the Alley that are employed are the love blinded Abbas Hilu and one of the Alley’s cleverest, Hussain Kirsha, son of the café owner Kirsha. Hussain’s, “daily wages were now thirty piasters compared to the three piasters in his first job” (Mafhouz 33). If it were not for British occupation, Hussain would not have been able to afford his unimaginable new life comforts such as fine dining, clothing, cabarets and women. Not only had British occupation affected the job market in Egypt, it had affected societal norms and conducts in Egypt. For instance, the girls, “from the Darasa district, who, taking advantage of wartime employment opportunities, ignored custom and tradition and now worked in public places” (Mafhouz 40). Hussain tells Abbas to work for the British Army and says, “It’s a gold mine that will never be exhausted!”(Mafhouz 36). Although comfortable in the alley and reluctant to leave, Abbas sets out to Tell el-Kebir in order to gain British employment and save enough money to provide for his loud and obnoxious fiancé Hamida. Unfortunately for Hussain, he is laid off, and ends up penniless due to his lack of frugality and his over indulgences. Hussain relied too heavily on British occupation and firmly believed the word of mouth on base that the, “war would never end and that Hitler would fight for decades and then eventually attack” (Mafhouz 212). Undoubtedly, the British had aroused the economy by providing many jobs and pumping money into local prostitution. More importantly, the audience can see that the war is nearing an end due to the job layoffs, and that military occupation is also coming to a halt which ultimately will lead to full freedom of the Egyptians under British occupation.
The personal struggles and shortcomings of the people in the Alley illustrate how religion, blatant disregard for it, and greed can be a source of many identity and differential difficulties. After Hussain lost his job and money he resorted to alcohol and denounced religion. His position on living is that, “life is more bitter than alcohol and its effects are far worse”(Mafhouz 249). Although Hussain’s, “foster sister,” is attracted to Abbas’ position in the Alley and his physical features, she is driven by her greed and lust for the finest things money can buy. Her greed is what eventually makes Abbas a distant memory to her and leads her into the arms of Ibrahim Faraj and almost into the arms of Samir Alwan, who also has some issues of his own. Samir Alwan oversteps class and marital boundaries by deciding to set up a marriage to Hamida...
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