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Life’s transformations that you can never escape from

Updated on March 17, 2015

The short story half a day clearly explains the aspects of every person’s lifetime, the gradual changes and stages everyone experiences in life, and how fast life starts and ends. The short story’s setting is African and mainly portrays a theme of modernization. The writer also perfectly unveils the plot, thereby enabling the reader to imagine and guess what could be the next occurrence. Characters in the story have been used to depict change in two aspects: change in a person’s life gradually with time and change that occurs in the world. The story’s meaning is fully brought out through symbolism; a literal interpretation makes it lose its meaningful impact. To completely understand the story, a reader has to realize that each portion has a deeper meaning than that portrayed by the words used and each meaning grows deeper than the previous meaning. More to that, Mahfouz employs clear and highly descriptive language , which paints a clear picture in the readers mind, allowing them to be ‘witness’ in the moment.

The setting in every part of the story changes strongly. As the story begins, the narrator vividly gives an account of what he encounters as he walks to school; how the attractive the environment is filled with gardens and sweeps of henna plants, and spiky pears. This setting appears to be in the country. At school, the setting appears to be an area of peace, seclusion and solitude away from the hustle and bustle of life. After school, the setting is a busy, crowded metropolis that is full of activity. The metropolis is characterized by sky scrapers and hectic streets. The place that the narrator recalls is no longer what it used to be but a completely exact opposite.

The plot of the story gives it a smooth and systematic flow enabling the reader visualize every aspect of the it. As the story it begins, the narrator is forced to attend his first day of school. He tends to believe school is a punishment from his father. His father reaffirms him that he will be waiting for him after school. Convinced, the narrator accepts to go only to realize that his first day is quite enjoyable. After school as he approaches the gate, he finds that his father is now a middle aged man. He is shocked by the fact that all his surroundings have changed and are still changing. He tries to find the way home but nothing is as he had left it. As the story ends, the narrator is an old man that is being helped to cross the road by a young boy. This plot summarizes an individual’s general life; the good and bad, weakness and biasness. The story portrays a shift in time. Different life stages are described; young innocence to full maturity.

One major writing style that Mahfouz employs is the use of symbols, below is an outlined explanation of each:

‘Half a day’ as a title is very ironic. It is used to imply a half a day that is usually spent in school. Instead, the plot of the story does not cover half a day, but the narrator’s entire lifetime; owing to the relativity of time, that it does not pass quickly, but in the story, it seems to happen.

The school gate represents an obstacle or a change from an ideal state to an extremely hostile environment, a change from the chastity of child hood to the real actual life of a grown individual.

The snake exemplifies fright, peril, deception, impersonation and guile. From biblical creation stories, it is symbolic of how the cunning serpent was able to misguide Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit.

The school symbolizes instruction, fostering, education, knowledge mastery and upbringing. The garden is a depiction of the circle of life, one accord, peace and the glamour of life. It also represents an idyllic state that every person longs for, a perfection of the environment and allure, the preeminence of nature. The factory and buildings depict industrial revolution in modern day world, man’s effort against automation and its effects and cutting-edge technology throughout human life. It can also denote organization and discipline from the fact that the buildings are depicted to be laid out in order/pattern. The same organization and discipline should be portrayed in our lives. The globe of the earth symbolizes how time passes as it rotates. Crossroads signifies unforeseen occurrences and an option between diverging paths, just as man has chosen a path of ruination, catastrophic weapons, wealth and technology over peace and tranquility brought about by morality and dignity. Fire represents corrupt, wrongdoings, risk, harm, hell and all immoral deeds. It also signifies jealousy, thirst for power, fortune, selfishness, trickery, materialism and widespread consumerism.

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In the final paragraph, the narrator uses rhetorical questions as a style of symbolism. The narrator is as a matter of fact demonstrating a picture of present-day life, precisely a mirror. Contrary to the garden of life earlier depicted in the story, life has now been controlled by technology, overpopulation and materialism. Man’s life has changed becoming very aggressive, demanding and unpredictable. People are living in a misleading world where they have abandoned their own morality and human nature in a fight for fame and power to subject others in their control. They will do the unthinkable to obtain what they want, since their eyes are surrounded by greed and a lust for power. Man is investing a lot of his time on unimportant issues like making money and grabbing wealth unscrupulously. The path he has chosen for himself is unknown, and neither does he know where it leads to. There is general deterioration of human virtues and morals and man is now lacking in character and understanding and he expects the same mutuality with others. Man is drawn against man, and he is a potential threat to his own species. There is general doubt in each other that everyone has intentions of unhealthy and destructive competition. Moral values in society are becoming progressively worse; values are changing for the worse. The narrator has tried to explain to us the results of such destruction, in the past, present and the future should man not consider changing his way of lifestyle.

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Mahfouz has achieved characterization by focusing the story on only one main character, the narrator. Other characters portrayed in the story have very little to no description; the only change was in their outer aspect. The narrator on the other hand showed no maturity, he only appeared older. As school begins, the narrator is a young lad being taken to school hand held by his father. In school, the young lad becomes an adult. While trying to find his way home, he is portrayed as a grandpa being helped to cross the road. Though the story does not have many characters, their role and significance is key. They are demonstrative, with each having both an extra meaning and a literal interpretation. The narrator’s father clutching his hand could symbolize the hand of a superior being guiding him through a virtuous alley or accompanying him in and out of life. The mother stands from a distance in admiration of her son, delegating the task of molding a man out of a boy to the father. The teacher is the regulator and maker of the rules. She maintains discipline by punishing those who don’t abide to the set rules. The classmates represent all the people that he will meet, know and befriend over time. Nevertheless, not all people are good; neither do they possess same opportunities, leading to decision making i.e. all choices that youngsters make as they grow to adulthood.

The essence of this short story is to take the reader on an expedition through their life, enabling them to realize how fast life passes, and how they should endeavor to make use of their allocated time. They should purpose to leave the world better than they found it. A life lesson learnt is that one should always strive to do what is right and best. Half a Day is depicted as a literature masterpiece because of the author’s mastery in expressing the major literary elements of symbolism and characters.

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