الصحارى والجبال ~ Desert Versus Mountain

د.منى العلوان

هذه الدراسة التحليلية الدقيقة لرواية الكاتب السوداني الطيب صالح ”موسم الهجرة إلى الشمال“ (عن دار العودة في بيروت ١٩٦٦ وقد اختيرت كواحدة من أفضل مائة رواية عربية للقرن العشرين) تُختتم بتعقيب مهمّ وبسيط من سي پي واتسون في مقال عنوانه (الإرهاب هو الإرهاب وكفعله). رغم أنّ المقال سياسيّ وينادي بحماية القانون العام للبيئة كونه القانون العام للتنوع البيولوجي وقانون التوافق:

”… إلاّ أنني أعلم شيئاً واحداً هو أنّك لن تحقق السلام بحروب لا نهاية لها وكلّ هذا الموت والدمار الذي يترتب جرّاءها. أعلم كذلك بأننا ما لم نعالج مشاكلنا الجذرية بأسلوب ذكيّ فلا خلاص بتاتاً من الجحيم الذي ابتكرناه…. فإمّا أن نضيع وقتنا بالنبش في هذه الجهة أو تلك —الغرب والشرق. الشمال والجنوب، المسلمون والمسيحيون وذوو الأديان الأخرى المتفرقة. أونستطيع أن ندير ظهرنا عن كلّ مفاهيم المركزية البشرية (انثروبوسنترك) هذه ونرّكز على رؤية الحقيقة كما هي: عالمٌ واحد. كوكبٌ واحد. تنوعٌ بيولوجي طبيعي واحد للحياة والتي همّها الأول هو العيش وترك الآخر يعيش وفقاً لما هو مخطط له لبلايين السنوات

Natural and Cultural Conflicts in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North

©Muna Al-Alwan

             I imagined the Arab soldiers’ first meeting with Spain: like me

             at this instant sitting opposite Isabella Seymour, a southern thirst 

             being dissipated in the mountain passes of history in the north.

                                                                                               (Season 42)

In these historical and metaphorical terms, the protagonist of this novel, the Sudanese Mustafa Sa’eed, describes his twentieth-century encounter with the North. As the title  and the quote indicate, the paper attempts to examine the relationship between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ which, in the words of  Ursula K. Heise, seem “to be entangled with each other in multiple ways, whether these entanglements be semantic, historical, or power political.” (2)  And as we analyse the role of natural environment in the life of a cultural community at a specific historical moment, we enter the field of “ecocriticism”.  Ecocriticism, or “green criticism”, is one of the most recent interdisciplinary fields to have emerged in literary and cultural studies. Literary ecocriticism seems “concerned with the ways that the relationship between humans and nature is reflected in literary texts, examining how the concept of ‘nature’ is defined, what values are assigned to it or denied it, and the way in which the relationship between humans and nature is envisioned.” (Heise 1) More specifically, “it investigates how nature is used literally or metaphorically in certain literary or aesthetic genres.” (Heise 1)  Ecocritics seem to draw on existing theories to illuminate our understanding of how human interactions with nature are reflected in literature. In addition to identifying how wild nature is perceived in literary texts, they introduce “environment matters into main stream literary discussions that centre on such issues as gender, sexuality, politics, economics, ethnicity, and nationalism.” (Sarver 2)  And while postcolonial theory has encouraged the identification of contrasting value systems, “ecoriticism includes the next step: discussion of short-term and long-term implications of political decisions affecting people, cultures and the environment.”  (Panny 2-3)

All the above issues seem to be found in Season of Migration to the North, which can be analysed from an ecocritical perspective. In this novel, nature is used both literally and metaphorically to indicate the clash of cultures, South versus North, or East versus West. The text, with its recurrent images of hot deserts and icy mountains becomes the place where visions of nature with their cultural and political implications are played out. In other words, environmental issues become human issues.

