In the short story “Zaabalawi” by Naguib Mahfouz, we read about a young man who is searching for some mysterious Zaabalawi, a person who can cure any illness. Naguib Mahfouz is one of the first Arabic contemporary writers who applied the existentialism tendency in Egypt in 1963. The symbolism the author uses to convey the message to the reader is hidden very well, however, the search for Zaabalawi is just another search for the inner peace which all of us have within our souls.
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It is interesting to note that the whole story is told us in the first person, as if proving which problems bother the author and what the goal of his life is. Besides, using the first person allows the readers to feel in the same place. Writing this way, Mahfouz shows accentuates that searching for the inner peace is a burning desire of many people, however, not all of them follow it, and it can make them very unhappy: “Finally I became convinced that I had to find Sheikh Zaabalawi” (Mahfouz, 1963).
Quite symbolic is the dialogue between the author and his father who tells him about Zaabalawi. The father describes this mysterious man as the person who can remove all sorrows and worries. The father has already found this inner peace and his teachings are a valuable source of knowledge for the main protagonist.
When the protagonist comes to the Birgawi Residence, he sees there the reflection of the miseries (both emotional and physical) of his own life. This place comprises of despair of all people until they find peace for their souls. Birgawi Residence increases the desperate way of thinking of the author when people start to make fun of him accepting him for a charlatan. Nonetheless such feelings, the protagonist finds his way to Zaabalawi with the help of people who he meets on his way and who help him to find the inspiration to continue his search no matter what happens.
Mahfouz uses paradox to help readers to understand the difficulty of each person who has ever stepped on the path of such quest into one’s soul. “Such suffering is part of the cure!” marks the perception of practically all religious people who consider the possibility to gain true peace and happiness only after a long period of bitter suffering (Mahfouz, 1963). We can find such ideas both in Islam and Christianity. Despite an obvious absurdity of such a statement, people are prone to believe it and, therefore, their life goes in this way: Through misery to joy. Hope helps them to survive and those who lose hope are drown in the everlasting despair.
A very important idea is communicated to the reader in the bar, when the protagonist gets drunk with some man there. “With the third glass I lost my memory and with the fourth the future vanished” emphasizes how easily people can be distracted from the goal of their whole life (Mahfouz, 1963). They give up as soon as they feel that their weaknesses take over their strengths, and they do nothing to fight them away. The weakness of human mind is the source of all their woes. However, most of people prefer leading a miserable life, than trespass their comfort zone and go for success. Giving up in such a responsible moment, the protagonist misses the meeting with Zaabalawi.
The story is composed in a very interesting way allowing the narrator to become both the protagonist and also the antagonist. The unawareness of the young man that the cure he is searching for is actually in him, hinders him to find Zaabalawi as he himself is this Zaabalawi. The proof of it lies in his inability to feel that inner peace, hold it, or even remember how it feels in the future.
To conclude, I would like to say that the story by Naguib Mahfouz reflects the lost opportunities of many other people who try hard to find their happiness but usually give up when they are very close to obtain it.
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