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National Endowment for the Arts
and the Dogs
FOR THE ARTS
and the Dogs
FOR THE ARTS
A great nation
deserves great art.
The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting
excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans,
and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an
independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest
annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner
cities, and military bases.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support
for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create
strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute
works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to
sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support
Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts
opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based
in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state
region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South
Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United
States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years.
Additional support for The Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg
National Endowment for the Arts
1 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20506-0001
Al-Ghitani, Gamal. The Mahfouz Dialogs. New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2007.
El-Enany, Rasheed. Naguib Mahfouz: His Life and Times. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2007.
Kennedy, X. J. and Dana Gioia, eds. An Introduction to Fiction. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005.
Mahfouz, Naguib. Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994-2001. Cairo:
The American University in Cairo Press, 2001.
Mahfouz, Naguib. The Thief and the Dogs. 1961. New York: Anchor Books, 2008.
Salmawy, Mohamed. The Last Station: Naguib Mahfouz Looking Back. New York: The American University in
Cairo Press, 2007.
El Shabrawy, Charlotte. "Naguib Mahfouz: The Art of Fiction, No. 129." The Paris Review 123 (Summer 1992),
"The Life and Work of Naguib Mahfouz, 191 1-2006." New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2006.
Eye Witness Travel: Egypt. New York: DK Publishing, 2007.
David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives
Sarah Bainter Cunningham, PhD, NEA Director of Arts Education
Writer: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts, with a preface by Dana Gioia
Series Editor: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts
Graphic Design: Fletcher Design/Washington DC
Cover Portrait: John Sherffius for The Big Read. Page iv: Book cover courtesy of Random House, image by
Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Page 1: Caricature of Dana Gioia by John Sherffius. Inside back
cover: Courtesy of The American University in Cairo Press.
Table of Contents
Suggested Teaching Schedule 2
Lesson One: Biography 4
Lesson Two: Culture and History 5
Lesson Three: Narrative and Point of View 6
Lesson Four: Characters 7
Lesson Five: Figurative Language 8
Lesson Six: Symbols 9
Lesson Seven: Character Development 10
Lesson Eight: The Plot Unfolds 11
Lesson Nine: Themes of the Novel 12
Lesson Ten: What Makes a Book Great? 13
Essay Topics 14
Capstone Projects 15
Handout One: The Stream of Consciousness Technique 16
Handout Two: The Sheikh As a Moral Voice in the Novel 17
Handout Three: The Literary Legacy of Naguib Mahfouz 18
Teaching Resources 19
NCTE Standards 20
>' in « v «
THE THIEF f D
TH £ DOGS
Leaving his hideout made him
all the more conscious of being
hunted. He now knew how mice
and foxes feel, slipping away on the
run. Alone in the dark, he could
see the city's lights glimmering in
the distance, lying in wait for him."
— NAGUIB MAHFOUZ
from The Thief and the Dogs
Welcome to The Big Read, a major initiative from the National
Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading
in American culture. The Big Read hopes to unite communities through
great literature, as well as inspire students to become life-long readers.
This Big Read Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to lead you through
Naguib Mahfouz's classic Egyptian novel, The Thief and the Dogs. Each
lesson has four sections: a thematic focus, discussion activities, writing
exercises, and homework assignments. In addition, we have provided
suggested essay topics and capstone projects, as well as handouts with
more background information about the novel, the historical period, and
the author. All lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards
required in the fiction genre.
The Big Read teaching materials also include a CD. Packed with interviews,
commentaries, and excerpts from the novel, The Big Read CD presents
first-hand accounts of why Mahfouz's novel remains so compelling four
decades after its initial publication. Celebrated writers, scholars, and
actors have volunteered their time to make The Big Read CDs exciting
additions to the classroom.
Finally, The Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with
interviews, booklists, time lines, and historical information. We hope
this guide and syllabus allow you to have fun with your students while
introducing them to the work of a great Egyptian author.
From the NEA, we wish you an exciting and productive school year.
Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts
National Endowment tor the r\rts THE BIG READ • |
Activities: Listen to The Big Read CD.
Discuss the life of Naguib Mahfouz and his
work. Begin keeping a Reader's Journal. Write
a short essay on how studying Mahfouz's life
might be important while reading The Thief
and the Dogs.
Homework: Read "Introduction to the
Novel" from the Reader's Guide (p. 3), the
novel's Introduction (pp. 5-9), and Chapters
One and Two (pp. 13-33) *
FOCUS: Narrative and Point of View
Activities: Discuss Mahfouz's use of both
third-person narration and first-person
interior monologue. Have students write
a journal entry discussing the narrative
technique they prefer.
Homework: Read Chapters Six, Seven, Eight,
and Nine (pp. 63-88).
FOCUS: Culture and History
Activities: Discuss the Egyptian Revolution of
1952. Read the beginning of the novel aloud
in class and consider the ways the political
turmoil in his country might have affected
Mahfouz's writing. Write a three-paragraph
essay examining the way freedom is
portrayed in the novel's opening paragraphs.