The clash of cultures is introduced in the first paragraph of the novel when the narrator, after completing his studies in England, describes his happiness to be back in his village,  in terms of natural imagery:

         They rejoiced at having me back and made such a great fuss, and it was

         not long before I felt as though a piece of ice were melting inside of me,

         as though I were some frozen substance on which the sun had shone –

         that life warmth of the tribe which I had lost for a time in a land ‘whose

         fishes die of the cold’. (1)

Both protagonists, the narrator and Mustafa Sa’eed,look at South and North in terms of opposite natural images. Mustafa Sa’eed, himself educated in England, had returned to the Sudan to settle down in the same village years before the narrator came back. He is about twenty years older than the narrator, a stranger to the village who came to settle there when the narrator was abroad. Nobody knows anything about his past, which he unfolds to the narrator during the course of their acquaintance. Sa’eed identifies himself with the South; in narrating his past, he describes himself as a Bedouin, always on the move, pitching his tent in different places and then saddling his camel to continue his travel. As a boy he lived under the English colonization of the Sudan, got educated in English schools, and proving himself to be a sort of genius, the English sent him to Cairo and then to London to continue his higher studies. His school classmates were so impressed with his English and his intellectual superiority to them, they entitled him the “black Englishman” (53).  Sa’eed’s attitude to the North/West seems to be quite ambivalent, a kind of love-hate relationship. He is attracted to the culture of the North but being treated as  a black, he turns against them and is determined to revenge for all the injuries the North/West has inflicted on Africa. The North apparently embraces him, gives him education, marries him, but keeps him at a distance, the “black Englishman.” He remains the outsider, the Other. In relating his story in England, he portrays himself again and again as the Bedouin coming from the hot desert but armed with the weapons of his enemy: coldness of feelings and a mind “like a sharp knife cutting with cold effectiveness”, “cold as a field of ice” (22).  He is the South, “the desert of thirst” (33), longing for the “North and ice” (30). The conflict inside Sa’eed is between his hatred and desire for vengeance and his attraction for the North, symbolised in his love-hate relationship with Jean Morris. In his mind, this woman is the North, which remains “a mirage shimmering in a desert” (29), in “the wilderness of longing” (33), mirage in the sense of the unattainable. Desert and mountain imagery recur in all Sa’eed’s descriptions of his liaisons with English women, but particularly with Jean Morris. He is always “a thirsty desert”, “a wilderness of southern desires” (38), or a desert hankering to conquer mountains, to reach “the mountain summit.” (39)  To him, victory  comes when desert conquers mountain: “I reach the mountain peak and implant my banner, collect my breath and rest, … an ecstasy greater to me than love, than happiness.” (41)

The novel deals with many conflicts, all emanating from the major historical, political conflict between North and South, or West and East, with its paraphernalia of destructive misconceptions and stereotyping. It is this devastating conflict which turns Mustafa Sa’eed into a brutal, senseless machine set on destruction. It is the “deadly disease” of violence, an epidemic that imperialism brought to the world “a thousand years ago” (95), “the germ of contagion that oozes from the body of the universe” (104).  Sa’eed says: “I came to you as an invader into your very homes;  a drop of the poison which you have injected into the veins of history” (95). This conflict is repeatedly described in binary metaphors of burning suns and deadly ice. 

The paper attempts at explaining the symbolism of both deserts and mountains as tropes used to highlight the nothingness and annihilation which result, both in North and South, from the desire for cultural domination, sexual domination, and corruption of ethical values, in other words, from the “meaningless squabbles of dominance and subjugation” (“I Choose Life” 5). “Hankering for mastery”, as John E. Davidson rightly puts it, is “the great failure of the differing sections of this neocolonial world: economic mastery of imperialism; …misogynistic mastery…  and the  mastery of one culture over another.” (397)  The novel shows the germ of corruption spreading everywhere. Planet earth seems to be hopelessly ransacked. 

