Midaq Alley

Midaq Alley Summary and Analysis of Chapters 29-35 (End)


Chapter 29

Despite having negotiated a profitable new deal, Salim Alwan remains obsessed with thoughts of his death. His doctor has assured him that his heart is fine, but only intense focus on business assuages his anxiety.

He frequently insults his neighbors and family, and is paranoid that his wife cursed him because she knew about his lust for Hamida. One day, he cruelly tells her he is going to find another wife, and she begs help from their children, who try to advise him but are repudiated in turn.

All the while, he remains concerned about Hamida, and often thinks of an incident that occurred soon after her disappearance. Sheikh Darwish was mumbling about her having left with a strange man, and Salim Alwan shouted at him in the street. The insult caused Sheikh Darwish to wail loudly, so loudly that everyone in the alley could hear him. Finally, Salim Alwan returned to the café and begged Sheikh Darwish's forgiveness.

Chapter 30

Hussain Kirsha visits Abbas, who is staying in Uncle Kamil's flat. Hussain confesses his recent poor fortune as they walk together, but Abbas thinks only of Hamida.

They arrive at a bar in the Jewish Quarter, and Hussain is surprised to learn that Abbas did not drink while in Tell el-Kabir. He convinces Abbas to join him, and Abbas is shocked by the depravity, particularly by a drunk 14-year old newspaper boy. However, Hussain eventually cajoles him into a few drinks, and the drunken Abbas begins to confess his own worry and anger over Hamida. Hussain also shares his fear that his wife is pregnant.

When they finally leave the bar, Abbas suggests they find another place to keep drinking.

Chapter 31

Hamida now looks like a woman who has always lived in luxury - her clothes are fancy, she is always made-up, and she has proven a fast learner at her lessons. Because of all this, she has become a favorite of the bordello patrons, and has made a lot of money.

However, Hamida remains restless, largely because she has been unable to conquer Ibrahim Faraj. The narrator explains how Faraj treats each new girl as he has treated Hamida, slowly tempering their expectations as they become more practiced at the trade. Hamida, however, has proven extremely difficult, both because of her innocence and singular pride. She is unsure whether she actually loves Faraj, or simply wants to have power over him. One day, her resentment over his fading attentions explodes into a rage when he refuses to marry her. He slaps her twice during their argument. Angry, she rushes from the house, dressed provocatively. She is standing on Sharif Street when she suddenly hears someone call her name, and turns to see Abbas.

Chapter 32

It turns out that Abbas and Hussain Kirsha, while searching for a bar, saw a carriage pass with a beautiful woman. Abbas recognized her and chased the carriage until Hamida climbed out.

Worried about a scene, Hamida leads Abbas into an alley so they can speak. She refuses to answer any of his questions, which drives Abbas into a fury. She suddenly realizes how she could use him to get revenge on Ibrahim Faraj: she will claim he has forced her into this life, in hopes that Abbas will confront and shame Faraj. As she exaggerates her misery at Faraj's hands, Abbas grows progressively more angry at him, finally threatening to kill him. Hamida tells Abbas where they will be on Sunday, and asks him to come there to confront her alleged oppressor.

Chapter 33

Radwan Hussainy prepares to depart on a hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every able Muslim is expected to make in his lifetime. On the day he leaves, many people gather to say goodbye. Hussainy gives a long speech about his love for life - both when it is good and bad - as well as about the afterlife. He explains that he accepted the tragedy of the loss of his children because "God's wisdom [is] greater than [Radwan Hussainy's] sorrow" (271). Because of this lesson, he sees pain as merely a test, and does not judge God for sending it his way.

He further explains that the alley's recent tragedies are what encouraged his decision to take the hajj. He is referring to the arrest of Zaita and Dr. Booshy, and the disappearance of Hamida. He worries he should have worked harder to prevent their failures, and now hopes to earn forgiveness by traveling to Mecca.

