The Thief and the Dogs

by Naguib Mahfouz
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How are women depicted in this text, and what is the difference between how Said thinks about women and how Mahfouz presents female characters in the novel?    

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The reader can distinguish between the author’s views of women and the character Said’s views. Naguib Mahfouz creates a portrait of one individual on the fringes of Cairo society at a particular time. Said, whose political views as a socialist are rather idealistic, has nonetheless been involved in crime (specifically robbery). After being apprehended, tried, and convicted, he was incarcerated for four years. The embittered man, whom the reader meets upon his release, is concerned primarily for himself and does not really consider his child’s welfare. He wants to take her from her mother.

The two female characters with whom he interacts are his wife and a prostitute. Because his wife had an extramarital affair, he thinks of her only in terms of betrayal and wants revenge on her lover as well. The prostitute, whose existence is in some ways even more marginal than that of Said, shows him compassion. Regardless, after Said kills a man (not his wife’s lover), the police, in turn, kill him.

In choosing an anti-hero as his protagonist, Mahfouz is making a statement about class and inequality in Egypt. While his depictions of women tend to be stereotypes rather than fully rounded characters, it should not be assumed that he believes that women are either cheating wives or prostitutes. Rather, he is showing types of women with whom, in his view, a man like Said would have associated. He also makes sure to give the lowest-status woman some positive attributes, emphasizing the idea of social inequality through the limited employment options available to a poor woman.

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