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Is It Possible To Sympathise With Hamida's Character In Midaq Alley?

1704 words - 7 pages

‘[They] took the whore for first-aid treatment’ are the character Hussain Kirha’s last words about Hamida, which depicts the dismissiveness and aversion by which several of the novel’s characters view Hamida at the novel’s end. One therefore asks: Is this how Mahfouz wants his readers to view Hamida at the novel’s end? Despite the greedy ambition that characterises the pretty alley girl who resents the restricted life that her Midaq Alley environment has to offer her, this essay seeks to show that although Mahfouz offers an off-putting representation of Hamida, it is still possible that she deserves our sympathy as much as our disapproval.

In Chapter 5 we witness Hamida’ s daily ...view middle of the document...

During Hamida’s promenade, she encounters the prosperous factory girls from the Darasa district. She ‘gazed searchingly at their faces’ and ’joined their laughter with a false sincerity, all the while envy nibbling at her.’ The verb ‘gazed’ and the adverb ‘searchingly’ convey the sense of an almost innocent and desperate fascination that Hamida feels for these factory girls. The oxymoron ‘false sincerity’ signifies Hamida’s contrived display of laughter in attempt to appear as happy as the factory girls are. However, the latter point is an untruthful reflection of Hamida’s inner-struggle of innate dissatisfaction, which actually prevents her from feeling pleased with her own life. Mahfouz personifies Hamida’s ‘envy’, where the verb ‘nibbling’ is metaphorically suggestive of how envy is taking ‘small bites out of’ Hamida, indicating the persistent nature of Hamida’s resentful longing for a better life and even suggesting that envy seems to be sucking the life out of Hamida. Consequently, it becomes possible to sympathise with Hamida’s perpetual sense of struggle and distress.

In Chapter 10, Mahfouz demonstrates Hamida’s sceptical attitude towards Abbas, the man who wishes to marry her. As Abbas walks to Azhar Street to find Hamida, Mahfouz reveals that Abbas’s love for Hamida consisted of ‘hungry passion’ and that he ‘longed to feel the warmth of her body and experience the magical, mysterious intoxication of her eyes.’ The adjective ‘hungry’ denotes Abbas’s almost animalistic desire to win Hamida over. The prosody of the sentence mentioned above is suggestive of Abbas’s sensual yearning for Hamida, particularly evident through the slow-moving sound of the initial ‘m’ consonance of ‘magical’ and ‘mysterious’. Abbas’s sensual intentions are also candidly foregrounded by his desire to feel ‘the warmth of her body’ as Mahfouz’s language here conveys the sense of sexual intimacy. Therefore, it could be suggested that Hamida partially represents a sexual object to Abbas, so we come to understand her initial intolerance and dismissiveness of him.

Hamida’s coldness towards Abbas is justified by the fact that ‘she was aware of the great gulf between this humble young man and her own greedy ambitions, which could ignite her natural aggressiveness and turn it into uncontrollable savagery and violence.’ The alliteration of ‘great’ and ‘gulf’ heightens the sense of the distance between the reality of Abbas’ situation and the fulfilment of Hamida’s dreams. The ‘savagery’ and ‘violence’ that such a thought could ‘ignite’ in Hamida suggests that her behaviour of primitive animosity arises from her instinctual desire to protect her ambitions from anyone who may hinder their fulfilment.

It is only when Abbas reveals to Hamida that he intends to join the army to make money that Hamida’s opportunistic nature emerges. She saw ‘a gleam of light in the darkness surrounding her, the gleam of glistening gold’. The contrasting images of darkness and...

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