Season of Migration to the North: Character Profile – The Grandfather


Summary of his role:

The grandfather acts a vehicle for the theme of rootedness and substance. Through his simplicity he also acts a foil for Sa’eed and the narrator, whose lives have arguably been made irrevocably complex due to ambiguous cultural identities. Perhaps, through a post-colonialist lens, the grandfather acts as the Other to those who embody a third culture in his simplicity and seeming insignificance. His appearances in the text act as indicators for the narrator’s mentality and attitude not only towards the grandfather but himself and Mustafa Sa’eed. Perhaps he can also be seen as a motif, whose significance comes to the surface when the narrator reflects upon him through the differing circumstances he is put under.



Quotations & Analysis:





“Your grandfather knows a secret” (Sa’eed)

Narrator: “What secret does my grandfather know? My grandfather has no secrets.”

·         The Secret (we know later on) is that he is “immutable in the face of a dynamic world”; Mustafa Sa’eed has a great desire to be as rooted as his grandfather, hence the admiration.

·         Characterization of the narrator: one of the reasons (in the beginning) why the narrator holds Sa’eed in such high esteem is his capacity for mystery and his ambiguous identity. By dismissing his grandfather as “having no secrets”, we can see that the narrator at this point in the narrative views his grandfather as less complex, less mysterious, and in the narrative, the grandfather is perhaps able to act as a foil towards Mustafa Sa’eed - at this moment, he acts as a reflection of what the narrator desires in himself; complexity and mystery.



(Narrator) “He had been like this for I don’t know how many years, as though he were something immutable in a dynamic world.”

·         The fact that the narrator finds himself “reinvigorated” by his grandfather’s immutability is indicative of the narrator’s desire to be rooted in Sudan despite his experiences in the West. At this point in the narrative, the narrator, in his experience with Sa’eed, has now come to believe that the sort of ambiguity, ambivalence and contradiction in Sa’eed’s identity is not something that he wants. If that is what Sa’eed is, he wishes to be completely different. So when he realizes that there are things, such as his grandfather, that are almost immune to influence (which we see is not true in his reaction to the deaths of Hosna Bint Mahmoud and Wad Rayyes), and that simplicity, like in his grandfather, can exist, he feels hopeful.



Narrator: Mustafa Sa’eed that my grandfather knows a secret. [Sa’eed:] “A tree grows simply and your grandfather has lived and will die simply.”

·         Motif of the tree; the idea of being rooted and immovable (attributed to the grandfather)

·         Life and death are “simple” when attributed to the grandfather - there is no sense of dynamism, in contrast to the lives of Sa’eed and the narrator.

·         The fact that Sa’eed sees the fact that the grandfather can “live and die simply” as a secret shows that Sa’eed sees this as something that is admirable and difficult to achieve. He feels it takes something, or someone special, to be able to achieve such simplicity. This in turn characterizes Sa’eed as someone perhaps pained in his complexity, torn in his inability to live simply. This is what the narrator is marvelling at - that the man he looks up to in terms of what to be or not to be in himself is looking to his own, simple, seemingly insignificant grandfather for “the secret”.



(Narrator:) Had I told my grandfather that revolutions were made in his name, that governments are set up and brought down in his name, he would have laughed. The idea appears actually incongruous in the same way as the life and death of Mustafa Sa’eed in such a place seems incredible.

·         Context: Exploration of the circumstances surrounding the death or disappearance of Mustafa Sa’eed.

·         Significance: It demonstrates how people are falling in established social groups and how they’ve grown comfortable in their role as “peasants” or other designations. The fact that revolutions are being made in the name of the peasantry and the grandfather blowing it off shows ingrained the the notion of belonging to that social group that a change or revolution in that seems laughable.



“I stood at the door of my grandfather’s house in the morning, a vast and ancient door made of harraz, a door that had doubtless been fashioned from the wood of a whole tree.”

·         Motif of tree, applied here further perpetuates the idea that the grandfather is part of the landscape, a part of history. The landscape and history, being the foundation for all events, implies something fundamentally immutable, just the narrator’s grandfather.



“... but when I embrace my grandfather, I experience a sense of richness as well I am a note in the very heartbeat of the universe.”

·         The imagery of a note is a part of something of much greater than itself, yet essential to it’s function.


“He is no towering oak tree with luxurious branches growing in a land on which nature has bestowed water and fertility. Rather he is like the sayal bushes in the desert of Sudan, thick of bark and sharp of thorn, defeating death because they ask so little of life.”

·         Bush imagery; implies that the narrator feels that his grandfather as a) fundamentally, a “part of the landscape” b) is strong in the fact that he requires so little to survive, c) admirable in this form of strength.


“That was the cause of wonder. That he was actually alive, despite plagues and famines wars and the corruption of rulers. And he is nearing his hundredth year. All his teeth are still intact; though you would think that his small lustreless eyes were sightless, yet he can see with them in the pitch darkness of night; his body, small and shrunken is in and upon itself, is all vein, bone, skin and muscle, with not a single scrap of fat. Nonetheless he can spring nimbly on his donkey and walks from his house to the mosque in the twilight of dawn.s

·         A cause for wonder - relates to Sa’eed seeing him as having a secret. Now the narrator is also able to see the same thing that Sa’eed sees. Can be interpreted as a part of “adopt adapt adept”.



Key Moment:

The key moment for the grandfather’s significance in the story is in pages 73-74 in which the narrator describes his grandfather. In his description, many of themes regarding simplicity and rootedness are brought out through the emotions and descriptions about the grandfather.