Homework: Read Handout One and
Chapters Three, Four, and Five (pp. 34-62).
Activities: Discuss the major characters,
examining the ways each affects Said. Write
a journal entry considering whether Said
Mahran is heroic.
Homework: Read Chapters Ten, Eleven, and
Twelve (pp. 89-116).
FOCUS: Figurative Language
Activities: Discuss the ways Mahfouz uses
* Page numbers refer to the 2008 Anchor Books edition of
The Thief and the Dogs.
2 * THE BIG READ
imagery, metaphor, and simile. Have students
write a short analysis of the way simile and
metaphor are used in the novel.
Homework: Read Chapters Thirteen,
Fourteen, and Fifteen (pp. 117-135).
National Endowment for the Arts
Activities: Read and discuss "An Interview
with Naguib Mahfouz" from the Reader's
Guide (pp. 10-11). Discuss the ways Nur
can be seen as a symbol of Egypt. Examine
Said's declaration, "Whoever kills me will be
killing the millions. . ." and the ways it creates
a symbolic link between his character and the
average Egyptian citizen. Write a short essay
on a symbol in the novel.
Homework: Finish reading the novel. Have
students list the novel's three major turning
points in their Reader's Journal.
FOCUS: Character Development
Activities: Create a timeline for the novel.
Write a character summary of Nur. Discuss
the sheikh's claim in Chapter Seventeen that
Said could still save himself.
Homework: Have students note instances in
their Reader's Journals where Mahfouz uses
symbols, action, imagery, and dialogue to
foreshadow the novel's conclusion.
FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds
Activities: Examine symbols, actions, imagery,
and dialogue that foreshadow the novel's end.
Read and discuss Handout Two. Examine
each of Said's visits to the sheikh. Write a
different ending to the novel.
Homework: Write a paragraph about the
novel's most compelling theme.
FOCUS: Themes of the Novel
Activities: Discuss the way The Thief and the
Dogs examines freedom, morality, and justice.
Ask students to identify other themes of the
Homework: Begin essays. Outlines are due
the next class period.
FOCUS: What Makes a Book Great?
Activities: Read Handout Three. Discuss how
Mahfouz viewed literary excellence and the
goals of a writer. Write a letter encouraging a
friend to read The Thief and the Dogs.
Homework: Students will finish their essays.
National Endowmeni for the \tts
THE BIG READ ■ 3
Examining an authors life can inform and expand the readers
understanding of a novel. Biographical criticism is the practice of analyzing
a literary work through the lens of an author's experience. In this lesson,
explore the author's life to understand the novel more fully.
Naguib Mahfouz was born in Cairo, Egypt, on December 11, 1911.
Gamaliya, the neighborhood where he spent his early childhood, was a
crowded, bustling place. For Mahfouz, it was a microcosm of Egyptian
society, a place where the dramas of ordinary people played out in streets
and alleyways. In March and April of 1919, young Mahfouz witnessed the
uprising of Egyptian citizens against British colonial rule. Demonstrations
and rallies disrupted daily life. These events had a profound effect on
Mahfouz, and their influence on his fiction is unmistakable.
After college Mahfouz entered the Egyptian civil service, and he held
various government posts until his retirement. For many years, Mahfouz
made little money from the publication of his fiction. He supplemented his
government income by screenwriting. Many Egyptians are more familiar
with Mahfouz's TV and film work than his novels and short stories.
Mahfouz's cinematic experience influences the timing and pacing in many
of his novels, including The Thief and the Dogs (1961).
Listen to The Big Read CD. Students should keep a reader's journal while they
are studying The Thief and the Dogs. Ask them to take notes in their journals as
they listen to the CD.
Distribute photocopies of the Reader's Guide essays "Naguib Mahfouz 1911-
2006" (pp. 6-7) and "Mahfouz and His Other Works" (pp. 12-13). Divide the
class into two groups and assign each an essay. After reading and discussing the
essays, each group will present what it has learned.
Using their reader's journal, have students list the three most important points
they learned about Naguib Mahfouz from the essays and CD. Ask them to write
two or three paragraphs examining how the things they learned might influence
Mahfouz's work and why the information could be important to understanding
The Thief and the Dogs.
Distribute photocopies of the Reader's Guide essay "Introduction to the Novel"
(p. 3). Have students read the essay, the novel's Introduction (pp. 5-9, written by
its translator, Trevor Le Gassick), and Chapters One and Two (pp. 13-33). Ask
students to consider what the sheikh is trying to communicate to Said and the
role the sheikh might play as the story unfolds.
4 • THE BIG READ
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Cultural and historical contexts give birth to the dilemmas and themes at
the center of the novel. Studying these contexts and appreciating intricate
details of the time and place help readers understand the motivations of the
Though fascinated by the pyramids, pharaohs, and riches of ancient
Egyptian civilization, many of us know little of modern Egyptian culture or
history. The country was part of the British Empire when Naguib Mahfouz
was born in 1911. The British government purchased Egypt's share of the
Suez Canal in 1875 hoping to secure control of this strategic passage for
shipping between the United Kingdom and India. This led to outright
British occupation by 1882.
