'The Prophet' Summary of the book
The Prophet, Gibran’s most famous work, has sold more copies and been translated into more languages than any of his other writings. Its popularity has been attributed to its simple style, metrical beauty, and words of wisdom. It focuses on human relationships—with others, with nature, and with God.
Almustafa, a young prophet, has lived in Orphalese for twelve years and is waiting for the ship that will take him home. The townspeople beg him to stay, but Almustafa remains firm in his decision. Then they ask him to speak to them one more time, to share his words of wisdom on love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death. His final words are a promise that he will return to Orphalese.
While the structure is narrative, the language is very rhythmic and biblical in style, using such phrases as “You have been told . . . but I say unto you” and “Verily I say unto you.” The repetition of such words as “but,” “and,” and “for” helps maintain the thought and logic of the theme as Gibran moves from response to response, as one idea suggests another. In addition, Gibran skillfully uses rhetorical questions. This can be observed in Almustafa’s response to the question about giving. He says, “What is fear of need but need itself?” and “Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?”
Mysticism, characteristic of all Gibran’s writings, is extensively present in The Prophet. For example, Almustafa’s words are given to him directly by God. Furthermore, personal characteristics are attributed to inanimate concepts; love is personified, and the ocean is able to “laugh with you.” The work reflects an entrance into a progression through, and an emergence from, a mystical state. Also in keeping with the characteristics of mysticism, God is treated as a principle or a force rather than as a person; God’s divinity is in nature. Since all living creatures come from and return to God, God is present in all things, present in all places and at all times. At the same time, Almustafa acknowledges the human traits of God when he asserts, “God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips.”
In interpreting this work, Mikail Naimy, a writer and friend of Gibran, suggests that Almustafa is Gibran. The twelve years spent in Orphalese correspond to the twelve years Gibran lived in New York. “The isle of his birth” was Lebanon, and Almitra, the seeress, represents Mary Haskell. Naimy also proposes that the promise to return to Orphalese was an example of Gibran’s belief in reincarnation. Other critics have taken a broader view and suggested that Orphalese symbolizes the earth, Almustafa’s twelve-year stay in Orphalese parallels the separation of the individual spirit from the “All-Spirit” while on earth, and the “isle of birth” is the center of Life Universal, the place where all beings are born.