Resistance is Not Futile

1 Mar

Perhaps Salih’s greatest achievement in Season of Migration to the North is resistance. While the parallels with Heart of Darkness–both obvious and not–are a major feature of the novel, Salih does not limit himself to a simple contrapuntal work, but instead appropriates and reverses various images from Conrad, seemingly to show that Arab literature is not all that different from Western literature. In this way, Salih has written a novel for all mankind.

The narrator (I don’t think it is a huge leap to assume that he gives voice to Salih’s personal philosophies) says on page 89, “How strange! How ironic! Just because a man has been created on the Equator some mad people regard him as a slave, others as a god. Where lies the mean? Where the middle way?” While he is referring specifically to the British, the narrator is seeking a middle way for much of the novel. He resists the same temptation that Mustafa Sae’ed succumbed to by choosing to return to the Sudan rather than attempt a career in Britain but he also wants to resist the conventions of his village, as represented by Mahjoub’s somewhat backward thinking about women. With the village, he fails, allowing the tragic marriage to happen but this is a practical decision, not a philosophical one.

The narrator seems to favor a humanist philosophy. Salih imbues the unnamed man with strong opinions regarding women and multicultural understanding, but also gives us a frustratingly passive character who fails to achieve anything toward his goals. In this way, Salih seems to provide a voice for those with an “enlightened” or conciliatory philosophy but resists lionizing them by representing them (himself?) with a passive character whose chief action is to not commit suicide.

Not drowning in the Nile, unreliably justified by the narrator (although sometimes you really just want a cigarette), is also resistance. Not drowning is a rejection of Mustafa. I would like to think that the conclusion somehow demonstrates the narrator finally finding a “middle way” and I see the resistance to following the same path as Mustafa, but I’m unsure of what other extreme the narrator is resisting. Any ideas?

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