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 more, no less” (Mahfouz, 96). This new knowledge (Truth) had suddenly turned the son’s world upside-down, and he was very upset. The story ends with the son supposedly helping his father pass away so he won’t be forced to return his fortune. This is a case where the father thought it was necessary for the Truth to come out, but where did it leave his family? So we wonder, is the Truth always the best thing to be told? Can it do more harm than good? In this case it did. Truth only brought about more pain, conflict, and trouble than if it had not been told.