The uprising that young Mahfouz witnessed in 1919 was a result of a
nationalist movement against British rule. In 1922, the British agreed to
Egypt's immediate independence but insisted troops remain in the country
to protect imperial interests. Anti-British sentiment ran high. Many
Egyptian citizens viewed their king as merely a British puppet. In 1952, a
group of officers including Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power in a bloodless
coup that became known as the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, or what
many Egyptians call the Second Revolution.
Read and discuss the Reader's Guide essay "The Egyptian Revolution of 1952"
(pp. 8-9) in class. The Thief and the Dogs was published in 1961, less than a
decade after the Revolution of 1952, and in many ways is Mahfouz's examination
of its successes and failures. The story begins with Said Mahran's release from
prison. Read the first three paragraphs of the novel aloud in class. Ask students
to consider how the political turmoil of his country might have influenced how
Mahfouz opens the novel.
*J Writing Exercise
In their journals, ask your students to write three paragraphs considering why
Mahfouz chose to begin the novel with Said's first hours of freedom. How
is freedom described? What, if any, parallels can be drawn between Said's
experience and the 1952 revolution?
Photocopy and distribute Handout One: The Stream of Consciousness
Technique. Have students read the handout and Chapters Three. Four, and
Five (pp. 34-62). Ask students to pay close attention to the way Mahfouz uses
interior monologue to allow the reader access to Said's private thoughts. If they
become confused while reading, ask them to mark those places to discuss during
the next class period.
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THE BIG READ ■ 5
and Point of
The narrator tells the story with a specific perspective informed by his or
her beliefs and experiences. Narrators can be major or minor characters,
or exist outside the story altogether. The narrator weaves her or his point
of view, including ignorance and bias, into telling the tale. A first-person
narrator participates in the events of the novel, using "I." A distanced
narrator, often not a character, is removed from the action of the story
and uses the third-person (he, she, and they). The distanced narrator may
be omniscient, able to read the minds of all the characters, or limited,
describing only certain characters' thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, the
type of narrator determines the point of view from which the story is told.
The Thief and the Dogs is told from third-person point of view by a
narrator who does not participate in the novel's action. Like most of
Mahfouz's work, the novel is realistic fiction that attempts to faithfully
reproduce the appearance of ordinary people in everyday situations.
However, Mahfouz sometimes chooses to give the reader access to Said
Mahran's private thoughts through interior monologue, an extended
presentation of thoughts and ideas that read as if Said is speaking aloud.
These thoughts are written in the first person from Said's point of view.
Interior monologue is one of the most common literary devices used in
the stream of consciousness technique.
Mahfouz switches between traditional third-person narration and first-person
interior monologue from Said's point of view. In the English version of The Thief
and the Dogs, the translator signifies the change by putting Said's thoughts in
italics. Still, many readers might have trouble making the transition between
the two forms of narration. Encourage your students to share examples of
specific places in the novel's first five chapters where they had difficulty following
the narrative. If necessary, read the sections aloud to help students become
accustomed to the way Mahfouz transitions between the narrative voices.
Ask your students to examine the differences between the two narrative forms.
In their journal, ask them to write three paragraphs considering which narrative
technique they prefer to read. Which allows them to feel closer to the action of
the story? To Said? To the other characters?
Read Chapters Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine (pp. 63-88). Ask students to identify
the main characters of the story. How do they influence Said's actions?
6 ' THE BIG READ
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The central character in a work of literature is called the protagonist.
The protagonist usually initiates the main action of the story and often
overcomes a flaw, such as weakness or ignorance, to achieve a new
understanding by the work's end. A protagonist who acts with great
honor or courage may be called a hero. An antihero is a protagonist lacking
these qualities. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or purposeful,
the antihero may be cowardly, self-interested, or weak. The protagonist s
journey is enriched by encounters with characters who hold differing
beliefs. One such character type, a foil, has traits that contrast with the
protagonists and highlight important features of the main character's
personality. The most important foil, the antagonist, opposes
the protagonist, barring or complicating his or her success.
The first chapter sets up the friction between Said Mahran, the novel's
protagonist, and his ex-wife Nabawiyya's new husband, Ilish Sidra. Said
believes Ilish and Nabawiyya betrayed him to the police. Later, he seeks
refuge with the sheikh but cannot follow the cleric's spiritual advice. When
Rauf Ilwan refuses to give Said a job at the newspaper, Said loses his
only hope for legitimate employment. He returns to his old friends villa
intending to rob it but is caught in the act. Only the cafe owner, Tarzan,
and his patrons seem genuinely pleased by Said's release. Nur, a prostitute
who frequents the cafe, loves Said and hopes his liberation will offer them
both the chance at a better life. In various ways, each of the characters
serves as a foil to Said — either by attempting to lead him away from
trouble, by aiding his illegal activities, or by refusing to help him adjust to
life outside the prison walls.
