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Summary of Half a Day with Analysis & Exercise

The short story Half a Day by Naguib Mahfouz tells the experience of a young boy on his first day in school. The boy is afraid of going to school, as

Summary of the Story Half a Day 

The short story 'Half a Day' by Naguib Mahfouz tells the experience of a young boy on his first day in school. The boy is afraid of going to school, as he has to spend the day away from home. At the end of the day in school, the boy goes through change and matures from a child to an adult.

The author of the story shows how change occurs in the course of a human being’s life. The author had gone through changes and many sufferings in the course of his life such as an attempted assassination that left him with an injured hand. His works depict that human sufferings are inevitable. Although the narrator is excited about the new clothes he has to wear to school, he resists going to school because he thinks that school is punishment. He asks his father, “Why school” (Mahfouz 1). His father tells him that school is not a punishment as it transforms boys into useful men (Mahfouz 1).

Eventually, the father has to push the narrator inside the school gate because he hesitates. The pushing symbolizes that people are afraid of change and at times have to be pushed towards it as on their own they might choose to remain within familiar ground hence make no progress in their lives.

The period of the story is unrealistic because the narrator enters school as a young boy and leaves as an old man but the brief period captures the changes that occur in a person’s life. Moreover, the change is inevitable and one has to go through the challenges just as the narrator had to endure the accidents and dust field winds in class.

The author passes the message that life is not a bed of roses and one must encounter thorns along the way. One should have the courage to face life’s challenges as failing to do so will lead to failure. While in school, the narrator realizes that those ready to take advantage of the opportunities that life presents will have happiness and success despite the worries of life.

By the end of the school day, the narrator has learned a lot about life. When his father fails to turn up at the gate to take him home he has to walk and find his way home. On his way, he notices that many things have changed his life has truly begun as he experienced new things that would influence him for the rest of his life and he would not be the same. Deciding to walk home alone shows that the boy has transitioned from a young boy who clutches his father’s hand in the morning to a man ready to walk into the world and find his way home.

The story Half a Day is easy to relate to because the author talks about ordinary things that happen in a person’s life. The story reminds me of my first day in school and the feelings of apprehension and happiness I had at the thought of going to school. I remember that during my first day at school I did not know anyone just as the narrator did but eventually I made many friends. I recommend this story because it simply addresses life issues. Anyone despite their background can relate to the story Half a Day.

Important Points

The story has no proper plot layout, simply certain ideas are discussed and the theme is given importance. Naguib Mahfouz is famous for these kinds of plots. The story is about the general life of a person, about good and evil, human biases and weaknesses. The climax of the story occurs when the readers realize that the narrator is no longer a boy, but a grown man. There is a time shift in the story. Different stages of a man's life are shown, from innocence to maturity.

There are several symbols used in the story and it is important to explain them. The title of the story itself is ironic, it is meant to suggest half a day of school but the story does not simply cover 'half a day, it covers the whole lifetime of the narrator. Time is relative, it does not actually pass quickly, it only seems that way. A good comparison for the passing of time would be from Shakespeare's Sonnet 60. 

The Gate of the school building represents a barrier or a shift from the garden of paradise to hell, a shift from the innocence of childhood to the practical life of an adult. The snake symbolizes fear, danger, deceit, disguise and guile. It is symbolic in the way that in the story of Adam and Eve (from John Milton's epic Paradise Lost), Satan comes in the form of a snake hidden behind flowers to cunningly misguide Eve.

The school symbolizes training, nurturing, education, knowledge, upbringing etc. Garden represents the circle of life, harmony, peace, colours of life, a paradise or the ideal state that everyone aspires for, the perfection of nature and beauty, the dominance of nature. Buildings/Factory represents an industrial revolution in today's world, man's struggle against machines, the advance of technology over human life, it can signify order and discipline considering the way that the buildings are arranged in order, a pattern, but order and discipline should be in our lives. 

The Globe of the earth signifies the passing of time as it revolves. Crossroads represents unexpected happenings and a choice between different paths, just the way humans have chosen the path of destruction, nuclear weapons, technology and material gains over the path of morality and virtue. Fire represents evil, wrongdoings, danger, damage, hell, and all the bad deeds. It also represents jealousy, lust for power, money, selfishness, deceit, materialism and mass consumerism.

