Time Loops in ‘Season of Migration to the North’ and ‘Groundhog day’

9 Mar

The classic was on the tele the other day, and I couldn’t help but notice how Phil (Bill Murray’s character) first responds to realizing he’s confined to one time (the course of a single day) by bedding random women. He is successful in doing so because he is able to discover their secret desires and/or personal details, and uses this information to his advantage.

In Salih’s ‘Season of Migration to the North’, Mustafa Sa’eed is also confined to a time, in the way he is interacted with and perceived by the high society set; they see him as the First Civilized Black Sudanese Intellectual in London. According to Fabian, “there is no knowledge of the Other which is not also a temporal, historical, a political act”– this forces the Other to be separated from the West and thus controlled by the latter.

Controlled in this manner, Sa’eed turns to women in much the same way Phil does, except with far more dire intent and consequences. He uses information offered by these women against them, namely their ideas about his exotic identity, as well as their hinted-at attraction towards the periphery that he represents.

It’s interesting how a time loop is used in the ‘Groundhog Day’ story to force an arrogant, selfish, misogynistic character to confront his own failings and will himself into self-improvement– Phil is driven by a death wish very similar to that of Sa’eed’s, and is only able to move beyond his death wish and associated depression once he breaks through his time loop (by turning over a new leaf and winning over Andie MacDowell’s character, Rita).

Telling then, that the author does not allow Sa’eed to break his time loop– Instead, this character is made to suffer, and only achieves some gesture of peace through his mirror image, the narrator, who reveals the weakness and unsustainability of the position Sa’eed both chooses and is reduced to, and buoyed by the strength of this revelation, decides to go neither south nor north, but stay grounded in the people and tasks that matter to him the most– the choice that frees Phil finally, at the end of Groundhog Day.

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