Photocopy and distribute the essay "Major Characters in the Novel" from the
Reader's Guide (pp. 4-5). Divide the class into six groups. Assign each group a
character (Nabawiyya, Ilish, Sheikh Ali al-Junaydi, Rauf, Nur, or Tarzan) and ask
them to examine the novel's first nine chapters, looking for ways in which their
character influences Said's behavior. Is the character a positive or a negative
influence? Have each group present its findings to the class.
In his interview with the Paris Review Mahfouz stated, "A hero today would for
me be one who adheres to a certain set of principles and stands by them in the
face of opposition. He fights corruption, is not an opportunist, and has a strong
moral foundation." Ask your students to write a short essay considering whether
or not Said Mahran is a heroic character according to Mahfouz's definition.
Read Chapters Ten, Eleven, and Twelve (pp. 89-1 16).
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THE BIG READ ■ 7
Writers use figurative language such as imagery, similes, and metaphors
to help the reader visualize and experience events and emotions in a story.
Imagery — a word or phrase that refers to sensory experience (sight, sound,
smell, touch, or taste) — helps create a physical experience for the reader and
adds immediacy to literary language.
Some figurative language asks us to stretch our imaginations, finding
the likeness in seemingly unrelated things. Simile is a comparison of two
things that initially seem quite different but are shown to have significant
resemblance. Similes employ connective words, usually "like," "as," "than,"
or a verb such as "resembles." A metaphor is a statement that one thing is
something else that, in a literal sense, it is not. By asserting that a thing is
something else, a metaphor creates a close association that underscores an
important similarity between these two things.
Mahfouz often uses imagery combined with metaphor and simile to evoke a
certain mood or to foreshadow the novel's events. Examine the first paragraph of
What a lot of graves there are, laid out as far as the eye can see. Their headstones
are like hands raised in surrender, though they are beyond being threatened by
anything. A city of silence and truth, where success and failure, murderer and
victim, come together, where thieves and policemen lie side by side in peace for
the first and last time. (p. 89)
Ask your students to consider how the simile "headstones are like hands"
and the metaphor of a cemetery being "a city of silence and truth" aids our
understanding of the novel and its setting. What specific mood does the
paragraph create? How might this foreshadow the novel's subsequent events?
Ask students to find another example where Mahfouz uses simile or metaphor
to describe setting or evoke a mood. Have them cite the example and write a
short analysis of it in their journals.
Read Chapters Thirteen, Fourteen, and Fifteen (pp. 117-135). Have students pay
close attention to the paragraph in Chapter Fifteen that begins, "Whoever kills
me will be killing the millions" (p. 133).
8 ' THE BIG READ
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Symbols are persons, places, or things in a narrative that have significance
beyond a literal understanding. The craft of storytelling depends on
symbols to present ideas and point toward new meanings. Most frequently,
a specific object will be used to refer to (or symbolize) a more abstract
concept. The repeated appearance of an object suggests a non-literal, or
figurative, meaning attached to the object. Symbols are often found in
the book's title, at the beginning and end of the story, within a profound
action, or in the name or personality of a character. The life of a novel is
perpetuated by generations of readers interpreting and reinterpreting the
main symbols. By identifying and understanding symbols, readers can
reveal new interpretations of the novel.
Sometimes writers create symbols deliberately. At other times, they are
unaware of the associations they are creating. In this lesson, examine
instances when Mahfouz intentionally uses symbolism and an instance
where the association between a character and a larger concept was purely
Photocopy and distribute "An Interview with Naguib Mahfouz" from the Reader's
Guide (pp. 10-11). Read the interview aloud in class. Ask students to pay close
attention to what Mahfouz says about his female heroines. Keeping in mind the
politics of the time period in which the novel is set, discuss how Nur's character
can be read as a symbol of Egypt. Are your students surprised to discover that
Mahfouz did not consciously create this association?
Read the following passage from Chapter Fifteen aloud in class:
Whoever kills me will be killing the millions. I am the hope and the dream, the
redemption of cowards; I am good principles, consolation, the tears that recall the
weeper to humility (p. 1 33).
Here, Said declares himself to be a symbolic representation of the Egyptian
people. Ask your students to identify principles Said might share with the average
law-abiding citizen. How might Said's frustrations reflect those of the era? In
what ways would Said fail to represent the average person?
Q Writing Exercise
Ask students to write a short essay in their journal exploring the symbolic value
of one of the following: dogs, the cemetery, or books. Ask them to cite at least
three references from the text where the object they chose acts as a symbol.
Finish reading the novel. Have students identify three major turning points and
note them in their journals.
National Endowment tor the \rts
THE BIG READ ■ 9
Novels trace the development of characters who encounter a series of
challenges. Most characters contain a complex balance of virtues and vices.
