Meaning of Life in “Half a Day” by Naguib Mahfouz
The story of Half a Day revolves around the meaning of life and how fast it passes in front of people without them noticing it. The author, Naguib Mahfouz, manages to squiz the story of the whole life, coming of age, just in a single day that drastically leaves the narrator, who was a child in the morning and a grandfather in the late evening. Overall, the piece tells the story of the character’s life, which definitely surpasses a half-day limit, showing the great significance of this little time.
To begin with, the story begins with the narrator going to school with his father. As a matter of fact, it is the character’s first day, so he is anxious and stressed about his attendance. Naturally, the fact that the author mentions going to primary school implies that the character is young, but his speech is indeed not suitable for his age, “I proceeded alongside my father” (Mahfouz 1). It is obvious that children do not converse in such a style, so it makes the reader think whether the character is older than he pretends to be. Therefore, it can be assumed that Mahfouz is hinting that the narrator is an adult who is telling his story, starting with the first day of school.
Furthermore, the story is mainly focused on the first day of school, considering that the plot does not change drastically in the following stages of the narrator’s life. However, after the end of the lessons, the narrator runs from the building, expecting to see his father, who promised to meet him after school, “You’ll find me waiting for you when it’s time to leave” (Mahfouz 1). Unfortunately, the character does not manage to find his parent, which implies his rapid aging to an adult whose parents had passed away a long time ago. Feeling frustrated, the young boy starts walking home when suddenly he meets a middle-aged man, who seems familiar to him, but he fails to understand why. The narrator’s reply to a stranger is shocking, considering that it reveals that it has not been just one day since he first went to school, “It’s a long time since we last met” (Mahfouz 3). This drastic change to the next stage of the character’s life leaves the reader wondering who that stranger is and whether he is related to the narrator.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that some time has passed since his first day at school, considering that the city has changed and the narrator finds it difficult to understand the surroundings. The narrator is shocked by the crowded streets that once used to be calm and full of gardens and plantations, “We walked along a street lined with gardens; … fields planted with crops, prickly pears” (Mahfouz 2). It is evident that the author attempts to present the transition to adulthood through environmental industrialization, “Where was the street lined with gardens? Where had it disappeared to?” (Mahfouz 3). This situation hints to the readers that every city full of nature is always replaced by buildings, factories, and heavy traffic, so the narrator is aging alongside it.
The crucial detail is that the author does not reveal whether the narrator is indeed aging so drastically but leaves the readers to analyze the story to decide for themselves. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that a middle-aged man is his son, which supports the fact that they feel familiar with each other as if they are somehow related. Still, it is not the most stunning part of Half a Day since the narrator then meets a young boy who calls him grandfather, “He stretched out his arm and said gallantly, ‘Grandpa, let me take you across'” (Mahfouz 4). This event implies that the character has aged even more and now probably has grandchildren. In addition, the author focuses on the fact that the child is around the same age as the narrator when he started school, showing how long it has been (Mahfouz 4). This drastic turn to the older self of the narrator offers the reader a fleeting life that most people spend meaninglessly without noticing anything around them.
To sum up, Mahfouz presents this story to the reader, including numerous details that imply the narrator’s aging, which he does not state directly throughout the piece. Furthermore, it shows how this one day is significant to the reader since he tells his life story since his first day at school. The hints in the form of a middle-aged man and a young boy can be interpreted as the narrator’s son and grandchild, respectively. Therefore, it illustrates how fleeting life is and how complicated it is to fill it with meaning in such a short period of time. Consequently, the author also mentions the changes in the surroundings that people usually fail to notice until it is too late, which urges the reader to think about one’s life purpose and happiness.
Mahfouz, Naguib. “Half a Day.” The False Dawn, 1st ed., Anchor Books, 1989, pp. 1–9.