Before he leaves, Hussainy advises Abbas to return to Tell el-Kebir, and to leave the bad luck of his past behind. The inhabitants of Midaq Alley walk Radwan Hussainy to his carriage, and watch him depart.

Chapter 34

Uncle Kamil encourages Abbas to take Radwan Hussainy's advice, but Abbas is focused solely on revenge.

Later, Abbas finds Hussain Kirsha at Vita's Bar, and explains the truth to his old friend. When he confides his plan to murder Ibrahim Faraj on Sunday, Hussain tries to argue that Hamida is the true criminal, since she left willingly. Abbas ignores his pleas, so Hussain proposes that they simply assault Faraj, and continue to do so every week until he pays them to stop.

They decide to investigate the tavern where they will find Faraj on Sunday. When they arrive, they see Hamida through the window, flirtatiously entertaining a group of soldiers. Suddenly enraged, Abbas charges into the bar. When she lashes out at him, he throws an empty beer glass into her face, cutting her badly. The soldiers immediately pounce on Abbas, beating him mercilessly. He calls to Hussain for help, but his friend merely stands frozen in the corner.

Chapter 35

The next morning, Hussain Kirsha arrives at his father's café with news that Abbas has been beaten to death by British soldiers. Apparently, nobody was arrested and Hamida was taken somewhere for treatment. The news about both Abbas and Hamida quickly spreads throughout Midaq Alley. Uncle Kamil is devastated, while Salim Alwan is plunged deeper into his fear of death.

Even this tragedy soon subsides. Mrs. Saniya Afify clears out Dr. Booshy's flat, which then becomes home to a butcher and his large family. Umm Hamida renews contact with Hamida, who is on her way to physical recovery. Soon, it comes time for Radwan Hussainy to return from his pilgrimage, and Midaq Alley is filled with joy. The narrator suggests that time washes all away.


Radwan Hussainy's voice echoes throughout this section like that of a Greek Chorus, offering insight into the novel's themes and solidifying the theatrical nature of Mahfouz's storytelling. In classical Greek plays, a chorus provided commentary on dramatic action as it unfolded. Radwan Hussainy is the only character in Midaq Alley who has enough perspective to offer such commentary. Everyone else has an extremely myopic view of their surroundings and lives. After all, they live each day with themselves, balancing reality against their own hopes and dreams.

Radwan Hussainy, on the other hand, has separated himself from an ordinary life. He now lives away from ordinary pursuits, and dedicates most of his time to prayer. He seems to want nothing outside of serenity for himself and his neighbors. Before he leaves on his hajj, he explains how his tragedies have shaped him. Rather than convincing him that life is terrible, they have shown him that there are superior virtues to be found away from everyday life. We must go on with our daily existence, but always dedicate ourselves to greater ideas than the ebbs and flows of incessant tragedies and heartbreaks.

However, Radwan Hussainy is not really a protagonist in the traditional sense. He, too, has his faults and weaknesses, particularly concerning women. Not only does he mistreat his wife, but the resentment he feels when Mrs. Kirsha begs his assistance with her own troubles shows he is not as at peace with himself as he tries to be. Of course, this conforms to his basic lesson, which is that we should not focus on the difficulties and conflicts of our everyday lives. Every character has a serious flaw - Abbas his jealousy, Hamida her ambitions, Hussain his pride, and so on - but also has the potential to come to peace with those.

Readers will certainly notice that Naguib Mahfouz does not follow a traditional narrative structure in Midaq Alley. All of his characters follow a particular arc, but he does not significantly resolve these conflicts. This structure reinforces his basic idea - Midaq Alley has its own pulse, and persists outside of the confines of any particular story. He does not tell us how Ibrahim Farhat's campaign ends up, we never learn if Hussain's wife is pregnant, and we do not know how Hamida's life will turn out. In fact, he even introduces a new family in the very last chapter, that of the butcher. His vignettes, then, are not self-contained stories but rather are like glimpses into lives that persist no matter what comes their way. In this way, the novel is a microcosm both for an Egypt that was in transition and for life in general. Our triumphs and heartbreaks might fit well into stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, but these are not the sum total of our lives. Instead, our lives continue to ebb and flow no matter what comes. Time washes all away.