Internal and external forces require characters to question themselves,
overcome fears, or reconsider dreams. The protagonist may undergo
profound change. A close study of character development maps, in each
character, the evolution of motivation, personality, and belief. The tension
between a characters strengths and weaknesses keeps the reader guessing
about what might happen next and the protagonist's eventual success or
Said Mahran is motivated not just by a need for revenge, but also by his
own skewed internal code of conduct. He repeatedly seeks Sheikh Ali
al-Junaydi's spiritual counsel but is ultimately only able to follow his own
moral voice, the one telling him he must try to right all the wrongs that
have been perpetrated upon him, even if he loses his life in the process.
Ask your students to create a timeline of the novel's turning points on a
blackboard or on large sheets of paper. They will also use this timeline for the
Use the timeline to examine Said's mental deterioration. What clues does
Mahfouz provide that Said is becoming increasingly unstable? Ask students to give
us specific examples of symbols, actions, images, or dialogue that foreshadow the
novel's end. How does this foreshadowing affect the level of suspense?
Though Nur is not living a "moral" life by most societal standards, she is
portrayed as a good woman whose love for Said is genuine. Ask your students to
write a three-paragraph character summary of Nur citing specific examples from
the book. Does Nur's character develop and change during the course of the
story? What do they believe happened to her at the novel's end?
Ask students to reflect on the ways Mahfouz constructed the plot to reach its
dramatic conclusion. In their journals, have them note one instance each where a
symbol, an action, imagery, and dialogue foreshadow the novel's conclusion.
I * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts
The author crafts a plot structure to create expectations, increase suspense,
and develop characters. The pacing of events can make a novel either
predictable or riveting. Foreshadowing and flashbacks allow the author to
defy the constraints of time. Sometimes an author can confound a simple
plot by telling stories within stories. In a conventional work of fiction, the
peak of the story's conflict — the climax — is followed by the resolution, or
denouement, in which the effects of that climactic action are presented.
Some of the major turning points in the novel include Sana's rejection of
Said, Rauf Ilwan's unwillingness to help Said find a job, the accidental
murder of the man at Ilish Sidra's old apartment, and the death of Rauf s
doorkeeper. Each of these events causes Said's mental state to unravel a bit
further. Near the novel's end, he is "ravenously gnawing on leftover bones
like a dog" while he waits for Nur's return.
Said turns to the sheikh for the last time, asking, "Would it be in your
power, with all the grace with which you're endowed, to save me, then?"
The sheikh replies, "You can save yourself, if you wish."
Read aloud in class Handout Two: The Sheikh as a Moral Voice in the Novel.
Using the timeline as a reference, examine each of Said's visits to the sheikh. How
often do they coincide with the shifts in the novel's action? What specific advice
does the sheikh give Said on each of these occasions? How does Said respond?
Ask your students if they agree with the sheikh's claim in Chapter Seventeen
that Said could still save himself. At this point in the novel, what options are still
available to Said? Why is he unwilling to change, even when facing certain death?
In their journals, ask students to write a different ending to the novel.
Have students come to the next class with the three major themes of the novel.
Ask them to choose the theme they find most compelling and write a paragraph
National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 1 1
Themes are the central, recurring subjects of a novel. As characters grapple
with circumstances such as racism, class, or unrequited love, profound
questions will arise in the readers mind about human life, social pressures,
and societal expectations. Classic themes include intellectual freedom versus
censorship, the relationship between one's personal moral code and larger
political justice, and spiritual faith versus rational considerations. A novel
often reconsiders these age-old debates by presenting them in new contexts
or from new points of view.
Discussion Activities and Writing Exercise
Use the following questions to stimulate discussion or provide writing exercises
in order to interpret the book in specific ways. Using historical references to
support ideas, explore the statements The Thief and the Dogs makes about the
following themes and other themes your students identify during their reading of
Examine what freedom means to Said. How do politics, economics, and the
social limitations of his world affect him? What does freedom mean to the novel's
secondary characters such as Nur, the sheikh, or Rauf llwan? Do they handle the
restrictions placed upon them differently than Said? If so, how?
Though Said is a career criminal, he has a personal moral code. Examine his
ethics. What does he value most, and why? Which characters do you believe are
the most honorable? Which are the least honorable?
Said sees his quest for revenge as a way of obtaining justice. Examine the ways his
anger at Nabawiyya, llish, Rauf, and society might be justified. How might he have
pursued justice without resorting to violence?
Ask students to begin their essays using the essay topics in this guide. Encourage
students to refer to the entries in their Reader's Journal to help them build an
essay thesis. Outlines are due during the next class period.
1 2 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts
a Book Great?
Great stories articulate and explore the mysteries of our daily lives in the
larger context of the human struggle. The writer s voice, style, and use of
language inform the plot, characters, and themes. By creating opportunities
to learn, imagine, and reflect, a great novel is a work of art that affects
many generations of readers, changes lives, challenges assumptions, and
breaks new ground.
As a class, examine the following quotations by Mahfouz from Naguib Mahfouz at
Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate 1994-2001:
There are no features that are the exclusive prerogative of good literature,
beyond the comprehensiveness of the ideas in which it deals, and the depth and
vision of the work.
