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Season of Migration to the North (Tayeb Salih) - Sample Literature Essay

The book “Season of Migration to the North” by Tayeb Salih is a well-known Sudanese novel which has already become a classic work of post-colonial time in Sudan. The book itself is a sincere revelation of the author who tries to shed light on what happened in the past and how it was revealed at present. Salih sees the local redefinition of Sudan after the colonial era still as a conflict of two different groups of people: those from the West and those from the East. Nevertheless, the author used a very emphatic and quite tawdry prose to make readers understand the multitude of themes and features in a short novel.

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The book starts off with the arrival of the Narrator to his village in Sudan. By the way, the person of the Narrator is never revealed throughout the book. It is done by the author to lay more emphasis on the person of a stranger, so to speak, who seeks his identity after being educated in the UK and in Europe on the whole. He steps into the land of his predecessors meeting there a person called Mustafa Sa'eed. This one is able to tell the Narrator his story which in many points replicates the Narrator’s one. In this vein, Sa’eed takes notice of his trip to Europe (England) to get educated.

Definitely, the destiny of Sa’eed is really hard, as he had troubles with the law and was caught by the police for murdering his British wife. After imprisonment, he went back to Sudan to marry once again. His wife Bint Majzoub was afraid of meeting Mustafa, as she told him the following statement: “you’d bring back with you an uncircumcised infidel for a wife” (Salih, 1991, p. 5). It was something Mustafa could not agree with, but he remains speechless. His soul as well as his life is wounded by the circumstances of colonial supremacy and local misery. This is why his rage was only growing over and over again.

The center of the novel is well characterized by the sexual affairs of Mustafa in Europe and how he described it with no shy in voice and rephrasing in description of how it happened. Mustafa did whatever he thought was right. He knew that his people are endangered by the colonial pressure. Thus, he was outraged by that fact and did the wrong thing which contradicts the postulates of righteousness and piety before the God. He betrayed his faith and further took it for granted as long as he lived in England. Moreover, Mustafa went there to get education, but came back actually uneducated in what makes a person honest, diligent, and aqueaky-clean.

While listening to the Mustafa’s story, the Narrator admits the wrong points which can be simply depicted in terms of relationships between people from the South (colonies) and people from the North (colonists). Mustafa has shown this controversial collapse, so to speak, between two different peoples, two different cultures, and two different religions. In case with Mustafa, it resulted in the murder. Hence, a pure identity bears a satisfactory character among people of the same identity. The theme of birth and death is always repeated in thoughts by the Narrator and in his conversation with residents of the village and with Mustafa, of course. In this respect, the Narrator notes that life is like the banks of the Nile where his village is situated: “with a hand it gives, with the other it takes” (Salih, 1991, p. 6). In fact, the transience of life is what elders of the village told the Narrator when he started relationships in the village.

Once, Wad Hayyes, one of the elders in the village, told the Narrator the truth of life which is shown in what a man has today compared with what a man has tomorrow: “Tomorrow they would be on their way. Tomorrow the grandson would become a father, the father a grandfather and the caravan would pass on” (Salih, 1991, p. 71). The Narrator understands it based on his own life far from his home as well as the Mustafa’s life. Transformations are always seen depending on the environment a man lives in. Thereupon, at the very beginning of the book, there is a brave statement by the Narrator, namely: “It was, gentlemen, after a long absence, seven years to be exact, during which time I was studying in Europe - that I returned to my people” (Salih, 1991, p. 3).

Needless to say, the novel is written from the non-Western perspective, when Arabic North African residents go to Europe for education and relocate closer to their home, culture, and religion (Boer, 2003). The Narrator and Mustafa are seen in the novel as the protagonist and the antagonist respectively. Even though both came a long way from strangers in Europe and residents in Sudan, they have little in common. It is so until the moment when the Narrator realizes that the figure of Mustafa is his doppelganger. However, even after a sincere confession, the mark of Mustafa’s ugly story is left permanently on the Narrator. When Sa’eed disappeared, this burden of disgrace is only growing in the Narrator. Since that time, the Narrator is in charge of Sa’eed’s family (a wife and two sons). In this episode, the Narrator shows his obedience to the local culture and traditions which makes him a real son of Sudan.

