The Real Lesson is in the Journey
In the biography of Naguib Mahfouz it is mentioned that the 1919 revolution in Egypt greatly affected the author. While Mahfouz wrote a novel more directly related to the revolution (Palace Walk) elements of revolution can be seen in The Journey of Ibn Fattouma. Ibn Fattouma sets out on his journey to find Gebel, a promise land of sorts. He makes his way through different societies along the way, and encounters many different lifestyles. He flees his home city because of the corruption that exists there, but as he travels through the different lands, he finds that problems exist in all societies.
The idea of revolution can easily be seen in the first place Fattouma settles, Mashriq. The whole society is based on a free love, free thought foundation, a stark contrast to more rigid societies. Even though this culture is open and free spirited, it is not without rules and regulations, and Fattouma rebels against these guidelines by trying to raise his family in the ways of Islam. The other lands reflect revolution through their insistence on upholding freedoms and security, and in the final land that he enters, the importance of self awareness. The majority of Ibn Fattouma’s resistance is passive, relating directly to the Egyptian revolution, which was a non-violent effort to stop the British occupation of the country.
The interesting aspect of the story lies in the final pages when Ibn Fattouma finally catches a glimpse of the land of Gebel and the book’s ending before we learn about the secrets the place may hold. Gebel is Ibn Fattouma’s chance to create a better existence for the people in his homeland. He travels for years in order to find this elusive land, and we never find out if he finds what he’s looking for. People travel to see new places and things and gain new experiences that will help them change their view of the palce they call home. Fattouma travels for exactly this reason, to find something in a distant land that will change the place he came from. As readers we don’t see the final leg of his journey because this secret that he seeks is unattainable. There is no one secret to perfection in life, and we do not see Gebel because Ibn Fattouma has already learned what he needs to know to make his homeland a better place. Through his travels he has learned to accept other cultures and is able to embrace their strengths and weaknesses. It is the skill, not the instant life perfection supposedly housed in Gebel, that will potentially help him make his home a better place.