In the last paragraph, the narrator is using the technique of rhetorical questions. The narrator is actually showing a picture of modern life, he is showing us the mirror. As opposed to the garden of life shown earlier, it has been now taken over by technology, increasing human population, materialism. Our life has become very fierce, demanding and dangerous. We are living in a deceptive world where people have forsaken their morality and humanity in order to leave others behind in the mad race for power and fame. 

People will do anything to get what they want, their eyes are filled with lust and greed. We are caught up in trivial issues such as moneymaking and holding wealth in our homes, we do not know what path we have chosen and where it will lead to, we do not know where we're heading. There is a lack of humanity and moral virtues. We have become very superficial and we expect others to be the same way. 

We are now drawn against human beings and our mind sees a potential threat in even our closest relatives, we feel everyone is trying to put us down and get ahead of us, or trick us into poverty. We can relate this idea to that In “The Chief Guest” by Akhtar Jamal. There is severe deterioration of moral values in the society, a reversal or transition of values. The narrator has tried to show us the consequences of such destruction; what there was, what there is, and what will be if we do not mend our ways.

Life is passing in a split second, it is beyond our control, we are soon able to accept this and adjust ourselves according to the demands of the fast-paced world. Humans are designed to destructive elements, similar to our acceptance of the constructive elements in life.

Analysis of the Story Half a Day

Half a Day by Naguib Mahfouz is an allegorical short story that reflects the journey of life and the speed at which it begins and ends. It also gives representation to stages and changes that occur within a person during their time on Earth.   “Half a Day”, can only be fully understood through its symbolism and is not intended to be interpreted literally.  

In order to fully understand the reader must be able to comprehend that each part has a greater meaning than the words that appear on the paper and that each meaning is greater than the one before.   In addition, Mahfouz uses elaborate figurative and descriptive language, painting a vivid picture and allowing the reader to be present at the moment. 

Though there are not many characters in this story, their importance is of the utmost.   They are emblematic as well, each having additional meanings as well as their literal interpretation. His father holding his hand could also represent the hand of God leading him along a righteous path or ushering him in and out of life. The mother admires her son quietly and from afar, leaving the task of guiding a boy to manhood to her husband.  

The teacher is the rule-maker, identified as a person.   She keeps order and punishes those who cannot or will not abide.   His classmates are all the people that he becomes acquainted with overtime, females that he has had relationships with and loved. However, not all are good people nor do they all have the same opportunities, prompting the decision making that all children must make on their road to adulthood.

Conclusion

The most central character of the story Half a day is the boy himself beginning his day as a young lad and progressing into a teenager, young man, middle age and finally an old man looking for his final home. This short story is deceitfully ironic because it is about a man that lives his entire life in the span of a day starting as a young boy and ending as an old man.   Mahfouz is comparing life to his first day of school.

Meanings of Difficult Words

  1. Tarboosh: a tasselled cap often worn by Muslim men and made from felt or cloth.

  2. Unmarred: good, acceptable.

  3. Fortress: stronghold, barrier.

  4. Intricate: complicated, elaborate.

  5. Vaulting: jumping over, springing.

  6. Exertion: hard work, labour.

  7. Perseverance: diligence, hard work.

  8. Gallantly: bravely, courageously.

Few Important Lines

  1. Living beings were drawn to other living beings.

  2. Dust-laden winds and unexpected accidents came about suddenly, so we had to be watchful, at the ready, and very patient.

  3. Good Lord! Where was the street lined with gardens? Where had it disappeared to? When did all these vehicles invade it? And when did all these hordes of humanity come to rest upon its surface?

  4. “Let the fire take its pleasure in what it consumes.”

Questions

  1. What kind of person is the narrator's father?

  2. At what point in the story does it become apparent that the story covers more than the narrator's first day in school? How does Mahfouz employ the journey motif in his narrative?

  3. What is the theme of the story?

  4. How is the fire at the end of the story significant? Why are the other activities recorded in the final paragraph important?

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