The Narrator is a person who is broken between East and West. He shares both cultures and visions of life randomly, but he is scarred by the deeds of Sa’eed who put his own burden on the shoulders of the Narrator. The sins of Mustafa are well described in terms of his mistaken idea of getting rid of any responsibility, as “Mustafa Sa’eed fled to the bitter cold of the North” (Salih, 1991, p. 89). Moreover, he Isabella Seymour, a British woman, once said the following idea: “The Christians say their God was crucified that he might bear the burden of their sins” (Salih, 1991, p. 89). By and large, Sa’eed is a man who once fell into the pit of fallacies and did not make efforts to get out of it.

Even though this novel bears a controversial image of Islam by means of scenes of sexual encounter and betrayal, Salih could stand the criticism for the sake of a better implication of “lost people” in a foreign land who strive to find out the balance in life through the epic return to the homeland (Eysteinsson & Liska, 2007). The book embraces the theme of return in two ways: as a triumph for the Narrator and as a failure for Sa’eed. In the Arabic world of the North Africa, this theme is especially full of patriotic implications. The book is full of cycles in which each plot line is developed. The contradiction of two worlds is an attempt by the author to show the interplay of motifs, metaphors and other stylistic devices in a complex, though beautiful, manner. Starting from the title, a reader has the first chance to understand the whole idea of the book, as “cohesion emanates from the very title of the novel and versatility is to be seen in the denouement or unfolding of virtually all the elements of meaning implied by that title” (Losambe, 2004, p. 30).

What makes the whole story really strong is that the Narrator stays sound-minded, even though Mustafa impacts his imagination with his disgraceful story. Sa’eed’s confessional is many times repeated in the Narrator’s mind throughout the story. However, the Narrator gets through the cycle of decay and navigates himself to the cycle of rebirth taking care of his new wife and two sons. The clash of civilizations and the theme of violence and sex are united in one in order to give the story a live and vivid look through the lenses of both African and Arabic identity (Sakk%u016Bt, 2001). Sa’eed makes another impression on the reader when he fully realizes his miserable situation and a wrong way in life: “The whole of the journey I savored that feeling of being nowhere, alone, before or behind me either eternity or nothingness” (Salih, 1991, p. 24). It is another confession by him which duly describes him as a man in need of counseling.

The European world is foreign to Sa’eed, as it is full of misconception which finally leads to unlawful cases. This is why this hero of the novel illustrates his cyclic turn-back to England three times throughout the story, namely: “The train carried me to Victoria Station and to the world of Jean Morris” (Salih, 1991, p. 26). It is a metaphoric depiction of where Sa’eed went as a result of his search for better life. By the way, Jean Morris is an exact person he kills in agony. On the other hand, Sa’eed never feels sorry for what he did. For him, the remembrance of a sexualized and disgraceful murder is something special he could gain in life compared to the residents of his village. Conversely, the Narrator sees ideal family relationships between him and his wife and children as “something like fog” which gets clearer as the Narrator comes closer to his hometown (Salih, 1991, p. 3). These two controversial clichés also add to the dramatic emphasis throughout the story.

One of the most exciting scenes in the book is when the Narrator gets rid of Mustafa’s advices and his world vision as well. It is the moment of truth for both. The need for a change inside was pivotal for post-colonial Sudan. The oceanic element in the novel is well understood with the ocean of problems and circumstances appearing in a man’s life. Two main characters in the novel have a straight-forward relation to the water: living in the villages on the banks of the Nile and traveling to Europe by the sea (Deheuvels, Michalak-Pikulska, & Starkey, 2006). Admittedly, the author wants to show that sometimes people from the so-called developing countries in North Africa refuse the traditional way of living as it is in their neighborhoods while others choose the way of shunning evil. Nevertheless, the novel represents “an uncompromising figuration of “the return of the repressed” (Hassan, 2003, p. 82).

Given that, the novel “Season of Migration to the North” by Tayeb Salih takes notice of the collision between two different worlds (West and East) based on the lives of two framed characters, the Narrator and Mustafa Sa’eed. They mirror each other in their life journeys to Europe and back, except for the disgrace which Sa’eed provoked by murdering his wife. The book illustrates a myriad of focal motifs important for a newly-born country of Sudan. One of them is that education is considered complete in conjunction with self-education in morality and humane (Boullata, Abdel-Malek, Kamal, & Hallaq, 2000).
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