A'alaa AlMajnouni

Mustapha Sa’eed Vs. Nameless Narrator; A Study of the Possible “Oneness” in Salih’s Season of Migration to the North

In My Research Papers & Essays on June 9, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Tayeb Salih’s work of genius Season of Migration to the North suggests immediately by its very title that something has gone awry. Nature has been perverted, and ‘migration’ instead of going South has gone North (“An Unholy Migration to the North”). As the title of the novel evokes its invertible nature, thus are the characters of Tayeb Salih who dramatizes the unpredictable. This paper mainly will study out two characters of the novel; the un-named Narrator and Mustapha Sa’eed in order to prove the possibility of them both as being one same person who holds the exact identity. However, by providing evidential similarities from the text, subordinated by Sigmund Freud conceptual usage of the ‘Uncanny’ theory.

While reading the novel of Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, two psychosomatic characters are diverging in this mystifying narrative: the Narrator, who left at the whole story as Nameless character, and Mustapha Sa’eed as the Protagonist. Both characters are working in parallel different personalities, yet they cross confusingly in some different spots. Thus, the fact that Mustafa’s personal narrative is framed within that of the Nameless Narrator of the novel is very significant to the interpretation to the novel Season of Migration to the North. At first, Mustafa, though a stranger by birth to the village, has already unsettled the narrator and made him, the native whom looks and feels like a stranger among the villagers- people: “It was, gentleman, after a long absence- seven years to be exact, during which me I was studying in Europe- that I returned to my people.” (3) Although the narrator claims very soon that his reconnection with the other villagers “Suddenly I recollected having seen a face I did not know among those who had been there to meet me. I asked about him, described him to them, … ‘that would be Mustapha,’ said my father.” (4) He still has made himself oblivious to Mustafa’s irksome presence. Consequently, the Narrator exclaimed through the lines his presence and Mustapha’s by his internal vision; “I remembered that the day of my arrival he was silent.”(4) Along with the narrative continuation to this: “But Mustapha had said nothing. He had listen in silence, sometimes smiling; a smile in which, I know remember, was mysterious, like someone talking to himself.” (5). Besides, that he was as happy as a child seeing himself in the mirror for the first time “I forgot about Mustapha after that, for I began to renew my relationship with the people, … I was happy during those days, like a child that sees its face in the mirror for the first time.” (5). However, it is valid to argue that his oblivion is a form of wish-fulfillment and that, through the unconscious act of displacement and transference, he transposed the villagers and Mustafa Sa’eed (Al-Halool).

Accordingly, as the personification of a frightening phenomenon of Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North disturbed characterizations; Mustafa Sa’eed at the story represents to the significantly Nameless Narrator in what Sigmund Freud calls the Uncanny (Al-Halool). Salih intended to leave his Narrator as Un-named character who narrates the story of Mustapha Sa’eed- if not his other-self. In despite of the type of narration the Narrator embodies, as First-Person type of Narration, and as a character in the story that uses the first person singular “I” who also presents the action through the eyes oh his only one point of view (Harmon & Holman 341). Lead to set a personal hypothesis of mine claims; that, Tayeb Salih left the narrator ‘Un-named’ to keep a gap in the novel where the Protagonist Mustapha Sa’eed can fill himself in as the other identity, under the Narrator’s Persona whenever parallelism of the plot crosses on! But critically speaking, Salih’s Season of Migration to the North under the light of Freudian characters’ analysis using the Uncanny conception simplifies an applicable interpretation of the possible Oneness on both the Narrator and the Protagonist! Because Freud’s philological analysis of the uncanny is very clear in the novel and supports the thesis on how Mustafa Sa’eed is the Narrator’s double. Sigmund Freud, however, argues on the authority of Otto Rank in “The Uncanny,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud that the narcissistic stage in the his concept of the ego’s development. That is where the ego invents a double, someone or an object it can identify with, and here in the novel Mustafa Sa’eed his Double the Nameless Narrator. The reason behind this invention of doubleness is originally as he stated “an insurance against the destruction of the ego” (Freud 235) or in another word as a defense mechanism (qtd. Al-Halool).

