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Alienation and Irrelevance in Naguib Mahfouz’s The Beggar

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1339
  • Category: Novel

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            The beggar is a post-revolutionary novel written by Naguib Mahfouz. The main theme of the novel is the inability to find meaning and purpose in one’s existence. Naguib Mahfouz shows this idea through the life of his main character, Omar, and the contrasting experiences of other characters in the book such as Othman and Mustafa. This paper aims to explore the concepts of alienation and irrelevance that are found in the novel’s storyline. Through a careful analysis of the events in The Beggar as well as of the undercurrents beneath these events, it is hoped that a clearer view of how feelings of alienation and irrelevance are created in the life of the socialist Omar.

             The main conflict created by Mahfouz is experienced by the main character. Omar experiences an inconsistency, a tension, with himself, with his life. The novel starts out by showing Omar consulting a doctor for a sickness that is not physical; he had become sick of life. It is here where the reader is first shown the possibility that the main character is having inconsistent emotions. A well-adapted individual would not ordinarily experience this type of sickness. The reader is prepared, at this point, to discover what kind of sickness this is and what this sickness means in terms of Omar’s lifestyle.

            The fact that Omar has completely stopped working as a lawyers shows that he feels his life has become irrelevant. He no longer finds pertinence in the occupation that he chose, the occupation that took him from his first two ideals in life: poetry and socialism. However, it might well be that this irrelevance is merely towards his job. It might be that the irrelevance does not spread on towards the other aspects of Omar’s life. However, as the reader continues to follow Omar’s life, it is clear that these feelings of irrelevance touch many other aspects of Omar’s individuality. In fact, it might be concluded that his irrelevance has encroached upon the entirety of his life and not just on some aspects of it.

            Examination of events that occur later on shows that Omar is indeed feeling irrelevance for more than just one aspect of his life, for more than just his job. Despite the fact that he is already married to Zeinab, a woman he met in his youth and who converted from Christianity to Islam in order to marry Omar, Omar has numerous affairs and exploits with other women. Zeinab, his wife, left her family in order to be with Omar. However, he disregards this upon the onset of his illness and pursues other women romantically, as with Margaret and Warda, but also in hopes simply of starting feelings of romance, as with his other women who even include prostitutes.

            This shows that Omar’s irrelevance is directed also towards his marriage and towards his wife. In fact, it can be said to be directed also towards the other women in his life. He does not feel the importance of his wife, or of the other women, in his life. Omar does not feel a sense of committed connection with them and thus he is able to treat them in that manner. His blatant disregard for his responsibilities to this women, as evidenced by his flitting from one to the next, shows that he considers them irrelevant.

            Another emotion introduced here is alienation. Omar is alienated from his wife. He becomes isolated from his marriage when he chooses to have an affair. This type of emotional alienation is not only felt by Omar but also by Zeinab. Both parties of the relationship feel like as though the previous emotions of love they once had for each other have gone cold. They can no longer find it in their marriage and as such they feel emotionally isolated from each other. A physical alienation also occurs in the couple’s relationship. When Omar moves out in order to live with his new lover, Warda, he becomes physically isolated from his wife, Zeinab. Thus the theme of alienation in the book becomes clear and concrete in more ways than one  Also, it is evident not only in the relationship of Omar and his wife but also of Omar with his life, in general.

            Another instance that shows the irrelevance and alienation that Omar feels throughout the course of the novel is when he is contrasted with Othman. Othman was once Omar’s comrade during the days when he was still a socialist radical. However, Othman finds that Omar has become distanced, alienated, from the ideals they once fought for together. It is hard to understand how Omar can so easily throw away ideals he once fought so strongly for. It is, however, made comprehensible when viewed with the knowledge that alienation and irrelevance have taken over Omar’s life. However, it may be the case that Omar’s illness has come about as a result of his leaving his political ideals. I t may be that walking away from his life as a socialist radical, not spending time in jail as Othman has, and not continuing the political fight have caused him to view the other aspects of his life as irrelevant and has caused him to feel an alienation towards everything.

            There are many things that give Omar temporary relief from the sickness he feels towards life. His initial romantic relations, experiencing a sunrise near the pyramids, and other such experiences give him a rest from the symptoms of his sickness. However, this relief is brief and almost never repeated. It may be the experience of this relief that pushes Omar to continually go on having affairs with many other women. However, it is clear that the answer is not in these activities because he is never completely cured from his sickness after engaging in such relationships and activities.

            Omar feels an alienation from and also an irrelevance for all things that occur in his life. This is why he is able to so easily throw away the different individuals and ideals that are part of it. This alienation and irrelevance are not made any more clear than in the instance when Omar decides to live a hermetic life in the countryside. His choosing to live alone in the countryside shows that his alienation from the world and from his previous life has become complete. He is now physically and emotionally alienated from everything that is a part of his life. This lends the impression that he considers everything to now be irrelevant. He is able to leave his life because nothing is pertinent to him anymore. The irrelevance of life is thusly now also made complete in Omar. The alienation and irrelevance at this point are not only aimed at those involved in Omar’s life but also towards himself as well as seen when he slips into a delirium.

            Perhaps it was the act of giving up on his political ideals that drove Omar to this sickness. His guilt was never recognized and the actions he took to answer the results of this guilt were not able to answer the true root of the problem. However, it may also be that political ideals had nothing to do with Omar’s illness towards life. It may be that he was simply spoiled by life. He had a good occupation, a good wife, in essence a good life. However, he may have wanted more and as a result, unrest and discontent grew. The illness may have simply been a result of having too much and still wanting more.

The reasons for the alienation and irrelevance found in Mahfouz’ novel can only be speculated upon. However, the fact that alienation and irrelevance were emotions and concepts that abounded in the novel is clear. The events introduced by Mahfouz into Omar’s life are concrete evidences that point to the theme of alienation and irrelevance.

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