Sep 20, 2019 in History

Season of Migration to the North


The conflict of interests between Western and Eastern cultures in the economy led to the establishment of the dual conception between the master and the slave. The edge of the 19th – 20th centuries is assigned as gaining the freedom by the colonies, despite their inner resources were exhausted. In literature, this period is famous as the post-colonial modernism and beginning of the postmodern. A long process of rehabilitation from the feeling of being the second-sort nation extended for few decades, but the local authority was not interested in sustainable development. Within this context, the book Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih is valuable by the challenges and realities it depicts in an original manner. The paper will discuss the historical and intercultural retrospection of Mustafa and the de-colonization conflict between the South and North, embodied in the sexual and educational spheres.


General Analysis

The book Season of Migration to the North represents the Sudanese cognitive dissonance in various challenges people met after gaining the independence. Structurally, the book contains ten chapters, but there are some moments in which the text goes outside of the main conception, for example, in chapter 8. In fact, the collisions inside of the story touching Edward Said’s discussion on the Eastern and Western concepts of the “guest” or “other”. The author briefly demonstrates how the Western culture considers the oriental one and vice versa, and what are the benefits of being different in the West.

In his book, Salih attempts to start a dialogue between representatives of different cultures through his characters. For example, Mansour and Richard participated in Mustafa’s discussion about the ways and perspectives of Sudanese economic development and Arabic poetry. Nevertheless, blatant miscommunication leaves no chance for establishing of the common recognition and respect. Mustafa purportedly lies to the English citizens who are interested in Arabic culture, but they are misguided about it. The man does not attempt to avoid misconception, so the English people meet no friendly response from Mustafa. In addition, the communication gap is obvious when Richard convinces that superstitious Sudanese culture has no logic and validity. The narrator saw futile discussion that demonstrated an absurd methodology for completing the intercultural dialogue. In addition, Salih provides a discussion about the Western stereotypes towards the Islamic community and its inner organization. Nevertheless, the author depicts cruelty and violence that happens in the big Western cities and that is not rare in the margins of civilization.

Reading the book causes the déjà vu reaction on the cycle of the stories about the migration and the Western and Eastern cultural collision. For example, The World of Mexican Migrants by Judith Hellman, Native Speaker by Chen Rae Lee have common issues with the Season of Migration to the North, where the protagonist, Mustafa, loses the authentic connection with his motherland and tries do define his place in the world. Nevertheless, Salih’s protagonist meditates about the human agency and nature. The reflections about a narrator’s grandfather direct the reader on the dual discussion: modernization and futile attempts to manipulate the nature. Trying to change the natural order of the cycle, for example, using the water pumps, people can get into the trap of their arrogance and inner grapple. Hence, Mustafa’s nature ruled him, and the man was not able to live happy life in a small village. The protagonist could not commit suicide and burn the room and participate in corruption because he had another natural constitution.

Mustafa’s World of Migration

In the book, Salih depicted a dual world: an empire (Great Britain) and a colony (Sudan). The development of capitalism directly depended on the colony resource, hence, the enforce migration caused miscegenation. The author plays with the depiction of the northern and southern parts while paralleling with the imperialism in the Arabic world. First, Mustafa was born in a year of the Battle of Omdurman, when British generals unfairly tried to conquer Sudan. Second, Mustafa began his sexual battle with the Britain when the power over the sea was given to England and France by the League of Nations. Overall, Salih tries to explore the formation of the colonial identity under the pressure of international policy. Even the interracial relationships marked the cultural conflict between the two worlds.

The book Season of Migration to the North united modernity of Africa and Europe. Hence, Mustafa recognizes that this intercultural integrity often includes the component of exploitation and inequality. His revenge is based on sexual exoticism and male potential for seduction the white females from the Europe: “the snow piece” to be a “jungles of Africa”. The connection between racism and sexuality converted into the white female pray and strong emotional dependence on the man who tries “to liberate Africa with penis”. It is interesting to observe the exotic African role of “other”, especially when Ann underlines the racial stereotype: “I want to have the smell of you in full – the smell of rotting leaves in the jungles of Africa…”. After all, Ann has colonial consciousness, recognizing social pressure on her and general disapproval of her relationships with the migrant. Mustafa is a sensitive object of the smell, which separates Ann from the imperialistic world.

