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National Endowment for the Arts 


«L MuseunriandLibrary 



The Thief 
and the Dogs 






The Thief 
and the Dogs 



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 
professional development. 

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 

Published by 

National Endowment for the Arts 
1 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, DC 20506-0001 
(202) 682-5400 


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 

Image Credits 

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 

Introduction 1 

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 « 



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." 

from The Thief and the Dogs 


^m* * 




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. 

Dana Gioia 

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts 

National Endowment tor the r\rts THE BIG READ • | 

Day One 

FOCUS: Biography 

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) * 


Day Two 


Day Three 

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). 

Day Four 

FOCUS: Characters 

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). 


Day Five 

FOCUS: Figurative Language 

Activities: Discuss the ways Mahfouz uses 

* Page numbers refer to the 2008 Anchor Books edition of 
The Thief and the Dogs. 


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). 

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Day Six 

FOCUS: Symbols 

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. 


Day Seven 

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. 

Day Eight 

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. 


Day Nine 

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. 


Day Ten 

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. 

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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). 

Discussion Activities 

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. 

Writing Exercise 

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. 

EJ Homework 

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. 


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Culture and 

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. 

Discussion Activities 

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? 

□ Homework 

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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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. 

Discussion Activities 

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. 

Writing Exercise 

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? 

[^3 Homework 

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? 


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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. 

Discussion Activities 

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. 

Writing Exercise 

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. 

E Homework 

Read Chapters Ten, Eleven, and Twelve (pp. 89-1 16). 

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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. 

Discussion Activities 

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 
Chapter Ten: 

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? 

Writing Exercise 

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. 

EJ Homework 

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). 


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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 

Discussion Activities 

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. 

GJ Homework 

Finish reading the novel. Have students identify three major turning points and 
note them in their journals. 

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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. 

Discussion Activities 

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 
next lesson. 

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? 

Writing Exercise 

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? 

EJ Homework 

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 Plot 

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." 

Discussion Activities 

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? 

Writing Exercise 

In their journals, ask students to write a different ending to the novel. 

H Homework 

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 
explaining why. 

National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 1 1 


Themes of 
the Novel 

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 
the book: 


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? 

EJ Homework 

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 


What Makes 
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. 

Discussion Activities 

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? 

Writing Exercise 

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? 

H Homework 

Students will finish their essays and turn them in at the next class. 

National Endowment for the Arts 


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 
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 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 
a bookstore. 

1 . Photo Gallery: Divide students into four 
groups. Assign each group one of the following 

Ancient Egypt 
Egyptian countryside, 

including crops grown today 
Modern Cairo 
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 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. 


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 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. 

Web sites 

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 
contemporary works. 

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 
communicate knowledge. 

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 
the curriculum. 

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." 

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." 

from The Thief and the Dogs 


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.