The Female Characters of Conrad and Salih

1 Mar

On Tuesday in class we talked a lot about the unreliability of the characters in Season of Migration to the North, as well as the novel’s connection to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. While these connections are important, I think it is even more important to recognize the different ways in which both authors portray women. In Conrad’s case, women are either inconsequential to the reality of the world, or are portrayed as animalistic and barbaric. Kurtz’s “intended” is spared the truth of his fate by Marlowe, while his lover in the wilds of the Congo is merely described as a fearsome and awe-inspiring being – inhuman, in other words. But the traits applied to his white and “civilized” fiancée give her the same inhuman qualities as well. Because she is a woman, she is not important enough to hear the truth of what colonialism has done to Kurtz.

In the case of Salih’s novel,  women are given more agency, and are seemingly left in charge of their own fates, while still nevertheless remaining under the control of the male characters. While the narrator is uncomfortable making decisions for Hosna, Saeed’s widow, his own personal desires get in the way of allowing Hosna to make her own decisions. Hosna reminds me of Kurtz’s intended: she remains fiercely faithful to Saeed even though the evidence of his many affairs with English women is prevalent. This difference is important, though, because while Kurtz’s intended remains in the dark over the true nature of his demise, Hosna takes charge of her own fate and kills her new husband and herself because she swore never to remarry after Saeed’s death. Even though the female characters in both Conrad’s and Salih’s novels function more as points of antagonism rather than actual three-dimensional characters, Salih’s characterization of Hosna eventually leads the narrator to veer from his path of becoming a mirror image of Saeed. In this way, the narrator sees the truth through Hosna, whereas Marlowe hid the truth from Kurtz’s intended in order to preserve her original feelings for him.

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