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Of all Naguib Mahfouz's works, his novel Children of the Alley (Awlad Haratina) has remained his most controversial book since its first publication in Al-Ahram in the autumn of 1959 and almost cost its author his life. Like all major works of art, Children of the Alley is a polysemic, multilayered piece that cannot be exhausted by one reading alone.
The history of the alley, like the history of the prophets, is cyclical: a chosen one enters a world of debauchery, gathers followers in order to save them from a life ruled by vicious gangsters, and triumphs over unjust authority to create a race of chosen people. Time passes, the village slips back to corruption, the chosen people lose touch with spiritual leaders, and a new chosen one emerges to redeem another group of followers from the grip of the state authority. Eventually we end up with three groups of self-proclaimed chosen people in constant conflict with one another, until the false magician Arafa shows up to plunge the world into the spiritual void that is our
The first section tells the story of Adham and can be paralleled to the story of Genesis in the Bible. It opens with the description of the fear-evoking patriarch Gebelawi, who in Mahfouz’s words represents “a certain idea of God that men have made”. Gebelawi’s first son Idrees rebels against him and kindles his wrath by insulting his pride. Gebelawi banishes him from the house and remains resolute when Idrees prowls around the house begging for forgiveness. In order to avenge his punishment, Idrees provokes his younger brother Adham to betray his father’s trust by sneaking into his private chamber. When Adham is caught red-handed and banished from the house with his wife, Idrees wallows in joy. Unlike Idrees, Adham remains
Some of his companions emulate his way of life. Despite the suffering of his people in the hands of oppressive rulers he does not interfere. Gebelawi retreats to him house and isolates himself. One night in the desert he hears the strange voice of Gebelawi in the dark calling him his "beloved son" and urging him to act through his inner strength to save his people. mercy and compassion. but with his blessings Adham’s children spread around the valley.loyal to his father and finally receives his blessings after his elder son kills his younger son. In the end he is betrayed by his own friends and murdered by his opponents. he remains the symbol of justice and order. Like his predecessors. . Ruling over them to the end of his life. Kassem encounters Gebelawi's servant who has come to tell him that Gebelawi is aware of his plight. loving and merciful carpenter. he feels strongly for his oppressed people in the clutches of brutal rulers. Rifaa embraces spiritual values and denounces material wealth. and his people manage to retrieve their share from the chiefs forcibly. Once night Gebelawi appears to him to urge him to fight against oppression. During a period of meditation in the desert. People plunge into poverty. Gebelawi does not allow him back to the house. The third section tells the story of Rifaa. The second section tells the story of Gebel. filthy and hopelessness. Seeing the longprevailing injustice Gebel rises up to deliver his people justice and freedom. a snakecharmer. refraining from marriage and denouncing material wealth. a man of honor and courage. The fourth section tells the story of Kassem. Gebel proves to be a shrewd and staunch leader. a compassionate. virtue and wisdom.
and he is portrayed as a magician who strives day and night to produce an explosive that can be used as a weapon against the ruler In unsuccessful endeavor. but. Kassem's revolution is undermined and nullified by his successors in office. . in the fifth section emerges a new prophet. whose name is Arafa. which leads to waves of grief and rage throughout the alley. as is the case with Gebel and Rifaa.He strives to establish an era of mercy through the power of the sword. the scientist. he inadvertently causes the death of the illustrious forefather. Finally.