Through Mustafa, Salih challenges white authority (the issue of mimicry). According to Danielle Tran (n. d.), “Mustafa’s employment of colonial discourse can be seen in terms of the latter, as his mimicry acts”. Hence, the western domination was overturned and the roles of the European superiority and African secondary position were removed from the book. Moreover, the novel contains repeats of the verb “pray”, which means weakness and slavery of Mustafa’s sexual partners. Hence, this character believes that Europe must be ruled by the wise and intelligent East: “I, over and above everything else, am a colonizer”.

Delicately, Mustafa compares a female body to the landscape, so that the reader sees the obvious unfair conquer of Sudan by the colonists like Mrs. Robinson embodied Cairo. Isabella is a character that continues Mustafa’s in-book colonial discourse, being a white-skinned statue trophy of the African winner. Her breach of the social and racial stereotype and interracial love brings pride of being beyond the limits. Her participation in a dilemma: “Just because a man has been created on Equator some mad people regard him as a slave, others a god. Where lies the man?” demonstrates untypical integrity. Hence, each woman was a stage towards revenge for lost history of Sudan in the hands of the Western imperial capitalism.

Sustainable Development of the Ex-Colony

Speaking about modernization, one should underline the symbolic meaning of the water pumps on the Nile. They bring enrichment only for the owners, but the life of the poor people does not change much. Moreover, the pumps change the shape of the river, and the consequences bring danger such as a strong flood or misbalance in watering the land. Another example is Wad Baseer’s income tendency. He is not able to compete with the cheaper goods produced in the factory despite the narrator’s argument about the better quality of Baseer’s work. People prefer purchasing the farming machines, and craftsmanship is less popular among the consumers. Hence, the modernization makes a negative impact on the life of the poor farmers and brings wealth to the middle and upper classes: “I would think that such was life: with a hand it gives, with the other it takes”.

Another important issue in the book is dedicated to the challenges of corruption in the government. The narrator was employed in the Department of Education, and he faced a strong oppression of the corrupted system to implement reforms for people. The main reason of it is lack of faith that Sudan can become a developed country. For example, there is no will to finish the building of the hospital in Wad Hamid, because the authority does not care about the development of infrastructure. For the purpose of provoking the empathy of the reader, Salih involves a method of passive observation. The narrator does not act or loudly protest; he is not able to breach this chain. He knows that his uncle Abdul Mannan and Mahjoub are involved in the corrupted system, and the only one way for solving this problem is active participation in political life. Hence, Salih does not allot his protagonist with noble courage and self-sacrifice.

Mustafa and the Narrator

In the first chapter, the reader meets strong connection between the narrator and Mustafa – a stranger who observes him carefully but does not try to open his past. At first, both characters seem very different by their ambitions and intellectual level. Mustafa takes an easy drink with other villagers and behaves himself as an uneducated man whose sense of life is about enjoying the small things. In opposition, the narrator demonstrates his arrogance and narcissism, feeding his confidence by thoughts of his privilege over everybody. The sudden sensation was when Mustafa recited the poem “Antwerp” by Ford Madox Hueffer in perfectly pronounced English. The stronger intrigue appears when Mustafa shows his birth certificate and passport with many stamps from Asia and Europe. The second chapter develops the story of Mustafa and the way he became a self-concentrated African with no mercy to women.

Applying to the Edward Said’s conception in Orientalism, Mustafa is a rather romantic “tale of the nation”, while the narrator embodies uncertainty without present and past, being in a hybrid position. In a delicate manner, the author underlines the difference between the two men by their behavior of speech. Salih explains Mustafa’s violence through the prism of his intellectuality. His manner of speech and language are sophisticated, especially when he speaks about his wife. In addition, Mustafa’s confession has more common with a typical African narration with the poetic and musical elements. In opposition, the protagonist depicts the events like a part of the English novel, which marks his previous occupation and the loss of native identity. In this case, Mustafa is a leader, but his thoughts are chaotic and it is difficult to find the clear chronological order.

