A Farewell to Arms and Bidaya Wa Nihaya: A comparative Study [Archives:2009/1222/Education]

January 5 2009

Dr. Bashar Ghazi Askar
Assistant professor of English
[email protected]

Hemingway and Mahfouz share a number of aspects and approaches in their novels and short stories. The fundamental issue they deal with is how to live in a world devoid of values and principles. Mahfouz like Hemingway, is interested in the theme of death for he is concerned about the fate of the mankind. Mahfouz is not only concerned with the individual but with the fate of the humanity. Mahfouz tries to give a panoramic picture of life with all its gloomy and tragic aspects.

Mahfouz covers the tragic atmosphere arising out of Kamel Effindi's sudden death, leaving a family to face the difficulties and burdens of life. Naguib Mahfouz wants to say that the whole family is a victim of traditions and customs prevailing in Egypt. The atmosphere of Bidaya Wa Nihaya is full of pain, suffering and the family had to face the new burdens of life after the death of the father.

The death of the father marks the end, for his wife, daughter and three sons, of a period of a relative prosperity. Now the family had to enter a new phase of struggle, sacrifices and difficult choices. The family had to work to earn their living. Samira the mother had to keep the family united and under her strict guidance. Nefissa, the daughter will earn money by working as a dress-maker. As for the sons, Hussein and Hassanein, the proudest son has ambitions to enter the military college to become an officer. His ambition is also to get married from a rich family. Hassan the eldest is the tramp of the family. He had given up school and is unable to keep a permanent job. In fact each member of the family struggles to improve his condition and the condition of the family.

Nefissa falls in love with the grocer's son who misuses her and to hide her sin, she escapes from the house to find herself in a brothel. At the end Hassanien is informed by the police that they found her in a brothel with prostitutes. Being ashamed of adultery in a conservative Moslem society, he takes his sister away and forces her to commit suicide by drowning in the river Nile. Then he commits suicide also by drowning himself in the same river. The whole suicide episode occurs because of the feeling of shame.

In fact, the characters Nefissa and Hassanien were destined to destroy themselves. Hassanien couldn't stand things any more. He got hysterical and had no desire to live life after such debacle.

Adultery is a universal theme and had been tackled in various ways whether in Europe or America or the Arab world. There is an overpowering sense of shame that obsesses man and one feels torn between his feelings, emotions and sensations and traditions. Both Hemingway and Mahfouz dealt with adultery but each had his own approach and philosophy. Adultery in the Arab world means an immoral outward behavior and deviation from the roots. Prostitution invites shame and disgust from the society.

Mahfouz' characters like Hemingway's in the “A Farewell to Arms appear wounded physically and spiritually. It seems that death is a peaceful separation from this troubled life. Both Mahfouz and Hemingway deal with death as a universal theme. Both Bidaya Wa Nihaya and A Farewell To Arms start with the death scene. The funeral of Mr. Kamel Effindi leaves a family in distress, pain, suffering and agony. It ends with the death of Nefissa and Hassanien's suicide in the river Nile.

Hemingway's “A Farewell to Arms” starts with the death scene of thousands of soldiers in the battlefield and their corpses are scattered here and there in the streets. The scene also ends with the death of Catherine Barkely in hospital. Both writers picture death scene although with different approaches.