Literary excellence is a standard that applies across national boundaries.
The ultimate goal of any writer is to satisfy both the elite and the average reader.
Shakespeare's ideas may be profound, his characters of a complexity that must
be studied, yet his plays are never wanting in humor and humanity. These traits
make them accessible even to those who cannot understand the many references
and allusions with which they are rife. Because of this uncanny ability to touch the
cultured and the uneducated alike, Shakespeare's plays have universal appeal.
Ask students to make a list of the characteristics of a great book. Write these
on the board. What elevates a book to greatness? Ask them to discuss, within
groups, other books that include some of these characteristics. Do any of these
books remind them of The Thief and the Dogs? Is this a great novel?
Read Handout Three: The Literary Legacy of Naguib Mahfouz. A great writer can
be the voice of a generation. What kind of voice does Mahfouz create in The Thief
and the Dogs?
Ask students to write a letter to a friend in their journals. The student should
make an argument that explains why The Thief and the Dogs has meaning for all
people, even those who have no interest in other times or other places. What can
be learned from reading the literature of other cultures? Is The Thief and the Dogs
just an Egyptian story, or can it also be considered universal?
Students will finish their essays and turn them in at the next class.
National Endowment for the Arts
THE BIG READ • 13
The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics,
as do the Discussion Questions in the Readers 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
For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or
thesis 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 llish 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
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
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 llwan
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 cafe
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
14 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts
Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read
community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or
1 . Photo Gallery: Divide students into four
groups. Assign each group one of the following
including crops grown today
Twentieth-century political leaders
Ask each group to find and print photographs
relating to its assigned topic and write captions
for each. Assemble the photographs into a
gallery that can be shown at a school assembly
or in conjunction with a Big Read event in your
2. Performance: Work with your school's
drama instructor to produce a reader's theatre
or stage version of the novel. Students who
do not feel comfortable acting can work on
lighting, set creation, or costume design.
3. Artist's Gallery: Ask students to draw or
paint a scene from the novel or design a new
jacket for the book. Display the artwork in
your school's hallway or at a local Big Read
4. Read-a-thon: Naguib Mahfouz was known to
frequent cafes in Cairo. Ask a local coffee shop
to sponsor a read-a-thon of The Thief and the
Dogs. Team with a culinary arts program at a
local high school or college to provide typical
Arabic sweets for patrons to enjoy with their
5. Adaptation: Divide the class into groups. Ask
students to adapt their favorite scenes from
the novel using your town or city as a setting.
They should write all the dialogue and take the
parts of all the characters. Ask each group to
perform its scene for the entire class or at a
student assembly. Afterward, discuss the shift
in setting. How did it change the story? Do
the types of characters in The Thief and the
Dogs exist in our society? If so, what issues do
our cultures share? If not, why are Americans
6. Cultural Appreciation: Teaming with a
world history, current affairs, or social studies
class, plan a day to explore Egyptian culture.
Play Egyptian music, show the subtitled movie
of The Thief and the Dogs (1962), enjoy Egyptian
food, and talk about recent news events that
have special relevance to the Egyptian people.
National Endowment for the Aits
THE BIG READ ■ 15
The Stream of Consciousness Technique
An Introduction to Fiction defines stream of
consciousness as "a kind of selective omniscience:
the presentation of thoughts and sense impressions
in a lifelike fashion — not in a sequence arranged
by logic, but mingled randomly." Psychologist
William James first coined the term "stream of
consciousness" in his book Principles ofPsychobgy
(1890) to describe the way humans respond to
daily life through thought and emotion.
One of the most important choices an author
faces when choosing a point of view is the ability
to manipulate the distance between the novel's
characters and the reader. Early writers of fiction
had mostly limited themselves to presenting a
character's thoughts and feelings through action
or dialogue with other characters. Stream of
consciousness writing was first used in the late
nineteenth century by writers hoping to break
away from the formality of Victorian literature.
The technique was a bold innovation that allowed
readers to experience emotional, moral, and
intellectual thought from inside a character's head
and opened up new possibilities for point of view
beyond traditional first or third person narration.
Many of the first writers to use stream of
consciousness were modernists such as James Joyce
(1882-1941), Virginia Wolff (1882-1941), D. H.
Lawrence (1885-1930), and William Faulkner
(1897-1962). In their realistic writing, they strived
to portray characters, events, and settings in
plausible, authentic ways.
Stream of consciousness writing allows an author
to create the illusion that the reader is privy to
sensations and uncensored thoughts within a
character's mind before the character has ordered
them into any rational form or shape. These
thoughts are often portrayed through direct
interior monologue, the presentation of a character's
thoughts as if he or she were speaking aloud. The
narrator disappears, if only for a moment, and
the character's thoughts and emotions take over.
Interior monologue lays bare the character's private
ideas and feelings. The way a character thinks —
either scattered and disorganized or logical and
orderly — provides clues to the character's mental
condition, intellect, and emotional stability.
