A MAN OF AWESOME POWERS (Naguib Mahfouz-Egypt)
Points to guide interpretation
A Man of Awesome Power is an intriguing story about Tayyib al-Mahdi, who lives a comfortable life after retiring from many years of service abroad. His current life is peaceful and uneventful. He spends time watching television, reading newspapers or listening to the radio in the comfort of his apartment that he shares with his wife since his daughters are already married. The story captures how an individual who is empowered when least expected utilises the power given to him. His illusions of desire for a better country lead to his dream of power acquisition.
One night, Tayyib dreams of a visitation by a man of radiant appearance who speaks to him in a kind tone, informing him that God had willed him the power to order things to be and they would be. Although he dismisses the dream like any other dream, its frequent recurrence makes him give it more thought. Tayyib confirms its reality when he orders his television to switch channels, and it happens. Endowed with the newly acquired power, he sets out to reform his country and the entire planet as he had often wished.
He utilises his power both for good and bad intentions. He starts by hitting back a taxi driver who ignores him by wishing him an accident. He also causes a man who had physically attacked a woman in a bus to suffer stomach cramps. We see him engaging in meritorious deeds such as filing a gaping pothole, locking an electric box and removing a pile of rubbish that he trips on.
The media does not escape his wrath as he causes one radio announcer to suffer massive sneezes after making an announcement that gave false hopes. As the story progresses, Sulayman Bey al-Hamalawi, a political leader who had evaded tax, is ordered by Tayyib to go and pay the tax that he had been avoiding for a long time.
An unfortunate incident occurs when Tayyib is busy planning to effectively utilise his power for the good of all sectors in the country. He notices a beautiful woman at the entrance of the tea garden and uses his ability to satisfy his desires for her. Their intimacy costs him his incredible power.
He pays this price for misusing the power that God had freely given him. The story ends with his sad realisation that he no longer has power. His attempts to order the television channels to change do not bear fruits. He experiences a tremendous sadness that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
a. Tayyib al-Mahdi
EPISODIC ANALYSIS OF KEY ISSUES
Man of Awesome Power' is founded on several pillars determined by the various
Some key issues arise from the episodes:
Acquisition of power
How Tayyib acquires his power teaches several things:
One can gain power at any stage of life.
Tayyib believed that he had completed his mission in the world. Before acquiring power, he lives a peaceful life as he enjoys the fruits of retirement. The writer notes that 'He had generous insurance and more than adequate pension' pg 1 which do not prevent him from being given power by God.
Power is God-given.
Tayyib's power is bestowed on him by God. As seen from his words, "All praise to God, Lord of the Worlds", and listening to radio channels devoted to the Quran (pg 1), his religious nature is one reason God willed to grant him power. The man who visits him in the dream tells him that starting that moment and as long as God willed, he had been bestowed with the power to order things to be and they would be. (pg l)
Utilisation of Power
Tayyib utilises the power given to him in different incidents:
Good utilisation of power
The episode shows how a person bestowed with power should utilise it. Tayyib's soliloquy during his encounter with the taxi driver captures the need to use power for the well-being of others and to make things better. 'Whoever is granted with power like mine, must utilise it only for good.' (pg 2)
He uses the power to do several good deeds. Some of the outstanding services that Tayyib performs include filling a gaping pothole, locking an electric box that was open and hanging dangerously, removing a pile of trash and draining sewer water that was flooding an alley. Many people in the neighbourhood appreciate these services. (p 3).
He also does a good deed of making Sulayman, who has been evading tax, go to the taxi authorities and pay them millions of pounds he owed them. (pg3).
Misuse of power
Tayyib utilises the power given to him for vengeance- The act of causing the tire burst of the taxi since the driver had ignored him is vengeful.
Tayyib ignores the noble voice that reminds him not to use power for wrong purposes and lets his anger get the best of him. (pg 2)
Tayyib causes harm/pain and suffering to the man who had slapped a woman on a public bus.
Severe cramps strike the man, following Tayyib's anger focused on the man's stomach. (pg3)
He uses power to satisfy his lustful desires when he sees a beautiful woman and makes her notice him making them surrender to fate. (pg 4)
Role of the Media
The media is seen to fail in its role. It dwells more on giving false promises/hope instead of telling what had already been achieved.
When Tayyib gets into the café, he listens to a radio announcer expounding on promising developments expected in the future (pg 3).
Tayyib's fury is directed at the announcer, causing him to suffer massive sneezing, forcing him to end the announcement and play a song.
The song- 'Walk Around and See' is ironically used to satirise the media for highlighting and emphasising what is yet to be seen (prophesies) instead of dwelling on the reality that can be seen.
Sexual immorality is seen when Tayyib utilises his power to make the beautiful woman he notices in the Tea Garden fall for his advances.
The woman barely notices Tayyib when she gets to the garden, but Tayyib shifts her attention to himself through the power he has. He forgets his faith and his life (Lack of self- control) and surrenders to fate.
Tax evasion is another immorality that is seen in the story. Many leaders use their powerful positions to evade paying their taxes, such as Sulayman Bey al- Hamalawi.
When Tayyib notices him, he commands, "Sulayman Bey, go straight to the tax prosecutor's office to repent and say you are sorry up the millions of pounds you owe." (pg 3)
Loss of Power
If power is not utilised for 'good', it will be lost. Tayyib loses his awesome power when he comes back to his senses and realises that he had made some mistake.
Although he had been secretive about his power, his wife Haniya keenly observes that he was not in his usual mood that evening.
Tayyib's deceitful/ dishonest nature is depicted when he easily lies to his wife that he had a cold. Unfortunately, for Tayyib, he loses his power due to his mistakes. 'The miracle was gone - like a dream.' (pg 5)
Tayyib confirms that he has been bestowed with power by ordering television channels to change. Changing the television channel from a religious one to a foreign one foreshadows the changes that happen to Tayyib once he acquires power.
He is initially described as 'A good man; his sins were forgivable he was a lover of virtue.....' (pg 2). However, power ones changes him. He becomes vengeful, lustful, deceitful and inhumane. He forgets his faith and life and lets passion and lust control him, which had never happened since he married Haniya. (pg 4)
Power also helps change the risky living condition of the people gaping potholes dangerously hanging an open electric box, Sewer flooding on alleys and piles of rubbish on the way. All these are rectified through Tayyib power.
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