The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader's Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here.
For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.
1. When Said is released from prison he goes directly to the home of Ilish Sidra. At the beginning of the novel, is Said more motivated by revenge or by his love for his daughter? How does he react when he sees her? Why doesn’t he insist on taking her with him when he leaves? How might Said’s character have developed differently if Sana had not rejected him?
2. Compare and contrast the characters of Nur and Nabawiyya. Why does Nabawiyya betray Said? How can Nur’s profession and her love for Said be reconciled? Which of the two women does Mahfouz portray more sympathetically? Why?
3. Are the teachings of the sheikh universal or do they represent only one particular religious viewpoint? Why is the sheikh cryptic when speaking to Said? Can Said recognize any wisdom in the sheikh’s message? If so, why does he choose not to accept it?
4. Mentors can have an enormous impact on their students. Examine the influence of Rauf Ilwan on Said’s youth. Why did Said admire him so much? Did Rauf ever feel the same about Said? What happened that made each man change?
5. Why does Tarzan welcome Said to the café and become an accomplice in his crimes? Is he a true friend to Said or simply enabling him to pursue a path of self-destruction? In what ways might Tarzan’s actions portray the dissatisfaction the average citizen might have felt with life in post-revolutionary Egypt?
6. Said has neither education nor money. Which is more valuable in the world portrayed in the novel? Why? Which characters value education most? Which place more value on money? Support your answer with passages from the text.