What does the narrator mean by "there was no question of ever returning to the paradise of home" in "Half a Day"?

Quick answer:

The narrator in "Half a Day" refers to "there was no question of ever returning to the paradise of home" as an acknowledgment of the irreversible nature of time and life's progression. The story uses a single school day as a metaphor for the narrator's entire life. The "paradise of home" symbolizes his carefree childhood, which he can't return to as he moves through life's stages. The end of the school day signifies the end of his life, highlighting the brevity of human existence.

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The title of Naguib Mahfouz's short story "Half a Day" is meant as a comment on the relative brevity of human life. When the story opens, a young boy is reluctantly going off to his first day of school. His attendance at school and all that happens to him is presented as a metaphor for the boy's entire life. Midway through the story, it becomes apparent that this is much more than simply a half day of school. The boy, who is the first-person narrator, says,

We submitted to the facts, and this submission brought a sort of contentment. Living beings were drawn to other living beings, and the first moments my heart made friends with such boys as were to be my friends and fell in love with such girls as I was to be in love with. . . As our path revealed itself to us, however, we did not find it as totally sweet and unclouded as we had presumed. Dust-laden winds and unexpected accidents came about suddenly, so we had to be watchful, at the ready, and very patient.

Because this half a day is metaphorical, the boy realizes he can never return to being the boy he once was or to the "paradise of home." His life is now "exertion, struggle and perseverance." Therefore, when the bell rings, signaling the end of the day, it is not just one day but rather a lifetime of work and relationships that has passed. When the boy emerges into the world and attempts to get home, everything has changed. The city has grown up around him. In the final lines, the reader realizes the narrator is now an old man being helped across the street by a "young lad" who refers to him as "Grandpa."

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