In the novel Season of Migration to the North the ego is whom ‘Mustapha Sa’eed’ passes the narcissistic stage, and his double is the ‘Nameless Narrator’ who loses its original function. As in Freud explanation in “when this stage has been surmounted, the ‘double’ reverses its aspect. From Having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death” (Freud 235). However, many questions and wonders are being raised. Why does the double, the ‘Narrator’ become so frightening and uncanny that the ego needs to gather together all its defenses against it? Why does the ego ‘Mustapha Sa’eed’ project that familiar double outward as something foreign to itself? (Al-Halool). The answers of these questions are all in Freud responds again at his book with: When all is said and done, the quality of uncanniness can only come from the fact of the “double” being a creation dating back to a very early mental stage, long since surmounted–a stage, incidentally, at which it wore a more friendly aspect. The “double” has become a thing of terror, just as, after the collapse of their religion, the gods turned into demons. (236) Lastly, Freud adds that, as there is in the unconscious mind a strong compulsion to repeat proceeding from instinctual impulses (qtd. Al-Halool), “whatever reminds us of this inner ‘compulsion to repeat’ is perceived as uncanny” (Freud 238) As to the Nameless Narrator. For Mustafa appeared or is projected as a stranger, the one who is not part of the village or in another set of words, as the uncanny.

Furthermore, it is significant along these lines, which Mustafa Said appears always in where the others are away. For this reason, it supports the theory of possible oneness of the two different characters according to Freud’s uncanniness. When it stated evidently at the first chapter of the novel by “My father was asleep, and my brothers had gone out on some errand or another. I was therefore alone when I heard a faint cough coming from outside the house and on getting up.” (8). Another time in Mahjoub’s meeting at work “It was Mahjoub, the president of the Committee and a childhood of mine, who invited me. When I entered, I found that Mustapha was a member of the committee” (12). However again, in the gathering at Mahjoub’s house when they all got drunk; “Mahjoub, busy laughing with the rest of the people in the gathering did not notice what occurred.” (14) For what occurred was unseen for its all occurrence was at the mind of the Narrator where the seen of Mustapha get drunk and start reciting some English War Poetry, the Narrator: Leaping up, I stood above the man and shouted at him: ‘what’s this you’re saying? What’s this you’re saying?’ he gave me an icy look- I don’t know how to describe it … pushing me violently aside, he jumped to his feet and went out of the room with firm tread, his head held high as though he were something mechanical. (14) One last time, when the Narrator wanted Mustapha to tackle his identity the narrator stated: “I did not have long to wait, for Mustapha came to see me that very same evening. On finding my father and brother with me, he said that he wanted to speak to me alone. I got up and we walked off together.” (15). The same goes to the clash presence with Mustapha towards the Narrator, together they are always presented alone; the Narrator said: “Just before sunset I went to him and found him alone, seated in front of a pot of tea.” (16). As well as the absence of one anther; “My father told me—for I was in Khartoum at that time—that they heard women screaming… that was coming from Mustapha Sa’eed’s house.” (38). Thus, in the Narrator’s subconscious, Mustafa is a repressed phenomenon whose presence on the conscious level is threatening, because it stirs up in him a hidden compulsion to repeat his alienating experience in England. So, this explains why the narrator seeks refuge in the native villagers, and most notably his grandfather, from this “stranger’s” menacing presence (Al-Halool).

