Season of Migration to the North: Character Profile ¡V The Narrator




In Season of Migration to the North, the narrator is essential to the text as he is the storyteller who tells the tale of returning to Sudan and the life story of Mustafa Sa¡¦eed and his exploits. Interestingly many of the things that he reveals about Sa¡¦eed actually in turn reveal a lot about himself; the narrator seems to display an envy and desire to be like Mustafa Sa¡¦eed, and his depiction of his exploits with women being despicable shows his biases. In addition, the narrator, through his first person perspective is able to show the contrasting cultural views of the East and the West, the biases and consequences that come along as a result of experiencing multiple cultures and how a longing to belong to a culture can alienate you further from your own culture.



Quotations & Analysis:





¡§It was, gentlemen, after a long absence -

Seven years to be exact, during which time I was studying in Europe¡¨

The first line of the novel shows hints of the narrator¡¦s Western influences, incorporated into his narrative style and diction. The use of the word ¡¥gentlemen¡¦ suggests politeness in Europe. It is almost ironic that the way he speaks resembles that of the Europeans while the what he seems to be most concerned of is wellbeing of his village; which extends to the integrity of his culture.



¡§I know this village street by street, house by house¡¨

The narrator tries to convince himself of his belonging in the village. This shows his uncertain attitude towards his own cultural identity, as he constantly finds the need to assert his identity in the village.



¡§Was it likely that what happened to Mustafa Sa¡¦eed could have happened to me? He had said that he was a lie, so was I also a lie? I am from here - is not this reality enough? I too have lived with them.¡¨

The narrator stops for while and recaps the similarities between him and Sa¡¦eed while wondering if what happened to him will happen to himself; further promoting the resemblance between the two characters. He starts to see the universal temptations of wanderlust. This quotation shows self-awareness, insecurity and characterization.



¡§Thus Mustafa Sa¡¦eed has, against my will, become a part of my world, a thought in my brain, a phantom that does not want to take itself off.¡¨

It seems as though the narrator to a certain extent is aware that he envies, or aspires to be like Sa¡¦eed, but is reluctant to admit this fact. As such he tries to convince himself with lies to himself and others, showing the narrative bias.



¡§By the standards of the European industrial world we are poor peasants, but when I embrace my grandfather I experience a sense of richness as though I am a note in the heartbeats of the very universe.¡¨

The lost of identity in post-colonial Sudan is a dominant theme in Season of Migration to the North. Shown in the quotation, Salih used contrasting terms to compare the standards of living of European countries and Sudan. The narrator realizes that his identity was not determined by social class or wealth but rather the beat that his very heart beats in sync to; where he is from. The author, Salih also showed the progressive characterization of the narrator as he struggles to find his identity. The emotional response of seeing his grandfather again may have been helpful in providing a source of reference of a Sudanese he respected as a child. The narrator showed signs of appreciation towards his hometown and realized that luxuries and status does not define him, but rather the pride of his heritage, his home. Salih used metaphors to symbolize two different lifestyles the narrator was exposed to. One, of the pretentious lifestyle of the west, and the other, an adventurous lifestyle of Sudan. The narrator seemed to have been able to detach himself from the materialistic world he lived in, back in Europe. By understanding the fragility of life, he would then be able to enjoy life just a bit more.



¡§If one looks at it objectively from outside one feels it to be a frail structure, incapable of survival, but somehow, as if by a miracle, it has surmounted time¡¨

The narrator¡¦s grandfather¡¦s house is described as figuratively embodying the essence of the village; it¡¦s made from mud from the fields, the very source of life of the village, showing an extremely close connection with the villagers. The fact that the narrator claims that he¡¦s looking at it ¡§objectively¡¨ shows his own arrogance because really he is looking at t from a colonizer¡¦s perspective because he is describing the house as frail. Because the house represent¡¦s the essence of the village¡¦s culture, essentially he is saying that ¡§anyone should be able to see that this culture by itself is frail¡¨ and the fact that it hasn¡¦t been influenced by other cultures, like iron doors or pumps like the other houses, to the narrator seems to be a miracle as it has ¡§surmounted time¡¨. The narrator is saying that over time, all influences will succumb to the influence of other cultures, and the fact that this house has retained its cultural integrity seems like a miracle to him, showing his own cultural insecurity.



