Fountain And Tomb- Ignorance And Truth Essay, Research Paper
In the novel Fountain and Tomb by Naguib Mahfouz, the reader is thrown into a small alley in Cairo, Egypt in the 1920s. The narrator is an adult reliving his childhood through many random, interesting vignettes of his youth. We learn about many different aspects of Egyptian life from political rebellion, to arranged marriages, to religious devotion, to gang warfare. We are led to conclude that one of the major themes of the book is Truth. We come to question whether Truth is something that always needs to be known. Will the Truth ultimately do more harm than good? Is there ever a time when the Truth must be told? Are there times when it s better for the Truth to never be known?
Truth is constantly sought out in Fountain and Tomb. Our young narrator is often like a detective, listening attentively to conversations, making keen observations of situations, and seeking out answers to questions he doesn t know. The day is lovely but redolent with mystery, our narrator says, identifying all the unknowns in the world around him (Mahfouz, 15).
An issue which is mentioned throughout the story is the concept of Ignorance is bliss , which is an old cliche meaning what we don t know can t hurt us. While massaging his naked female neighbor s body, the narrator is asked if he s going to tell his mother. No, he answers. So you even know that certain things are better left unsaid! You really are a devil (Mahfouz, 13). The neighbor makes the obvious point that sometimes there are things that don t have to be repeated, for the benefit of all the parties involved. Some might argue that the Truth will always come out, and by hiding it someone will end up being affected by it much more later on. But that is only if the information does get repeated. Knowledge doesn t always have to be repeated, as was shown by our narrator and his neighbor. If the narrator had told his mother, would any of the parties benefit from this knowledge?
We learn of a case where finding out the truth was a devastating experience for one family. Hag Ali Khalafawy was rich because he had stolen another man s money. When he was on his death bed he told his son of his thievery and asked that the fortune be returned to its rightful owners. The son didn t believe it, and his father answered, It s the truth, no more, no less (Mahfouz, 96). This new knowledge (Truth) had suddenly turned the son s world upside-down, and he was very upset. The story ends with the son supposedly helping his father pass away so he won t be forced to return his fortune. This is a case where the father thought it was necessary for the Truth to come out, but where did it leave his family? So we wonder, is the Truth always the best thing to be told? Can it do more harm than good? In this case it did. Truth only brought about more pain, conflict, and trouble than if it had not been told.
When our narrator is conversing with Anwar Gilel on the fountain steps, Gilel has made an astounding realization. I ve just realized that I m a student among competing students in a school which throws together students from antagonistic little lanes, in an alley in the middle of warring alleys, that I m a creature among millions of creatures both seen and unseen on a ball of mud awhirl amid a solar system over which I have no control, that this solar system is itself lost in endless space … It goes on and he asks the narrator whether the sun will come up tomorrow. I d take bets on it, the lad answered. Gilel ends the argument by saying, Blessed are the ignorant, for they are happy (Mahfouz, 115). Gilel also has realized that what people don t know is sometimes better for them. It makes them feel better, safer, and happier. And we wonder which is more important, knowing the Truth, or knowing enough of the Truth to keep us satisfied with life and happy. In this story we notice that by being ignorant of the wondrous complexity of the world around him, the narrator is more at ease with life than his counterpart, Gilel. If Gilel was to retell this revelation to his community, opening their eyes to the Truth, would it be beneficial to anyone?
In another tale, the boy s father was having a conversation with a schoolteacher, Mustafa Al-Dashoory. After denouncing their religious beliefs and all that they know and stand for, Al-Dashoory commented, And some day mankind will achieve a certain wholeness in themselves and in society. Then and only then, by virtue of this new human personality, will we understand the meaning of divinity. Its eternal essence will become clear … (Mahfouz, 111). He claims that the Truthfulness of divinity will become clear when mankind becomes whole. He wants to spread this knowledge to the community, but the father knows better. He knows that religion is all his people have, and to tell them these ideas, whether they be Truth or not, will surely demoralize them. Al-Dashoory takes the father s advice, and people end up ignoring him. This supports the idea that people don t need to know everything, and knowing too much could actually hurt people. In this case Truth (or what he believes is Truth) is something that could break people s hearts by making them question their core beliefs. It doesn t seem right to hurt people in order to inform them of something that might be Truth. We again come to the question of whether dispensing this Truth would serve any benefit to those involved, or would it bring about more misery?
In one story, our narrator makes various observations about the state of his world. He notes all the chaos, anarchy, and craziness that he sees around him, and in the end says, And I tell myself that what is happening is an exciting and unbelievable dream (Mahfouz, 26). He is ignoring the Truth that he knows exists, because he doesn t want to accept it. He doesn t like the fact that the Truth which he has learned isn t good, or nice, or happy. He just pretends that it is a dream. This supports the idea that the Truth isn t always what we need or want to know. Sometimes we d rather hear what we want to hear because it comforts us, and makes us feel like our lives aren t as bad as they might be.
With the acquisition of knowledge (Truth) often come vast changes, sometimes for the worse. The knowledgeable will have bigger problems than the ignorant. This was the case with Saqr Mowazeeni, whose father had been an educated government official. When Saqr graduated, he got his dad s job. His dad later died and left him with a huge family and no money. Saqr s most memorable remark was, If only Father had been a bum! My life would be free and easy (Mahfouz, 70). He reasoned that if his father had been an uneducated bum, his life would have been better. He s arguing that too much education (Truth) had led his family into dark times. Is this generally the case? Does too much Truth usually lead to benefit or harm?
Knowledge leading to change is also shown in Patrick Al-Hamawy s story. He was sent to England for higher studies and when he returned home, he couldn t readjust to his old life (Mahfouz, 44). His new knowledge (Truth) had made him different; he now saw the world through different eyes. This may not necessarily be for the worse, but still it shows how Truth can cause great perturbations. It can make people uncomfortable, and aliens in their own environments.
A story in which the Truth did have a positive impact was that of Shalaby Ilaly. He had always been very proud of his father, who was a simple shop clerk. When his father died, he was very distraught. When Shalaby was refused the hand of a grain dealer s daughter he discovered that his father had been a convicted of thievery and put in jail. This had a profound impact on him. Because of his humiliation, he felt free to do whatever he wanted, without fear of what others might say. He tells our narrator, The most important thing in the world is knowing the truth. He goes on to remark, The whole truth and nothing but the truth (Mahfouz, 69). In this story, the Truth had a positive affect on the character. It gave him a new sort of freedom. He had gained a new sense of identity because of his new knowledge, and this evoked a sense of happiness in him.
In conclusion, in Naguib Mafouz s Fountain and Tomb, we are faced with a central theme of Truth. It can be reasoned that most of the time the Truth (or knowledge) isn t always something that it is necessary to know. The Truth can bring about happiness, prosperity, or a positive affect, but that seems to happen much less frequently. Sometimes being ignorant of the Truth is better because it makes lives easier and happier. People don t necessarily need to know everything (the whole Truth), because what they don t know can t really hurt them. Truth comes with excess baggage, and it sometimes leads to conflict, hurt feelings, alienation, or broken hearts. As the old saying goes, Ignorance is bliss. Fountain and Tomb does an excellent job of illustrating that cliche.