Midaq Alley, by Naguib Mahfouz, is a narrative told from the third person omniscient point of view. Normally, this means that the reader gets to view the happenings of each of the character’s lives from the same vantage point as God. No one in particular is telling the story, and the reader sees the story from the view of an invisible person always present at the scene. Midaq Alley is decidedly different. Mahfouz creates an impartial character that is able to observe everything that happens in the novel. No, this character is not God, or even an invisible person; in Midaq Alley, this character is the alley itself.
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 Alley. Mahfouz goes on to write about the “stone-paved surface…, multicolored arabesques…, strong odors…, and the noises of daytime life” (Mahfouz 1). These sensory images allow the reader to almost step into the alley and experience all the aspects of it. The alley is as vibrant and real to the reader as any of the inhabitants.
Once we have met the alley itself, Mahfouz introduces us to the people who make it their home. Just as important characters in other novels do, the alley shapes and impacts the lives of other characters. There is Kirsha, the disgruntled café owner. Mahfouz says that Kirsha loved his son, “but the circumstances and atmosphere had never allowed him to show his love” (Mahfouz 116). The alley has greatly impacted Kirsha and has diminished his ability to show love for his child. To try and escape from his tough life, Kirsha uses hashish and has sex with young boys, as his marriage clearly leaves him unfulfilled. Kirsha is unsatisfied with his life in Midaq Alley, and this prevents him from showing his affection for his son and drives him towards immoral, criminal behavior. Mahfouz presents the alley as an inhibitor in Kirsha’s life that has driven him to disgraceful behavior.
No one is...