¡§He had told me to spare them the pangs of wanderlust. I would do nothing of the sort, ... Everyone starts at the beginning of the road, and the world is an endless state of childhood.¡¨

It shows how contradictory the narrator is. It is ironic because throughout the book the narrator shows his very insecure cultural identity and all the problems it has caused as a result of wanderlust. Yet, right here, he encourages Sa¡¦eed¡¦s children to explore this desire in whatever way they want, even though he keeps complaining about the problems it caused for him.



¡§¡¥Nothing,¡¦ I said, laughing under the influence of the drink. ¡¥Absolutely nothing. This room is a big joke - like life. ... ¡¥You¡¦re drunk,¡¦ said Mahjoub. ¡¥This room is filled from floor to ceiling with treasures¡¨

The room being a big joke to the narrator is because he, like Sa¡¦eed has experienced two cultural influences which has rendered his viewpoint to be completely different forever. Sa¡¦eed is aware of this, which is why he entrusts his room to the narrator, because he knows the value of Sa¡¦eed¡¦s life story, which is nothing.



¡§I begin from where Mustafa Sa¡¦eed had left off.¡¨

Because the narrator has experienced the same sort of cultural influence as Sa¡¦eed has, he is the only person in the village that can truly understand the meaning of Sa¡¦eed¡¦s life story. The locals couldn¡¦t even try to do this as they don¡¦t know his background, nor do they have the capability to understand his experiences. This quotation shows the literal connection between the lives of the narrator and Sa¡¦eed by connecting Sa¡¦eed¡¦s death to the narrator¡¦s.



¡§It was my adversary Mustafa Sa¡¦eed. The face grew a neck, the neck two shoulders and a chest, then a trunk and two legs, and I found myself standing face to face with myself. This is not Mustafa Sa¡¦eed - it¡¦s a picture of me..¡¨

This quotation at the end of the book embodies the foil between the narrator and Sa¡¦eed. Throughout the book we see parallels between the characters such as their education, cultural experiences, and acquaintances. We also see hints of envy showing that the narrator wishes that he could create the same persona that Sa¡¦eed manages today.



¡§¡¥My Life Story - by Mustafa Sa¡¦eed.¡¦ On the next page was the dedication: ¡¥To those who see with one eye, speak with one tongue and see things as either black or white, either Eastern or Western.¡¦ I flicked through the rest of the pages but found nothing¡¨

The meaning behind the empty pages on Sa¡¦eed¡¦s life story is, in the narrator¡¦s eyes, insignificant and meaningless. This is because, much like Sa¡¦eed, the narrator realizes that Sa¡¦eed¡¦s exploits was meaningless, as a result of cross-fertilizing two distant cultures. The dedication of the book, warns those who see through one culture and perceives the world as either black or white, the dangers of wanderlust.



¡§I found I was half-way between north and south. I was unable to continue, unable to return.¡¨

The north and the south represent different cultural worlds, and the narrator metaphorically is unable to belong to either one of them, and he can¡¦t choose. The nile is used as a symbol for the world in Season of Migration to the North and here it displays the damage that has been caused as a result of his exposure to the other world, he is now unable to belong to either.




Key Moment:

Towards the end of the novel, when the narrator entered the concealed room of Mustafa Sa¡¦eed, he finally realizes and accepts the resemblance between him and Mustafa Sa¡¦eed. However, unlike his mentality throughout the novel, he starts to show signs of repellence and tries to distant himself to prevent the reoccurrence of Sa¡¦eed¡¦s tragic ending. This may be considered a conclusion for the inner conflict of the narrator when he finally realizes that ¡§This is not Mustafa Sa¡¦eed - it¡¦s a picture of me frowning at my face from a mirror¡¨ (135). The narrator starts to see the inevitable ending of his life story, similar to Sa¡¦eed¡¦s: ¡§¡¥My Life Story - by Mustafa Sa¡¦eed.¡¦ ... I flicked through the rest of the pages but found nothing¡¨ (151).