There is an element of tragedy in these final chapters, in the story of Hamida and Abbas. Hamida is punished for having wanted more than she should have, but it is clear that a person with her ambition and personality would always choose to have gone with Ibrahim Faraj. The real tragedy is that her poverty was too great an impediment to the life she wanted. Abbas, too, is a tragic figure, one who started the novel as a young, happy man, but who was defeated by a reality that held no place for his dreams.

Radwan Hussainy's speech offers some insight into these tragedies. He claims that God created everyone, and will decide to take them back whenever He sees fit. If Hamida and Abbas had seen their suffering in the way Radwan Hussainy sees his own, as a test of God rather than as a punishment, then perhaps they would have had a chance at simple happiness. However, they both act in impulsive and selfish ways, and they end up in a much worse position than where they started.

Another way to interpret their tragedies, however, is through a feminist lens. While Abbas is certainly a nice man, his attraction to Hamida always revealed a patriarchal mindset. The reader knows, because of the narrator's omniscience, that Hamida is a far stronger personality than he is, and yet she has far less agency in their relationship than he does, because she is a woman. The extent of Abbas's anger at her betrayal can certainly be explained by love, but it can also be explained by pride, that of a man who has been bested by someone less favored by society, a woman.

Hamida's dramatic reversal of fortune also reflects the gender limitation. At the beginning of the novel, she is a diamond in the rough, a young, beautiful orphan with her whole life ahead of her. Of course, she will only realize her potential if she can find a suitable match, which is difficult because of her low social station. Though she has feelings for Abbas, he would surely have caused her disappointment, since he could barely give her what she yearned for. Salim Alwan's proposal offered a glimpse of happiness, but his heart attack causes the death of her dream. Because he proposed, she realized she would not be happy with Abbas, and because of his heart attack, she was left without an option. All of these circumstances almost ensured that someone like Ibrahim Faraj would be successful.

Finally, Hamida's tragedy can be understood as one of materialist desire. It is useful to note that during the era in which Midaq Alley takes place, Egypt was under he rule of King Farouk I. Farouk, like Hamida, was obsessed with a glamorous lifestyle. In the early part of his reign, he enjoyed popularity. However, during World War II, civilians began to resent Farouk for his lavish lifestyle in the face of their poverty. Naguib Mahfouz has said that he does not shy away from politics in his literature, and considering his nationalist leanings and support for the Wafd party, it is quite possible that the character of Hamida is meant to present a criticism of Farouk. In 1936, 11 years before Naguib Mahfouz wrote Midaq Alley, King Farouk I signed a treaty with the British, which alienated the Wafd Party. The idea that a yearning for material gain could cause a sacrifice of greater ideals certainly resonates with Hamida's story.

Finally, Midaq Alley's final tragedy has significant political implications. 1942, five years before the novel was published, marked the downturn for Nazi Germany in World War II. Some historians believe that the First Battle of Alamein (which took place in Alexandria), created a major chink in Germany's armor by ending its campaign to secure North Africa. The British had been using Egypt as a base throughout World War II, and once the war ended, anti-British nationalism rose. The fight at the end of the novel, in which Abbas is beaten to death by British soldiers, certainly resonates with these feelings of nationalism. After all, the men who beat him to death are ostensibly his employers, and yet they are not punished. Because Abbas moved away from the simplicity of his singular life in Midaq Alley, he is at the mercy of callous and uncaring forces. In many ways, Mahfouz's novel argues that Egyptians should embrace their own culture and turn away from those that would seek to overtake it. Time might erase all, but it is better to suffer amongst one's own people than to seek momentary pleasure amongst others.