Naguib Mahfouz's story suggests that modernity and material advancement are antithetical to meaningful social progress.
In the story, the narrator makes an ominous proclamation:
The time for changing one's mind was over and gone and there was no question of ever returning to the paradise of home. Nothing lay ahead of us but exertion, struggle, and perseverance. Those who were able took advantage of the opportunities for success and happiness that presented themselves amid the worries.
The phrase "exertion, struggle, and perseverance" encapsulates the monumental effort involved in securing economic progress. The narrator emphasizes the necessity of a progressive and expansive outlook; thus, looking back to "the paradise of home" is characterized as a negative stance. Yet, modernity and material advancement fall short; they cannot secure personal fulfillment for the average civilian.
Through his short story, Mahfouz highlights the alienation of the modern man and his failure to achieve self-actualization.
With a nod of my head, I agreed with him and in turn asked, "And you? How are you?" "As you can see, not all that good, the Almighty be praised!" . . . Where was the street lined with gardens? Where had it disappeared to? When did all these vehicles invade it? And when did all these hordes of humanity come to rest upon its surface? How did these hills of refuse come to cover its sides? And where were the fields that bordered it? High buildings had taken over, the street surged with children, and disturbing noises shook the air.
Mahfouz's modern man finds little consolation in a world governed by noise, conflict, and a destructive addiction to material success. A certain nostalgia is apparent in the narrator's words. He laments the destruction of tranquility and is troubled by the accelerated pace of modern life. The societal changes are irreversible, disenfranchising the average civilian and fueling his feelings of aloneness.
At the end of the story, the narrator realizes to his horror that he has grown old; the fast pace of modern life has left him bewildered and alienated, aging him before his time.