Tag Archives: Salih

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.

Victims and Destruction

1 Mar

In Season of Migration to the North, I was particularly interested in delving into what roles women play into Mustafa’s life. Throughout the novel we receive pieces of information on Mustafa’s relationships, but everything seems to come together once the narrator examines his locked room. In most of his relationships, Mustafa plays with the idea of being a savage, wild African man as a way to seduce the white woman. This tactic works as a means to reverse roles of colonizer versus colonized, master versus slave. Yet, the only one who doesn’t seem to fall for Mustafa’s tricks is Jean Morris. She physically destroys all the props that he uses in his false facade with women (the vase, Arabic manuscript and prayer rug). In this way, she strips him of his false identity and yet the only material object that was meaningful was the prayer rug, only because Mrs.Robinson gave it to him. Jean has control because she doesn’t look at him as a black man, but as a man. The fact that she is able to see beneath what the other women were blind to enables her to really destroy him. Her power over Mustafa makes him so angry that he is able to murder her; yet in a way Jean is also the cause of his destruction. This is especially explained when Mustafa says, “She was my destiny and in her lay my destruction, yet for me the whole world was not worth a mustard seed in comparison. I was the invader who had come from the South, and this was the icy battlefield from which I would not make a safe return” (132). Throughout his life, he has kept her memory alive through the narrator and the locked room which holds her picture. While most of the English women he seduces are Mustafa’s victims, isn’t he really a victim to Jean? Furthermore, the narrator names Mustafa’s wife Hosna another victim; he states, “for after all those victims he crowned his life with yet another one, Hosna Bint Mahmoud, the only woman I have ever loved” (117). What does it mean for Hosna to be a part of the group of white victims? And can the narrator really love her?

Additionally, I wanted to discuss the ending. The narrator swimming out to sea most obviously mirrors Mustafa’s suicide, but it is also very similar to Chopin’s The Awakening. In Chopin’s novel, the main character commits suicide by drowning because that is her only means of freedom. The narrator seems at first to consider this but then realizes that there is more to live for and that he can choose to be free of Mustafa. While the narrator realizes he has a choice, does Mustafa not recognize his own ability to choose or be free in any other way?

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.

The Kinship of Colonialism and Traditionalism

1 Mar

To prime our discussion of the breakdown of the binary in Seasons of Migration, I’ll begin with B. Caminero-Santagelo’s “Legacies of Darkness: Neocolonialism, Joseph Conrad, and Tayeb Salih’s ‘Season of Migration to the North'”, which critiques of Said’s reading of Seasons of Migration as a novel predominantly concerned with colonialism:

However, because Said places Salih’s novel in the context of such a struggle with the “colonist,” he, like Makdisi, fails to see that the real object of scrutiny in Season of Migration is the Sudanese themselves, who have inculcated the colonial mindset and ignored their own particular manifestations of it (Caminero-Santangelo, 9).

Instead of just critiquing the dichotomy of neo-colonialism, Caminero-Santagelo argues Salih highlights the close kinship of colonialism and traditionalism, which both resist change and blame “foreign” influences for any problems that occur.  For instance, when the narrator returns after Hosna Bint Mahmoud’s murder and suicide, no one in the village tells him what happened, except for Bint Majzoub only after she receives outside support from the “foreign” whisky.  When the narrator asks his grandfather, Hajj Ahmed – the embodiment of the best of Sudan’s traditional society – his grandfather blames the “trouble” on Hosna’s ‘foreign’ tribe, not on the exploitation of women present in the village’s traditionalist patriarchal society (Salih, 102).  The objectification of women also characterizes European colonial society, which condones Mustafa Sa’eed’s exploitation of women in his quest to “‘liberate Africa with [his] penis’” (Salih, 100). Sa’eed’s colonial exploitation of his lovers and wife, like Wad Rayyes’ objectification of Hosna, both result in the death of women refusing to subject themselves as objects to their husbands’ socially-approved sexual desires.

