What is the significance of "the law" in this story?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Naguib Mahfouz's short story The Lawsuit, "the law" is a secondary character to the moral implications suggested by the now-destitute widow's condition following the narrator's father's death. Mahfouz's story is about the effects on a man's family of his decision to take a second wife, younger and prettier than the now aging mother of the man's children. Written by an Egyptian Muslim -- Islam provides for the taking of multiple wives -- the underlying premise of the story, that a man engages in polygamy, is irrelevant. What's important is the family's reaction to this development and to the narrator's growing sense of pathos towards the woman he and his kin blamed for the dissolution of their family. Bitter over the father's action, which insulted and marginalized his first wife, the narrator's mother, the narrator is prepared to contest the second wife's lawsuit demanding financial compensation for her financial plight following the father's death. The sight once in the courtroom of this once-potent adversary in her current dilapidated condition, however -- "what little beauty was left seemed insipid" -- leaves the narrator sympathetic to her situation. What is certain is that "the law" plays no real role in Mahfouz's story. The lawsuit is merely a narrative device used to place the characters in one room so that they are forced to interact, however briefly, and so that the narrator is forced to view the woman as the fallible human that she is.

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