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“The Happy Man” by Naguib Mahfouz

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Naguib Mahfouz started writing when he was seventeen years old and is now respected throughout Arabic writing. Such as novels “The Children of Gebelawi (1959), Small Talk on the Nile (1966), and Miramar (1967). He often uses allegory and symbolism in his stories to address concerns. Mahfouz won the Noble Prize for literature in 1988. (Born Cairo, Egypt 1911)

Plot Summary

“The Happy Man” is a about a man who wakes up one morning and finds himself “inconceivably happy”. He has no idea why or how this happened and is shocked because of how he usually feels when he wakes up in the mornings. “This was distinctly peculiar when compared with the state he was usually in when he woke up” (pg. 235) He finds himself talking to people he generally never talks to such as his servant “Uncle” Bashir. He then finds himself talking to his worst rival who he has constant conflicts with. He addresses and talks to him though as if they were best friends. “Good Morning! He said without feeling any compunction.” (pg.237) His rival is shocked by how much different the man has changed and asks if his son has returned from Canada. “I bet your dear son has changed his mind about staying in Canada?! He asked…But that was the principle reason for being so sad.” (pg.237) We then learn that his wife had passed and the thought of her makes him laugh.

This leads the reader to believe that the happy man was grieving for the loss of his wife and son and has stated to lose his mind causing him to be happy. He then attends to different doctors and specialists, all of who tell him that he is in perfect health. The last doctor, who is a psychiatrist who tells him that he has patients like him and that he should have two sessions a week. This caused the happy man to burst out in laughter and ends the story.

Literary Devices

* The title itself is ironic. “The Happy Man” in the story isn’t actually happy at all. He has suffered from grief, which has caused him to lose his mind. This had caused him to change his personality and to be happy all the time. This leads to have to see numerous doctors.

* It is ironic that he claims to be inconceivably happy yet he questions it. He asks his servant if he is happy. “Tell me, “Uncle” Bashir, am I a happy man?” (pg.236) The man’s happiness then scares him and makes him go see doctors. “ I haven’t come to see you because I’m ill but because I’m happy!” (pg.240)

* “His heart was overflowing with love for people, animals and things, and with an all-engulfing sense of optimism and joy.” This is an exaggeration to show how “happy” the main character is. (pg.235) * “Even more important than that, and something he could not analyze, it was a feeling which penetrated to every cell of his body and soul; it played a tune full of delight, pleasure, serenity, and peace, and hummed in its incredible melodies the whispering sound of the world, which is denied to the unhappy.” Once again the author uses this quote to show how “happy” the main character is. (pg.235) * “If it did, man would be turned into an angel or something even higher.” (pg.235) * “Weather to fill your heart with happiness.” (pg.237) * “…the psychiatrist continued quietly, ‘you dissolved into laughter?…’” (pg.242) * “He approached him with a pure and carefree heart, feeling drunk with his incredible happiness.” (pg.237)

* “…and hummed in its incredible melodies the whispering sound of the world, which is denied to the unhappy.” (pg.235) This is personification because the author is giving human like qualities (in this case whispering) to an inanimate object. (in this case the world)

* “How could he possibly write about a trolley bus falling into the Nile when he was so intoxicated by this frightening happiness?” (pg.239) The allusion in this quote is the “Nile”. The Nile is one of the largest rivers in the world that runs through Africa.

* Though out the story there are many references to drugs and alcohol, which could symbolize a way for the “happy” man to overcome his grief. * “He felt drunk with ecstasy.” (pg.235)
* “Feeling drunk with his incredible happiness.” (pg.237) * “He was so intoxicated by this frightening happiness?” (pg.239) * “Haven’t you been taking drugs, alcohol, or tranquilizers?” (pg.240) Simile:

* “You fight bitterly, as though any problem is a matter of life and death!” (pg.238)

* “He remembered his wife’s death…which prompted a smile and then even provoked laughter. He could not stop himself laughing, and there he was guffawing, ha . . .ha . . . ha!” (pg.239) This is also an example of imagery.

Narrative Elements

Point of View:
* The point of view in the story “The Happy Man” is third person. It is writing with an all-knowing narrator.

* The mood and tone of the story is fast paced and happy until he realizes that he needs to see a doctor. This makes the mood and tone depressing when the reader learns that the “happy” man is crazy as a result of his wife’s death and his son moving to Canada.

Overall Message

* I think that the overall message of the story is that things aren’t always, as they seem. In this case the main character in the story looked like he was happy. He even though he was happy when really he was dealing with his grief in his own way which caused him to become paranoid and seek help. This is ironic because the story is called “The Happy Man”. “He woke up in the morning and discovered that he was happy.” (pg.235) He didn’t know why he was happy because he was usually sad or in a bad mood. “I bet your dear son has changed his mind about staying in Canada” “But that was the principle reason for being so sad….” (pg.237) This shows that he is lonely. “He remembered his wife’s death…” (pg.239) This shows that he has been grieving and the fact that he started laughing at the though of his late wife shows that he has started to lose his mind. “We should have two sessions a week, I think?” “He started guffawing loudly….” This shows that he doesn’t even realize that he has a problem and that he is crazy. This shows that things aren’t always, as they seem.


1) Find other literary devices.

2) Do you think that “The Happy Man” was difficult to interpret? Why or why not?

3) What was your interpretation of the story?

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