            To keep this post a reasonable length, I’ll leave the discussion of other examples of this parallel between colonialism and traditionalism for class (if everyone else finds this argument as interesting as I do).  I’ll simply conclude by questioning how far Caminero-Santangelo’s parallel can extend, given the unequal power relationship between the progressive ‘colonial’ and the backwards ‘traditional’ – even though the problems of traditionalism are prevalent in Seasons of Migration, the subtle intrusion of the ‘neo-colonial’ through the simple transfer of colonial power from colonists to the elite, Western-educated Sudanese (e.g. Sa’eed).  Instead of just dealing with the resistance to unwanted change in traditionalism (e.g. the liberation of women), Sudan is also ideologically and economically dependent on its former colonizers.  Together, these two factors make finding an independent identity difficult, although not impossible. 

Un-Orientalising: Reversing a Discourse in Season of Migration to the North

26 Feb

SPOILER ALERT: Though I sincerely tried, I could not find a scholarly article worth writing about that handled only the first half of the book. Thus, I’ve included a spoiler alert before my last paragraph. Honestly I don’t think it’s THAT big of a deal, but read cautiously, thanks!

Though there is much scholarly work surrounding Season of Migration to the North, I found it most interesting to focus in on the multiple works that specifically look at this novel in relation to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. One such article, “Reinscribing Conrad: Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North” by R.S. Krishnan, makes an argument about the relationship between the two books, and Season of Migration to the North’s larger impact within the discussion of Orientalism. He writes that Salih works to “resist, reinterpret, and revise [Heart of Darkness] from the perspective of the colonized Other,” and in doing so “reinscribes the ‘truth’ of colonial encounter from the perspective of the colonize, and in so doing, engages in a dialect of cultural discourse that reverses the narrative and ideological conventions that inform Conrad’s dark fiction” (7, 15).

Krishnan demonstrates Salih’s repositioning of Heart of Darkness through a number of explicit examples, including the river that grounds the “root” of civilization (the Thames, and in Season, the Nile), the omnipresent narrators that move in and out of telling past and living present (Marlowe, and our unnamed man), and the ostensible “villains,” (Kurtz and Mustafah Sa’eed). Krishnan meticulously proves that these similarities between the novels are no accident by showing how precisely Salih has used these points of reference to turn the binaries of Orientalism on their heads. Ultimately, we see that Sa’eed’s journey to England becomes the journey from the fertile womb of civilization into the “Heart of Darkness,“ beautifully mirroring Kurtz’s similar and yet entirely oppositional experience in Conrad’s novel.


However, Krishnan makes note of one essential aberration from this smooth reversal of Conrad. While Marlow concedes to recognize a glimmer of himself in Kurtz (or perhaps vice versa), our narrator acknowledges the possibility that he could become Sa’eed, then resists that notion. As Krishnan puts it, “Salih concludes Season with the narrator’s rejection of Sa’eed’s vision of himself, to not let him ‘complete his story’” (14). Krishnan marks this as the point of the “rejection of colonial ideology” and the ultimate reversal of the discourse that permeates Heart of Darkness.

I think that Krishnan could take this one step further. It is clear, firstly, that Salih’s story is not a “perfect” reversal of the discourse of Orientalism – there are many points in which its vestiges remain engrained. One example: though Sa’eed bucks the stereotype of a “feminized” Arabic male, it must be noted that his ferociously masculine sexuality is only awakened by his first “taste” of Europe in the form of Mrs. Robinson. Secondly, this moment of awakening for the narrator does not strike me as a “reversal” – I think that is far too soft a word for the work that Salih is actually doing here. As McLeod reminds us in his summary of Said’s Orientalism, “orientalism constructs binary oppositions” (49). Orientalism works not because Europe is “light” and Africa is “dark,” but because they are placed in opposition at all. To reverse the discourse would simply be to make Europe dark and Africa light, which Salih does to an extent. However, by refusing to allow Sa’eed to be manifested within himself, the narrator breaks the binary – his fate is no longer tied to this cyclical way of thinking. In this way. he pushes beyond Conrad, and thus rather than merely reversing the discourse, Salih attempts to escape it entirely.

 Krishnan, R.S. “Reinscribing Conrad: Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North.The International Fiction Review 23 (1996) : 7-15. Print.