What symbols can be found in "Half a Day"?

Symbols that can be found in "Half a Day" include the narrator's new clothes, which symbolize a fresh start, and the road at the end, which is a symbol of death. Additionally, the school itself represents life, and the grim school building symbolizes the institutions in which we spend it.

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In Mahfouz's short story, "Half a Day ," the short time mentioned in the title is itself a symbol for an entire life. Such time-related symbolism occurs several times in the story. As the story begins, the narrator is dressed in new clothes, which are a symbol of a...

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In Mahfouz's short story, "Half a Day," the short time mentioned in the title is itself a symbol for an entire life. Such time-related symbolism occurs several times in the story. As the story begins, the narrator is dressed in new clothes, which are a symbol of a beginning, a fresh start. Likewise, the road with its constant stream of cars at the end of the story can be seen as a symbol of death, which is often represented in literature as a crossing. The changed landscape which greets the narrator outside the school symbolizes the passage of time and the pace of change, while the conjurers and snake charmers represent the tricks time plays on the mind.

The most substantial and multi-faceted symbol in the story, however, is the school itself, which represents life. People often refer to having been educated in "the university of life" or "the school of hard knocks," and the symbolism here reverses these metaphors. The building, in particular, which is described as a "huge, high-walled fortress, exceedingly stern and grim," symbolizes the type of institutions in which we spend our lives. The narrator's father even describes it as a "factory," though the narrator is the raw material—and finally the product—rather than one of the workers.

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Another important symbol in the story is the snake, which is traditionally associated with evil, trickery, and deceit. The boy—who's become an old man over the course of "half a day"—notices the snake-charmers when he comes out of the school gates at home time. He also notices magicians conjuring up snakes out of baskets, and then making them suddenly disappear.

The snake is a particularly appropriate symbol here as it appears that the old man has been tricked. He's completely disoriented by the unfamiliar sights and sounds of the streets outside the school gates. As we saw earlier, the snake is often associated with trickery and deceit, and it is therefore a particularly apt symbol for the state of confusion which the old man feels on leaving the school grounds. It's as if life has played a cruel trick on him, or some expert conjuror has made the old world he knew so well vanish into thin air.

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Naguib Mahfouz purposely uses symbols in "Half a Day" to pass his intended message to the reader. The concept of time in "Half a Day" is unrealistic and thus symbolic. The narrator spends only half of his day in school. However, by the time he retires from school, he is an old man. The world has drastically evolved, and he is dismayed by some significant changes. On the way, the narrator makes out cars and tall buildings which he had never seen before. As such, “half a day” spent in school represents the entire human life, which is deemed short.

Further, the school which the narrator attends is another significant symbol used by Naguib Mahfouz. The school reflects stages of development, lessons, and experiences encountered by people on their journey of life. In the text, the narrator is adamant that he does not want to leave his home to go to school. He continually asks his father why he deserves such a punishment. However, when the narrator comes out of school, he is mature and has a sense of transformation.

It is clear that Naguib Mahfouz’s "Half a Day" is not meant for literal interpretation and can only be comprehended through its symbolism.

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The major symbol in Naguib Mahfouz's short story "Half a Day" is the school which the narrator attends. The school is symbolic of the narrator's life from childhood to old age. At first it is a foreboding place. His father calls it a factory and its structure described as a "high-walled fortress, exceedingly stern and grim." The narrator is loath to leave behind his comfortable home and the "gardens" and "extensive fields" which line the street as he travels to the school. The gardens and fields are symbolic of the narrator's childhood which spreads out in front of him full of promise and anticipation.

At school the narrator eventually overcomes his tears and begins to "face life joyfully." The word "life" spoken by the woman at the school is foreshadowing of the fact that the school is the narrator's life. He would grow and learn, make friends, fall in love and, through trials and tribulations, enjoy much of his experience. The school, however, just like life, had its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows. Once an adult, the narrator lives a life of "exertion, struggle and perseverance." Some of his classmates (and probably the narrator) even took advantage of opportunities and became successful and happy.

At the end of "half a day" of school the narrator goes back on the same street from which he arrived. The street is much changed. Instead of the wonders of the far reaching fields which originally greeted the narrator, he now faces a claustrophobic modern city full of traffic, "disturbing noises" and "hills of refuse," symbolizing the reality that his life has passed him by with a myriad of developments and changes which he never even realized were taking place around him as he busied himself with the details of his life.  

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