Characters

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 669

As the story opens, the narrator is a young boy walking to his first day of school. The boy is delighted with the new clothes he is wearing for the occasion but is apprehensive about going to school. As he walks along, holding onto his father's hand, he occasionally turns to ask his father why he must go; he feels that perhaps he is being sent away from home as a punishment.

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Although his father reassures him, the boy is not convinced that "there really was any good to be had in tearing me away from the intimacy of my home." At the gate to the school, the boy hesitates again and must be gently pushed by his father to enter the schoolyard. Telling him to "be a man," the father explains that "today you truly begin life."

Although he at first feels like a "stranger," the narrator soon becomes a member of the class. His identification with the other children is indicated in the narrative by the fluctuation between the first-person singular narrative voice ("I"), and the first-person plural ("We"). The children represent humanity, and their experiences during the school day are meant to be interpreted as symbolic of the human experience of life, with its ups and downs, its trials and tribulations.

When the bell rings to announce the end of the day, the narrator steps outside the gate, but his father is not waiting there for him as promised. He encounters a familiar middle-aged man; they greet one another and shake hands before the man moves along.

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The narrator finds that the street and surroundings have completely changed since the morning. These changes are meant to be understood in allegorical terms as representing the effects of modernization and urbanization in radically changing the face of the city within the lifetime of one man.

He is unable to cross the street because of heavy traffic. Finally, a "young lad" offers to help him across, addressing him as "Grandpa"—the little boy has passed an entire lifetime in what seemed like only half a day, and is now an old man at the end of his life.

The boy's father is an important character in both a literal and a symbolic sense. As a coming-of-age story, "Half a Day" concerns themes of fatherhood and the different stages of human life. The boy's father is seen to represent the narrator himself, at a different stage of life. He may also symbolize God, who ushers each human being both into and out of life. Another father figure, the middle-aged man whom the narrator encounters upon leaving school, is familiar and approaches the narrator, greeting him and shaking his hand. When the narrator—now an old man—asks how he is doing, the middle-aged man replies, "As you can see, not all that good, the Almighty be praised!" The man then shakes the narrator's hand again and continues along his way.

The boy's mother appears only once, at the beginning of the story. As he sets out for his first day of school, his mother stands at the window "watching our progress." The boy occasionally turns to look back at his mother, "as though appealing for help." The mother is a significant part of the coming- of-age process. The father initiates this process by taking his son out of the home and away from his mother, "tearing me away from the intimacy of my home." Although he occasionally looks to his mother for comfort, the boy must separate from his mother in order to become an adult. (It is interesting to note that Mahfouz lived with his own mother until the mature age of forty-three, when he married for the first time.)

Another adult, the primary teacher, introduces the children to some of the wonders of life; she is also a harsh disciplinarian who frequently "would resort to physical punishment." On an allegorical level, the teacher is not an individual person, but life itself, which offers many wonders and many punishments.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625

The Father
It is the young boy's father who, "clutching" his hand, takes the boy to school. When the boy asks if he is being sent away from home for being a bother, his father assures him that school is not a punishment, but a "factory'' which turns boys into men. As he enters the school the boy hesitates, but his father gently pushes him and tells him to ‘‘be a man.’’

The boy's father is an important character in both a literal and a symbolic sense. As a coming-of-age story, "Half a Day'' concerns themes of fatherhood and the different stages of human life. The boy's father is seen to represent the narrator himself, at a different stage of life.

He may also symbolize God, who ushers each human being both into and out of life. "

The Middle-aged Man
When the narrator leaves the school, he encounters a familiar middle-aged man. This man approaches the narrator, greeting him and shaking his hand. When the narrator—now an old man— asks how he is doing, the middle-aged man replies, "As you can see, not all that good, the Almighty be praised!’’ The man then shakes the narrator's hand again and continues along his way.

The Mother
The image of the boy's mother appears only once, at the beginning of the story. As he sets out for his first day of school, his mother stands at the window ‘‘watching our progress.’’ The boy occasionally turns to look back at his mother,"as though appealing for help.’’

The mother is a significant part of the coming-of-age process. The father initiates this process by taking his son out of the home and away from his mother, "tearing me away from the intimacy of my home.’’ Although he occasionally looks to his mother for comfort, the boy must separate from his mother in order to become an adult. (It is interesting to note that Mahfouz lived with his own mother until the mature age of forty-three, when he married for the first time.)

The Narrator
As the story opens, the narrator is a young boy going to his first day of school. Apprehensive about being away from home, he soon begins to fit in and enjoy his time as a member of the class.

When the bell rings to announce the end of the day, the narrator steps outside the gate. His father is not waiting there for him, and he starts to walk home by himself. He finds that the street and surroundings have completely changed, a sight that leaves him overwhelmed and disoriented.

He attempts to cross the street, but the traffic is heavy and he hesitates. Finally, a ‘‘young lad,’’ offers to help him across, addressing him as "Grandpa"—the little boy has passed an entire life time in what seemed like only half a day, and is now an old man at the end of his life.

The Other Children
Although he at first feels like a "stranger," the narrator soon becomes a member of the class. His identification with the other children is indicated in the narrative by the fluctuation between first-person singular narrative voice ("I"), and first-person plural (‘‘We’’). The children represent humanity, and their experiences are meant to be interpreted as symbolic of the human experience of life.

The Teachers
The primary teacher introduces the children to some of the wonders of life; she is also a harsh disciplinarian who frequently "would resort to physical punishment.’’ On an allegorical level, the teacher is not an individual person, but life itself, which offers many wonders and many punishments.

The Young Lad
The "young lad'' appears in the closing lines of the story. He extends his arm to the narrator, addressing him as "Grandpa."

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