From the beginning the reader is introduced to Midaq Alley. Immediately the reader learns that the alley “is one of the gems of times gone by and that it once shone forth like a flashing star in the history of Cairo” (Mahfouz 1). Also, the reader learns that “Midaq Alley lives in almost complete isolation from all surrounding activity…” (Mahfouz 1). Clearly the alley once used to be a bustling and important place but now is an isolated place stuck in times that have long passed. Through these descriptions, Mahfouz is introducing to the reader the main character of the novel, the alley. This detached and ancient alley will serve as the setting for almost the entire novel. All of the events described in the novel are from the vantage point of the alley.
Next Mahfouz introduces the physical aspects of the alley. “One of its sides consisted of a shop, a café, and a bakery, the other of another shop and an office. It ends abruptly, just as its ancient glory did, with two adjoining houses, each of three stories” (Mahfouz 1). Just as all authors do with any character, Mahfouz wants his reader to visualize Midaq...
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... different from a person, the alley attracts a certain group of people, like Uncle Kamil and Radwan Hussainy, while repulsing others, such as Kirsha and Hamida. Just as relationships between people grow and develop over time, the relationship between Abbas and the alley changed during the novel; he was content and at peace with his life in the alley, until his love for Hamida and some prodding from his friend Hussain showed him that there was more in the world than the Alley. Midaq Alley contributed a great deal to the development of Abbas and thrust him into a new life. Mahfouz brilliantly uses Midaq Alley as a catalyst in the lives of its inhabitants, making it a real and viable character that exerts influence and affects interactions among other characters throughout the novel.
Mahfouz, Naguib. Midaq Alley. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1966.
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