The progression and its significance in the story Zaabalawi
The narrator does not receive any concrete help from these people regarding the whereabouts of Zaabalawi. However, each of them confirms the existence of the holy man and avers that he is difficult to locate. Finally, the narrator encounters an old landowner, who insists that he joins the man for drinks before discussing anything. The narrator, who is unaccustomed to wine, falls into a drunken stupor. When he awakes, the old man tells him that Zaabalawi was with them but has now disappeared again. The narrator is bitterly disappointed, but resolutely continues with his pursuit. The story is an allegory, in which a deeper level of meaning lies under the surface of the narration. Although the objective of the quest may be subject to various interpretations, Zaabalawi is essentially the story of a quest. As such, a subtle progression takes place in the tale. Zaabalawi is a quest which gradually progresses from materialism to spiritualism and the birth of understanding. The action of Zaabalawi takes the form of a road-map. At the start of the journey, the narrator is a boy who is only vaguely aware of the identity of Zaabalawi and is curious to know more. His father avers that Zaabalawi is a true saint of God, a remover of worries and troubles (Mahfouz, 7), but doubts that his young son is capable of understanding this saint. The narrator progresses from childhood to manhood. Zaabalawi remains a vague figure in the background as the narrator independently navigates the course of his materialistic life. It is only when he finds himself afflicted with that illness for which no one possesses a remedy (Mahfouz, 7), that he acknowledges his need for Zaabalawi. This new illness connotes the narrator’s crises of faith and the first stirring of his inherent spirituality which suggests that awakening to the inner life of man is a necessary condition of fulfillment as a human being (Gordimer, 171). On this note, the narrator sets out on his quest. His first stop is at the office of a lawyer, Sheik Qamar, who is well satisfied both with himself and with his worldly possessions (Mahfouz, 7). Here, the narrator is embarrassed and dismissed cursorily. He finds that a former residence of the holy man is now a rubbish dump, and despairs. Again, he begins wondering about Zaabalawi and clutching at the hope his venerable name stirred within me (Mahfouz, 8). The next stop on his road is the local Sheikh, who gives him a map as a guide to locate Zaabalawi. The bewilderment of the narrator with this map shows that If one thinks of the divine — as an object of knowledge — then this search will be constantly frustrated and the searcher will even be tempted to remove himself from the companionship of others (Gordimer, 124).The Sheikh admits that he has lost touch with Zaabalawi, due to having been somewhat preoccupied with the cares of the world (Mahfouz, 9). This is a definite assertion that worldliness and spirituality are irreconcilable. In both these encounters, there are frequent references to the mundane and spiritually wanting nature of modern life (Shankman, 123) as exemplified in luxurious carpets, cigars and telephones. The narrator is no nearer to the object of his quest, which he still cannot define.