Last updated: September 15, 2019
Topic: ArtBooks
Sample donated:

Midaq alley Midaq Alley by Naquib Mahfouz was written in the 1940s and is primarily highlighting the plight of the lower classes in Cairo, Egypt.  Through the use of his characters and their individual circumstances, Mahfouz depicts the sadness and tragedy in their lives.

  The book is about the division between the traditional world and the modern world as was very vivid in 1940’s in Egypt. It is also about the East-West dichotomy where aesthetics and material prosperity is juxtaposed with morality and poverty. The two worlds are simultaneously separate and interacting, the characters change with influence and exposure with the western culture, and the flashiness is very essence of the new change for material fulfillment.

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The entire story is based on a specific location, a narrow alley off of Sanadiqiya street in the old quarter of Cairo. There are two houses with three flats each and five shops selling different things. The books key characters include Hamida, an orphan who had been raised by a foster mother; Zaita, a man who disfigures people and forces them to beg; and Kirsha, a café owner who is also a drug addict and a homosexual.  The book primarily depicts the characteristic and social issues of an Arab society through these characters living in a slum neighborhood. Most of the people in this neighborhood are dying to be free from poverty.

In this book, Mahfouz has utilized clothing and fashion as one of the key elements to depict the social issues prevalent in this old quarter of Cairo. The novel’s central character Hamida presents a picture of a typical Egyptian woman dominated by men and yearning to be independent and free.  She is especially envious of Jewish girls who work in factories and wear nice clothes. Here Mahfouz depicts an Arab woman’s desire to be free and wanting to wear beautiful clothes. As Hamida says to her mother “If 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?”  Through the use of clothing, Mahfouz is not only depicting Hamida’s desire to wear nice clothes but the fact that Arab women are so confined that they do not even have the ability to choose what to wear.

Hamida becomes a prostitute primarily to fulfill her desire for money, clothes and independence. Her main customers were British and American soldiers during World War II.  Mahfouz again uses clothing and fashion to demonstrate how Hamida is corrupted by her pimp Ibrahim.  Ibrahim encourages her to wear nice clothes in order to be more attractive to his clients.  He also gives her a fashionable name “Titi” and advises Hamida to forget her old life and attire and adopt a new and glamorous look in order to be successful as a prostitute.  Mahfouz writes in his book as how Hamida realizes that Ibrahim basically considered her name and her old clothes something to be discarded and forgotten.There is also a character in the book that goes through plastic surgery to appear more attractive. Then there is Hamida who is willing to sell her body in order to acquire fashionable clothes and worldly things.

  There is the pimp who exploits women’s bodies by dressing them up and giving them a new name and new look.  Overall, this book depicts the pathetic lives of these poor people who will resort to anything and everything in order to escape from Midaq Alley. Niqab Mahfouz has used the character of Hamida to depict the suppressed status of women in the Arab world and her desire for freedom. In fact, most of his characters in Midaq Alley strongly convey a desire for freedom and that is what this author has always propagated. He wants to communicate a message of freedom from a dominant society. In other words, he is promoting the need for freedom in the context of society and family.Although from the story of the book and its characters there is very little politics the author insists that in all his books the readers would find politics.  In Midaq Alley, the author has used clothes and fashion to depict the poverty and the social deprivation of its characters.

  He uses clothes and fashion again to demonstrate how attaining these material things provide satisfaction to Hamida and to others.  The novel is very bleak but the message it conveys is very important and is especially significant in the context of women and the Arab society.;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;Work Cited;Mahfouz Naquib, “Midaq Alley”, (1947). Peter Smith Pub Inc. 2002;