Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Following Western conventions, time in The Thief and the Dogs is marked by the rising and setting sun. The novel begins on the morning Said Mahran is released from prison, after a four-year sentence for robbery, and it ends with his death approximately seventeen days later. This framework points to Mahfouz’s source, the case of Ahmad Amin Sulayman, a criminal who tried to kill his adulterous wife and her paramour. The police killed Sulayman on April 1, 1960.
In the exposition, Said walks from prison to his old home in Cairo, and, en route, he offers his self-justification in an internal monologue. Once home, he plans to demand two things: his books and Sana, his six-year-old daughter. He also plans to take revenge on Ilish Sidra, an associate who turned Said in and who then, after Said’s incarceration, secured everything that Said had—home, money, and his wife, Nabawiyya. While his neighbors greet him respectfully, the police, who are providing Ilish with protection, are hostile. Unfortunately, Sana has ruined his books, and she is startled when her father talks to her. Her look of rejection saddens Said.
Said visits Ali al-Junaydi, his late father’s religious counselor. The Sufi sheikh offers him food, advice, and sanctuary. Said accepts the hospitality and spends his first night of freedom at the sheikh’s house. Within the next three weeks, he returns there twice, after criminal deeds. The sheikh’s lessons in ethics...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
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