Student Question

What rhetorical questions does the boy ask in "Half a Day"?

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The boy in "Half a Day" utters rhetorical questions to himself, such as, "Where was the street lined with gardens? Where had it disappeared to? When did all these vehicles invade it?" He realizes that his neighborhood has changed greatly due to much passing of time.

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Half a Day” is a short story written by Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, first published in Arabic in the author’s 1991 short story collection The False Dawn. It centers on a young boy who begrudgingly goes to school for the first time at the behest of his father. His experiences at school, such as forming bonds with others and accumulating knowledge of the world, are recorded in rich and poetic detail. When the school day finally ends, however, the boy is perplexed to find that his father is not waiting for him outside the gate like he had promised. He then realizes that an extraordinary amount of time has passed since he has spent “half a day” at school.

The boy utters rhetorical questions to himself after he resolves to walk home alone and is met with the sight of a neighborhood wildly different from his own:

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?

These questions are rhetorical because they are not the actual questions the boy seeks answers to. What he means to ask himself is, Why has so much changed in such a short span of time? As “Half a Day” is a work of literary surrealism, laws of time and space are bent to explore themes such as innocence, the cycle of life, and the fleeting passage of time. The boy’s first day of school is likened to a life lived in full, as he goes through the phases of establishing friendships and other intimate bonds, learning about the world, and facing various adversities. At its core, Mahfouz’s “Half a Day” is a bittersweet meditation on how life sometimes passes one by in the blink of an eye.

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