Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Lawsuit”

When creating the syllabus for this spring’s Intro to Lit class, I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to change up the readings from what I had done the past two years and throw in some new selections. Apparently, at the time, I didn’t want to talk about Cather’s “Paul’s Case” again, nor did I want to return to Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies”, both stories I enjoy and am comfortable discussing. No, I decided to go with a new story, one that was new to the 11th edition of our text (a decision more than likely prompted by the idea that my students would HAVE to get the new text that way). So I leafed through the anthology’s Table of Contents and came to Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Lawsuit”. The blurb hooked me…

He thought he’d seen the last of his late father’s second wife, but now she’s back to trouble his peaceful existence.

…and here’s where I should say I read the story, did some research on it, and made an informed decision as to whether to add it to the syllabus. But my intuition told me it would be a nice addition so I skipped a couple of those steps.

Here we are, three weeks later, and I’m recognizing that I have some ideas about the story, but that’s a bit distant from having some real thoughts about it. So I’m writing this trying to work some of those ideas out.

The story centers on the first-person narrator, a man whose 55 year-old father had married a younger woman (20). Complicating the situation is the fact that his family (his two sons, the narrator’s mother, and some sisters) worry that this will affect their “rights” to any inheritance, as he keeps his money locked in a cupboard in the house. The story, as you might guess based on the author’s name, is set in Egypt, so there are one or two cultural questions I have (namely since, as far as I can tell, the father has not yet divorced his first wife, does this mean he’s a polygamist?)

I should look this up (Egypt apparently frowns on the practice, but I can’t see that it’s illegal, so that answers that question…somewhat). The rest of the story relates how angry the son is at the young woman b/c of the trouble her relationship causes: the older brother dies in jail after a bloody fight with his father, and the woman ends up taking the money after the father dies due to a stroke. Years later, the woman re-enters the narrator’s life when she attempts to bring suit against him for “rights” – apparently an attempt to finagle money. Also another cultural difference – this claim would be laughed out of an American court.

Of course he’s furious, but here’s where Mahfouz starts making his point, through the son’s lawyer: the lawyer explains just how bad off the woman now is – she’s destitute after having been divorced several times, which is a mark of shame in the culture. The divorces resulted, more than likely, from her inability to have children, and she herself was scammed by a younger man. The lawyer also suggests sympathy would lie with the woman in any hearing b/c of the situation of her marriage to the much older man.

Anyway, the narrator is smug when he hears this – karma’s a bitch, it seems (note to self: don’t use that in class). He goes to court with the intention of seeing just how bad off she is, and more than likely rubbing her face in his success.

But then he sees her, and finds that she is truly a broken woman, who actually apologizes to him for causing him trouble, but tells him she has no other recourse.

His anger melts – he finds an “inner peace” – and it seems this change of heart might be key to finding a theme. The narrator wants vengeance so bad, yet when he has the chance to gain it, he seems to realize what an empty pursuit it really is. He tells the woman not to worry, that what the Lord wills will be done. He’s regained a level-headedness that had been lost to him for years.

I’ll work on that a bit. Interested to hear what my kids have to say about this.

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5 Responses to “Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Lawsuit””

  1. Apt, sir, apt.

    I just felt like that was a cool way of applauding your description here. I’m in a literature class and I have to write an essay on a short story not covered in class, and I’ve chosen The Lawsuit. Thanks for this, for while I did have somewhat of a murky idea of the theme, you’ve cleared it up a bit more and given me some clarity so I can finally get this paper started.

    (Just to be clear, this gave me a starting point, I’m gonna go do my own work and make my own opinions on this story…no cheating here.) 🙂

  2. good to hear – good luck on your essay.

  3. Wonderful blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get
    listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
    Thank you

  4. I am writing an essay about the story, “the law suit”, and I was wondering is you could please give me a good argument in the story to write about.

  5. machine a sous gratuit fortune

    Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Lawsuit” | The Lower Frequencies

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