Tag Archives: Season of Migration to the North

Sex as Metaphor: Violence and Identity

5 Apr

In a few of the novels we’ve read, sex is described through a metaphor. In Season of Migration to the North, Lalami explains Mustafa’s sex scenes as “a theatre of war” (29). Sex becomes a symbol to the bigger picture of Mustafa’s attempt to conquer Englishwomen and regain masculinity to the African identity. Mustafa explains, “I would stay awake all night warring with bow and sword and spear and arrows” (29). His identity transforms throughout the novel as he performs identity through name changes and sexual metaphors.

In Chamoiseau’s Texaco, the sex metaphor is very different from Mustafa’s violent battles. Sex in this case is described through images of the water—-birds, the tide, a shipwreck and canoes. Oselia is “a starving bird pecking at his skin, pecking his sweet juice, pecking a bit of his blood and the rest of his soul” (66). He becomes a shipwreck that continually needs to be saved from the depths of the water. The violence of Mustafa’s sexual encounters is not seen in the same sense here. The water is a source of violence and in a way can be seen as a reason why Oselia can’t repeat this act with the narrator’s father. Metaphors and phrases of water are continued through the novel. Yet, going back to this specific scene, at the end of that same paragraph the narrator makes herself known again and says that she can only “make a sketch of what happened” because her father “hadn’t done school.” This break in the metaphor shows the reader that the identity of the novel is not fixed—there are tales of others, of herself, and in other voices. Sex in a way, is a means to invoking violence and challenging identity.

In the big picture of this novel, identity is a main concern. As we began reading Texaco, it was at first difficult because it seems natural to ground identity to understand where the novel is going. Chamoiseau makes this attempt difficult for his reader. In “Re-Imagining Diversity and Connection in the Chaos World,” Chamoiseau explains identity as, “In the past, people thought a cultural identity was powerful when it enclosed and defined what belonged to me and not to others; today it is powerful when one is—and recognizes that one is—in relationship with the diversity of cultures. And the more a cultural identity is capable of putting itself into connection with diversity, the more powerful it will be—that’s our big issue, that’s what we want to examine today in our literature.” This is what we see in the structure and voices Chamoiseau uses in Texaco.

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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?

Violence as liberation in ‘Season of Migration to the North’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’

1 Mar

In Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (available on google books), the author makes a case for the positive influence of violence in the anti-colonial struggle by claiming “at the individual level”, it is a “cleansing force” that “… frees the native from his inferiority complex and his despair and inaction” (94). Fanon also describes violence as “all inclusive”,  and calls it an “illuminating force” (94).

This reading of violence as a positive, proactive force for change can be applied to the ending of Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ as well as to the final pages of Salih’s ‘Season of Migration to the North’– In the former, Antoinette’s last words give the reader the impression that through the violence of a house fire, she will finally be able to reclaim her true identity– “the sky is red and all my life is in it” (Rhys 112). In Salih’s novel, the narrator describes his struggle in the water:

I was conscious of the river’s destructive forces pulling me downwards and of the current pushing me to the southern shore in a curving angle. I would not be able to keep thus poised for long; sooner or later the river’s forces would pull me down into its depths (168).

In keeping with the classic doppelganger trope often seen in Post-Colonial literature, the narrator mirrors Sa’eed’s own literal struggle with life when he almost drowns in the river, but survives when he gives up his struggle to migrate– figuratively and literally– from south to north.  On the final page of Salih’s book, the narrator appears to be claiming that by choosing to live, to engage with a community of his choosing and the discharge of his duties (168), he is choosing to not give into the struggle of belonging or being in either the north or the south– “Though floating on the water, I was not part of it” (168).

By placing violence in an active, positive context, Fanon seems to be suggesting that violence = action = agency = individualism = liberation. In ‘Black Skin, White Masks’, Fanon speaks of liberation again when he talks about freeing “the black man.. from himself”, and by association freeing him from the urge to seamlessly assimilate or mimic aspects of the colonizer. When Salih’s narrator vocalizes his yearning (a hunger, a thirst for a cigarette) and ceases to attempt to get to either north or south shore, and instead yells for help, he is eschewing the struggle Sa’eed faced before him, viz. being appropriated and objectified as an English Educated Black African. Similarly, when Rhys’ Antoinette lights all the candles she finds and makes plans for her final escape, she — through an act of violence– finally releases herself from the Othering forces of both her ethnic heritage and her white husband. It is only through violence and death (figurative for the former, literal for the latter) that both Salih’s narrator as well as Rhys’ Antoinette are able to escape the weight of their doubles (Sa’eed, the ghost/Tia) and truly return to their own sense of selfhood.

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?