Like modernist writers in Europe and America,
Naguib Mahfouz combined realism and stream of
consciousness narration to great effect. The Thief
and the Dogs pioneered psychological realism in
Arabic fiction. Access to Said Mahran's internal
experiences enhances the reader's understanding
of his external reality. In the novel's first chapter
Said thinks of his daughter Sana: "I wonder how
much the little one even knows about her father?
Nothing, I suppose. No more than this road
does, these passersby or this molten air." Yet, he is
ultimately unprepared for the child's refusal of his
affection. Moments later he asks himself, "Doesn't
she know how much I love her?" Seeing Said's
nervous anticipation and his eventual reaction to
Sana's rejection gives the reader clues as to how
Said might react to challenges later in the novel.
Through stream of consciousness writing and
internal monologue, the reader views Said's struggle
to control his circumstances. As his burning desire
for revenge carries him closer to self-destruction,
his thoughts become less rational, his emotions
increasingly volatile. He tells himself, "Think only
about what you've got to do now, waiting here, filled
with bitterness, in this murderous stifling darkness."
Alone and desperate, Said commits to a course of
action that will bring either salvation or death.
16 * THE BIG READ
National Endowment for the Arts
The Sheikh As a Moral Voice in the Novel
In the opening scene of The Thief and the Dogs,
Said Mahran walks out of prison after four years
of waiting for the day he will confront the man
and woman who betrayed him and ruined his life.
Naguib Mahfouz based the character of Said on
real-life villain Mahmoud Suleiman, a criminal
whose attempt to kill his wife and her lawyer
became popular newspaper fodder in Egypt and
made him a notorious national celebrity.
Like his real-life counterpart, Said Mahran briefly
wins the admiration of a public sympathetic to
his fight against personal betrayal and political
corruption. But Said's plans fall apart and result
in deeper trouble than he'd ever imagined. As
Mahfouz scholar Raymond Stock notes, "Said's
impulses are selfish, not noble, and his self-
absorption twice leads him to kill the wrong person
while stalking those who wronged him."
Mahfouz portrays Said as a man desperate to find
meaning in a world he feels is completely corrupt.
Said believes the guilty prosper while the innocent
fail. "A world without morals is like a universe
without gravity," he laments. He seeks the company
of his late father's spiritual advisor, Sheikh Ali
al-Junaydi, a Sufi Muslim.
Sufism, a sect of Islam, combines mysticism and
quietism in order to approach God (Allah) in a state
of serene reflection. Many are familiar with Sufism
through the poetry of Jalalud'din Rumi, a revered
mystical poet born in 1207. Sufi principles consist
of dedication to worship and to God, disregard
for material possessions, and abstinence from vice,
wealth, and worldly prestige. Sufis arc known for
the peaceful, meditative nature of their religion.
Sheikh Ali al-Junaydi s first words to Said are
"peace and God's compassion be upon you," yet he
recognizes that Said's concern is an immediate need
for food and shelter, not dedication to God. "You
seek a roof, not an answer," the Sheikh admonishes.
"Take a copy of the Koran and read Also repeat
the words: 'Love is acceptance, which means
obeying His commands and refraining from what
He has prohibited and contentment with what He
decrees and ordains.' '
The cleric's soothing influence is repeated
throughout the novel, but Said is unable to accept
the sheikh's guidance. After accidentally killing a
man at the door of Ilish Sidra's old apartment, Said
visits al-Junaydi again. This time Said ignores the
morning prayers of the sheikh's followers and falls
asleep for many hours. When he wakes the cryptic
sheikh observes, "You've had a long sleep, but you
know no rest Your burning heart yearns for
shade, yet continues forward under the fire of the
Said cannot comprehend the sheikh's simple
wisdom. After the pointless shootings outside
Ilish s apartment and Raul Ilwans villa, the public
sympathy Said once enjoyed erodes. His inability
to accept the sheikh's offer of redemption through
religion results in tragic consequences. "I am alone
with my freedom," Said laments, "or rather I'm in
the company of the Sheikh, who is lost in heaven,
repeating words that cannot be understood by
someone approaching hell.
National Endowment tor the \rts
THE BIG READ • |7
The Literary Legacy of Naguib Mahfouz
In Egypt and throughout the Arab world, the
novels of Naguib Mahfouz are more than modern
classics — they provide the foundation on which
much of contemporary Arabic fiction is built.
Todays Arabic novels are invariably compared to
and contrasted with those of Mahfouz, who is
widely regarded as the father of the modern Arab
novel. When presenting him with the Nobel Prize
for Literature in 1988, the Swedish Academy
observed, "In Arabic literature, the novel is actually
a twentieth— century phenomenon, more or less
contemporary with Mahfouz. And it was he who,
in due course, was to bring it to maturity."
