Anaesthetizing as a Form of Escapism: How and Why Midaq Alley Inhabitants Intoxicate Themselves
With the rise of individualism in the 20th century, people had become distant and detached, while worrying about trying to communicate, and dreading being misunderstood. The Egyptian society itself at the time was on a brink of an abrupt state of deconstruction – religiously, socially, politically, ideologically, and economically. Midaq Alley explores this concept of desolation and how it affects the people differently through the eyes of its inhabitants and their choices, and by extension, their lives. Each of the main character suffers from the banality of the Alley, as well as the dissatisfaction and frustration aroused from it and the rest of its inhabitants. And in order to overcome this misery, each of them chose a way to distract him/herself from their very own mundane reality, be it by drugs, gossip, sex, violence, destructive ambitions, marriage, or by being vexed and cursing the entire Alley.
Abbas El-Helw, one of the main characters, reflects on the situation by saying that “(They)’re miserable…In a miserable country, among miserable people. How sad it is to never taste happiness till the whole world broke into war!” The World War gave the Alley a purpose, a way to feel relevant to the world again, and thus gave the inhabitants a sense of attachment. They long to be more than who they are, and to belong to somewhere else other than the Alley. This is specifically reflected on Hamida and Hussein Kersha. Hussein chooses to volunteer in the British army to escape the Alley. He then starts drinking, and relentlessly spends all his money till he loses all his savings along with his job, and ends up bitter, cynical, and indifferent even to his own life and to others, as he tells Abbas, “You fear for yourself? Let it kill you. So what? It’s not like you’re getting any better or any worse” As for Hamida, she is trying to fill a void in her life. She is parentless which caused a conflict between her desire to have a home of her own, and her appreciation to the woman who raised her. Hamida’s choice of intoxication is hiding behind her ego and pretty face, masking her fear in confidence, while pursuing her vaulting ambitions. Her pursuit to fill that void came in the forms of love, offered by Abbas El-Helw, money, offered by Mister Selim Elwan, but only Farag Ibrahim knew how to challenge her sense of dissatisfaction by pushing her towards an extreme of emotions and conflicts to the point of self-destruction.
The newness of Farag Ibrahim’s propositions drugs her completely that she forgets that “(she) is lost in the labyrinth that is Life” and for a while she escapes this forlorn Alley.Since the Alley is beating with loneliness and dissatisfaction, escaping isolation has become the creator of every desire. Abbas El-Helw, a barber, is content with where he is financially, however, he could not himself escape the routine or the isolation. In order to escape, he decides to pursue Hamida, and convince her to marry him. He loves her but what she gives him is a purpose to do something more as he loves the idea of her more than he loves her for herself, thus making herself his own ticket to attachment and relevance. Other inhabitants, such as Zeeta, the maker of deformities, whose way of numbing his pain is by manipulation, and by small acts of sadism that reflect his inferiority complex. He lives, literally and metaphorically, on deforming people.
Another such character is Kersha, who is exasperated by the inhabitants constant gossiping about his private life, and by his wife’s fighting, gets high almost every night in order to forget about the people’s talk so he can freely explore his sexuality. He yells, “What is wrong with people refusing to leave me at peace, or forget about me so they can be at peace themselves?” Thus, instead of living their lives, they numb themselves causing indifference to sneak into their lives and those around them, resulting in harm as in the case of Kersha. And one of the inhabitants that thrives on gossiping is Hamida’s mother. Her way of surviving the banality and the dissatisfaction is by relying on distracting gossip and arranging marriages that she can benefit from. Among those who she was willing to exploit is Mister Selim Elwan when he asked her daughter for marriage. Selim Elwan himself uses drugs to deal with helplessness and sudden realization of mortality. He feels abandoned by his sons, and revolted by his wife. Knowing that they have sins to bear, the inhabitants go to their Sheikh to get blessings, advises, or to feel better about themselves. The religious discourse used by Sheikh Radwan, reminds them with Life more than the Afterlife causing two polarized feelings which are either to be repulsed by the man and his sayings, or to be opiated by the idea that everything happens for a reason, and they can be forgiven no matter what.
Midaq Alley is filled with characters who dream of a glorified version of life to avoid the frustration they face on daily basis. They numb themselves from aches and dissatisfaction by the usage of drugs, gossip, inflicting pain, and exploitation, while living as victims to a relentless society created by themselves, and as prisoners in their own skin.
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With the rise of individualism in the 20th century, people had become distant and detached, while worrying about trying to communicate, and dreading being misunderstood. The Egyptian society itself at […]