Later, after Mustafa’s death, the narrator thinks about his difference with the man. The protagonist was homesick while his stay in Britain, thinking of Wad Hamid. The key point is that many of the things that the narrator reveals about Mustafa are the same about the protagonist. He feels desire and envy about being like his counterpart, so even after many years after Mustafa’s death, the narrator cannot keep calm and he continues to search the answers.

The central moment is in the last chapter when the narrator looks in the mirror and suddenly sees Mustafa. At the end of the entire story of Mustafa and its transcription on the narrator’s life, the reader sees that Sa’eed is doppelganger of the protagonist. Concluding the single and illogic chronology of the story, one can see that Mustafa is the dark side of the narrator. In fact, he did the things that the narrator was not brave enough to do, and he freed the limits the protagonist could not free. The moment when the narrator compares Mustafa to himself about relationships and women depicts that every detail, even on the sexual level, bothers him.

Hermeneutically, the borderline passes when the narrator swims in the Nile thinking of his possible death. Definitely, it could be dramatic and could finally unite Mustafa and the narrator. Salih made the narrator get rid of his dark side, and he finally humanizes the protagonist by making him think about the primitive cigarette. Hence, the narrator begins a new episode: “I shall live because there are a few people I want to stay with for the longest possible time and because I have duties to discharge”.

Mustafa and Jean

Being in London, Mustafa transgresses all connections of the human empathy and mercy, trying to satisfy his complex through sexual liberation. The story with Mrs. Robinson and the recognition of the surrogate and biological mother influence his further relationships. Bint, Hosna, and Jean embody the characters of the strong women, despite the fact that their nature is different. This is their difference from the Sudanese females: they can choose whom to belong, and the opposite example is Hosna. Mustafa has a low opinion about women, mostly due to his relationships with mother, so even his farewell to Sudan was without any sentiments and tears. Sometimes, Mustafa’s methods and opinion can look like the Freud’s analogue of Eros and Tanatos or Oedipus complex. Especially, this line is noticeable while learning the relationships between Mustafa and Jean Seymour.

Jean, the first woman who was not charmed by his exotic beauty and oriental manners, provoked Mustafa’s anger based on sexual attraction and sadism. Within this context, here are two positions: first, it is Mustafa’s oriental temperament and cultural attitude towards women who naturally must serve their men. Second, Mustafa’s complex inherited by his origin, surrounding, and natural skills demonstrated his misery under the pressure of Jean.

The episode of murder is depicted as the aesthetic interracial fatal ecstasy. This sadomasochistic scene demonstrated Mustafa’s affection and the first time love. In fact, Salih enables these two characters to leave their stereotypical roles behind. Nevertheless, Mustafa does not commit suicide when Jean says few times, “Come with me”. Of course, she was special for him by her appearance and nature, but comparing to the descriptions of other lovers, Mustafa saw them all as a homogenous group, still having other principles and thinking of them as being invaders. That is why the act of murder while the sexual domination and agreement of Jean to be slaved finally satisfies the man and he feels catharsis of being rehabilitated: “I love you she said to me and I believed her. I love you I said to her, and I spoke the truth”. Hence, Jean is a challengeable lover – a bridge between the historical memory and present being.


The book The Season of Migration to the North is an example of the Sudanese modernistic classic literature that depicts the post-colonial syndrome of the new independent country. The main characters are foreign educated people who lost their national identity and cannot recognize their place in their native Sudan. The narrator and Mustafa are tightly connected characters who represent the two sides of one personality. Mustafa’s migration and dramatic sexual experience are depicted in quite sincere manner. Those relationships and oriental male domination are a revenge for the historically rooted complex on the second-sort nation.


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