On the other hand, the narrator seeks protection from himself, from his repressed alter ego, the second self of Mustapha Sa’eed’s character, stated in these lines: Mustapha Sa’eed never happened; that he was in fact a lie, a phantom, a dream or a nightmare that had come to people of that village one suffocatingly dark night, and when they opened their eyes to the sunlight he was nowhere to be seen. (39) Indeed, the very fact that the narrator reminds other people of Mustafa Sa’eed and that he is the only main character who has no name. However, to negligence of the Narrator major role in the narrative of Salih and his unfolding of the novel’s events. The Narrator himself suggests that He and Mustafa Sa’eed are one self and the same person, no matter how far the readers might neglect this consideration, yet he insists to remind us, aesthetically by throwing wonders. Illustrated in these lines: Was is likely that what happened to Mustapha 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 had lived with them. But I had lived with them superficially, neither loving nor hating them. I used to treasure within me the image of this little village, seeing it wherever I went with the eye of my imagination. (41) And at this extracted lines as well: Mustapha Sa’eed died two years ago, but I still continue to meet up with him from time to time. I lived for twenty-years without having heard of him or seen him; then, all of a sudden, I find him in a place where the likes of him are not usually encountered. (42) And at this climaxing quote where the Narrator declared evidently to the novel’s readers, the final evidential detail of both Him and Mustapha Sa’eed as one inseparable self, by many evidential actions occurred while the Narrator was in lucked-room of Mustapha. Firstly, the mirror’s reflection in: I begin from where Mustapha Sa’eed had left off. Here I am standing in Mustapha Sa’eed house in front of the iron door… ………………………………………………………………………… The light exploded on my eyes and out of the darkness there emerged a frowning face with pursed lips that I knew but could not place. I moved towards it with hate in my heart. It was my adversary Mustapha Sa’eed. The face grew a neck… and I found myself face to face with myself. This is not Mustapha Sa’eed—it’s a picture of me frowning at my face from a mirror. (111-112) Secondly, the Narrator reaction to the letter from Mrs. Elizabeth Robinson at the room where he visualized to us the scene; “I placed the letter in my pocket and seated myself in the chair to the right of the fireplace.” (123). Thirdly, the uncompleted poem of Mustapha Sa’eed and the Narrator’s try to write up a closing line in: “The problem intrigued me and I gave it several minutes of thoughts… This line of mine is no worse than the rest, so I crossed out the last line of the poem and wrote in its place.” (127). Fourthly and lastly, the striking thread which links the Narrator and Mustapha Sa’eed together as one exact identity. Is the Narrator at his last closing appearance declares a resemblance to the end of Mustapha Sa’eed mysterious disappearance at the middle of the narrative: I entered the water as naked as when my mother bore me. When I first touched the cold water I felt a shudder go through me, then was transformed into a sensation of wakefulness. The river was not in full spare as during the days of the flooding, not yet was it as its lowest level… My feet led me to the riverbank as the first glimmerings of down made their appearance. I would dispel my rage by swimming. …………………………………………………………………………. Then I veered between seeing and blindness. I was conscious and not conscious. Was I asleep or awake? Was I alive or dead? Even so, I was still holding a thin, frail thread… (137-138) However, Mustapha Sa’eed disappeared in the time of Nile flood, despite the indication of his being “Mustapha Sa’eed was, as far as I knew, an excellent swimmer.” (38) with no clue of his body with the dead “Mustapha Sa’eed’s body was not among those washed up on the river bank that week” (38).

To sum up, as just as the Narrator ends his own experience of alienation in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, covered in less than four pages of text. He becomes immediately embroiled in that of Mustafa Sa’eed, which almost consumes the remaining of one hundred and thirty-nine pages (Al-Halool). Then, again and for the last time, the Alter ego of Narrator took role and woke up strongly, as stated at the last paragraph of the novel: “Though floating on the water, I was not a part of it. I was born—without any violation of mine. All my life I had not chosen, had not decided. Now I am making a decision. I choose life.” (139). He screams with all his remaining strength, “Help! Help” (139).

Works Cited Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Translated by James Strachey et al. Volume 17. London: The Hogarth Press, 1955.217-256. Halool, Musa Al-. “The Nature of the Uncanny in Season of Migration to the North.” Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ) 30.1 (2008): 31+. Questia. Web. 22 May 2011. Harmon, William, C. Hugh Holman, and William Flint Thrall. A Handbook to Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000. Salih, Tayeb, and Denys Johnson-Davies. Season of Migration to the North. London [u.a.: Heinemann, 1969. ““An Unholy Migration to the North”.” Www.scribd.com. Web. .

  1. the research format is lost when i paste it <_< donno why!

  2. page 85 the narrator’s name is Effendi.

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