National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
The Thief and the Dogs

The Thief and the Dogs

by Naguib Mahfouz

The basis of any appreciation for literature is education and a concern for language.

  1. When Said Mahran breathes "the air of freedom" at the beginning of The Thief and the Dogs, Naguib Mahfouz also describes the "stifling dust" and "unbearable heat." Why might the author have chosen to begin his novel in this way?
  2. After Said is released from prison, he goes directly to the home of Ilish Sidra. Is he more motivated by the hope of reuniting with his daughter, Sana, or by the desire for revenge?
  3. Ilish Sidra denies having Said's money and contends that he married Nabawiyya out of a sense of duty. Do you believe him? What clues about his personality do his actions in the novel's first chapter provide?
  4. What are your impressions of Said's ex-wife, Nabawiyya? Is she a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
  5. Said first knew Rauf Ilwan as a leader in the student movement and viewed him as a friend and mentor who was "Not just a revolutionary student, but revolution personified as a student." What prompts Said's opinion of Rauf to change?
  6. Sheikh Ali al-Junaydi provides Said with food and refuge. What does he ask in return? Why is Said unable to accept his wisdom?
  7. Though Nur earns her living as a prostitute, she is portrayed as a good woman who offers Said hope of a new life. How can her occupation and her devotion to Said be reconciled?
  8. What do we learn about Said during his encounter with Bayaza? Why does he only take ten pounds? Some readers see similarities between Said and Robin Hood. Do you agree?
  9. Which characters in the novel are most supportive of Said? What do they have in common with him and with each other?
  10. Discuss the ways Mahfouz describes the streets of Cairo. How is the setting similar to your city or town? How is it different?
  11. How dependent is this novel on its setting? In what ways is it about Egyptian society in particular? In what ways is the story universal?
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