In the novel Fountain and Tomb by Naguib Mahfouz, the reader is thrown into a small alley in Cairo, Egypt in the 1920s. The narrator is an adult reliving his childhood through many random, interesting vignettes of his youth. We learn about many different aspects of Egyptian life from political rebellion, to arranged marriages, to religious devotion, to gang warfare. We are led to conclude that one of the major themes of the book is Truth. We come to question whether Truth is something that always needs to be known. Will the Truth ultimately do more harm than good? Is there ever a time when the Truth must be told? Are there times when it’s better for the Truth to never be known?
Truth is constantly sought out in Fountain and Tomb. Our young narrator is often like a detective, listening attentively to conversations, making keen observations of situations, and seeking out answers to questions he doesn’t know. “The day is lovely but redolent with mystery,” our narrator says, identifying all the unknowns in the world around him (Mahfouz, 15).
An issue which is mentioned throughout the story is the concept of “Ignorance is bliss”, which is an old cliche meaning what we don’t know can’t hurt us. While massaging his naked female neighbor’s body, the narrator is asked if he’s going to tell his mother. No, he answers. “So you even know that certain things are better left unsaid! You really are a devil” (Mahfouz, 13). The neighbor makes the obvious point that sometimes there are things that don’t have to be repeated, for the benefit of all the parties involved. Some might argue that the Truth will always come out, and by hiding it someone will end up being affected by it much more later on. But that is only if the information does get repeated. Knowledge doesn’t always have to be repeated, as was shown by our narrator and his neighbor. If the narrator had told his mother, would any of the parties benefit from this knowledge?
We learn of a case where finding out the truth was a devastating experience for one family. Hag Ali Khalafawy was rich because he had stolen another man’s money. When he was on his death bed he told his son of his thievery and asked that the fortune be returned to its rightful owners. The son didn’t believe it, and his father answered, “It’s the truth, no mo...
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...hers might say. He tells our narrator, “The most important thing in the world is knowing the truth.” He goes on to remark, “The whole truth and nothing but the truth” (Mahfouz, 69). In this story, the Truth had a positive affect on the character. It gave him a new sort of freedom. He had gained a new sense of identity because of his new knowledge, and this evoked a sense of happiness in him.
In conclusion, in Naguib Mafouz’s Fountain and Tomb, we are faced with a central theme of Truth. It can be reasoned that most of the time the Truth (or knowledge) isn’t always something that it is necessary to know. The Truth can bring about happiness, prosperity, or a positive affect, but that seems to happen much less frequently. Sometimes being ignorant of the Truth is better because it makes lives easier and happier. People don’t necessarily need to know everything (the whole Truth), because what they don’t know can’t really hurt them. Truth comes with excess baggage, and it sometimes leads to conflict, hurt feelings, alienation, or broken hearts. As the old saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” Fountain and Tomb does an excellent job of illustrating that cliche.