Mahfouz's impressive body of work — drama, non-
fiction, novels, and short stories — continues to
influence writers around the world, including many
contemporary Egyptian authors. Alaa Al Aswany,
whose novels The Yacoubian Building (2005) and
Chicago (2008) have hit international best-seller
lists since their translation, credits Mahfouz for
having "opened doors for five generations of Arab
novelists." Ibrahim Asian, author of Nile Sparrows
(2004) and The Heron (2005), writes:
Mahfouz . . . was able to create from Arabic, with all
its phonetic characteristics, a language able to be the
vehicle for modern literature, a modern storytelling
form. And he forged the Arabic novel in a fashion
that speaks to the Western understanding of the
genre, a fact that has had a profound effect. The
achievement is of barely imaginable magnitude.
Indeed, the translation of Mahfouz's novels bridged
a gap between Arabic literature and that of the
European and American traditions. History and
current events often served as inspiration for
Mahfouz, infusing his novels with a distinctly
Egyptian flavor. While Mahfouz's novels are
wrapped in Arab culture and have a specific
national setting, they also address the human
condition and implore readers to examine the
sociology of the world around us. According to
Raymond Stock, " [Mahfouz] left an incredibly
rich and varied legacy. He gave the everyday flavors
of life, but his great genius was that he could
transcend the local and make it universal."
On December 11, 1996, to celebrate Mahfouz's
eighty-fifth birthday and the publication of his
Echoes of an Autobiography, the American University
in Cairo Press established the Naguib Mahfouz
Medal for Literature to recognize an outstanding
work of Arabic literature. Five years later, the AUC
Press announced the Naguib Mahfouz Fund for
Translations of Arabic Literature. By encouraging
emerging Arab writers and supporting the
translation of Arabic literature, the press continues
to honor the memory of Egypt's most recognized
and beloved writer.
I 8 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts
Al-Ghitani, Gamal. The Mahfouz Dialogs. New York: The
American University in Cairo Press, 2007.
El-Enany, Rasheed. Naguib Mahfouz: His Life and Times.
Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2007.
Salmawy, Mohamed. The Last Station: Naguib Mahfouz
Looking Back. New York: The American University in
Cairo Press, 2007.
Serour, Aleya, ed. Naguib Mahfouz: Life's Wisdom from the
Works of the Nobel Laureate. New York: The American
University in Cairo Press, 2006.
"The Life and Work of Naguib Mahfouz, 191 1-2006." New
York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2006.
Eye Witness Travel: Egypt. New York: DK Publishing, 2001.
The American University in Cairo Press Web site contains
a complete bibliography of Mahfouz's works (including
those in English translation), information about the author,
and biographies written about Mahfouz.
The Web site of the Nobel Prize includes biographical
information, a bibliography, an interview, and a transcript
of Mahfouz's Nobel lecture.
National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 19
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards"
1 . Students read a wide range of print and
non-print texts to build an understanding of
texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of
the United States and the world; to acquire
new information; to respond to the needs
and demands of society and the workplace;
and for personal fulfillment. Among these
texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and
2. Students read a wide range of literature from
many periods in many genres to build an
understanding of the many dimensions (e.g.,
philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human
3. Students apply a wide range of strategies
to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and
appreciate texts. They draw on their prior
experience, their interactions with other
readers and writers, their knowledge of
word meaning and of other texts, their
word identification strategies, and their
understanding of textual features (e.g.,
sound-letter correspondence, sentence
structure, context, graphics).
4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written,
and visual language (e.g., conventions, style,
vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a
variety of audiences and for different purposes.
5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as
they write and use different writing process
elements appropriately to communicate with
different audiences for a variety of purposes.
6. Students apply knowledge of language
structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling
and punctuation), media techniques, figurative
language, and genre to create, critique, and
discuss print and non-print texts.
7. Students conduct research on issues and
interests by generating ideas and questions,
and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate,
and synthesize data from a variety of sources
(e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts,
people) to communicate their discoveries in
ways that suit their purpose and audience.
8. Students use a variety of technological and
information resources (e.g., libraries, databases,
computer networks, video) to gather and
synthesize information and to create and
9. Students develop an understanding of and
respect for diversity in language use, patterns,
and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups,
geographic regions, and social roles.
1 0. Students whose first language is not English
make use of their first language to develop
competency in the English language arts and
to develop understanding of content across
1 1 . Students participate as knowledgeable,
reflective, creative, and critical members of
a variety of literary communities.
12. Students use spoken, written, and visual
language to accomplish their own purposes
(e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and
the exchange of information).
* This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and
develop your application of the curriculum.
20 • THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts
"There can be no doubt that a
well-structured educational system
could restore literature to its former
status. The basis of any appreciation
for literature is education and a
concern for language. . . . With these
in place, the written word would be
well able to withstand the competition
constituted by television."
— NAGUIB MAHFOUZ
from The Thief and the Dog
A world without morals is like
a universe without gravity. I
want nothing, long for nothing
more than to die a death that
has some meaning to it."
— NAGUIB MAHFOUZ
from The Thief and the Dogs
FOR THE ARTS
The Big Read is an initiative of the National
Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading
to the center of American culture. The NEA presents
The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of
Museum and Library Services and in cooperation
with Arts Midwest.
A great nation deserves great art.