But before explaining the symbolism of natural images, it is necessary to unfold the complex layers of conflicts engendered by this major clash between South and North, of the colonised versus the colonisers. To begin with, both Sa’eed and the narrator experience, in their own different ways, a serious conflict between acculturation, or absorption of western culture, and a refusal to be embraced by it, a sort of  insistence on remaining the Other. In the words of Ana M. Calvo, Sa’eed in particular “is no innocent signifier easily contained and assimilated by the Europeans” (88).  He is torn culturally, “the colonised subject who now colonises the metropolis with similar brutality and calculated violence” (85). In his mind “conquering new territory appears tantamount … to conquering women” (85); each woman sexually subjugated is a city conquered and subdued: “The city was transformed into an extraordinary woman, with her symbols and mysterious calls, towards whom I drove my camels till their entrails ached and I myself almost died of yearning for her” (34). The desire for cultural domination takes the guise of sexual domination. Sa’eed sees himself as “the product of colonialism which now strikes back, bent on destroying the imperial power even if in the process he destroys himself” (Calvo 86).  He speaks of engaging in the same invasive colonial enterprise as the British who came to the Sudan; his “colonising” is an act of revenge. He says of the British colonisers: “They imported to us the germ of the greatest European violence” (95), yet he is as guilty of contamination as they are. Sa’eed’s conflict is not resolved when he finally comes home to settle down in a remote village at the bend of the Nile, where he thought he could bury his past; his  attraction to western culture persists to the end of his life symbolised by the secret rectangular room, a replica of an English drawing room, in the heart of his village house. In the letter he leaves for the narrator, he says: “It’s futile to deceive oneself. The distant call still rings in my ears. I thought my life and marriage here would silence it. … But mysterious things in my soul and in my blood impel me towards faraway parts that loom up before me and cannot be ignored.” (66-67)

In the narrator’s case the conflict takes another guise. Though he comes back from England eager to repossess his old self, overwhelmed by a keen sense of belonging to the old way of life of the village with its deep-rooted traditions, he is unaware at the beginning of the strong influence of western culture on his view of the world around him. At the end, he finds himself alienated from his community, unable to accept the traditional morality of the village. His inner self is lacerated between two opposite worlds, between his deep desire for belonging to a stable changeless world and his gradual awareness of  his alienation from his community. The narrator’s attitude towards history and western culture differs from Sa’eed’s. He rejects Sa’eed’s views and actions as evil, and though he sees his acculturated self reflected in Sa’eed’s, he comes to consider him as his enemy, the source of all evil, the cause of Hosna’s, Sa’eed’s widow’s death, and his own and the village’s misery. In his opinion, Sa’eed has polluted the world of the village.  

Behind all this, acting as a source of universal discord, lies the stereotyped image of the African or Middle-eastern man created by imperialism in its attempt to legitimise the British “civilising mission” (Season 93). This image is sharply contrasted with the reality behind the image. To the British women, who fall prey to Sa’eed, he is the acculturated African, westernised, civilised, made docile, but still sexually attractive, mysterious, exotic, another Othello. Ironically Sa’eed capitalises on this false image to achieve his revenge. He turns “those stereotypes into weapons against empire” (Hassan, Ideology 110).  The realisation of his reality drive these women to suicide. Sa’eed attributes the tragedy of these women to the same germ of violence which the Europeans brought to the world, the germ of colonial stereotyping of the native African. In the days when Sa’eed was a student at Oxford, his professor “would say to [him] with undisguised irritation: ‘You, Mr. Sa’eed, are the best example that our civilising mission in Africa is of no avail. After all the efforts we’ve made to educate you, it’s as if you’d come out of the jungle for the first time.’ ” (93-4)  To Ann Hammond, Sa’eed is a symbol of her hankerings for “tropical climes, cruel suns, purple horizons.” She tells him: “I want to have the smell of you in full – the smell of rotten leaves in the jungles of Africa, … the smell of rain in the deserts of Arabia” (142).  He manipulates this image. He makes his house in London “a den of lethal lies that I had deliberately built up, lie upon lie: the sandalwood and incense, … the paintings and drawings of forests of palm trees …, camel caravans wending their ways along sand dunes…. Persian carpets, pink curtains, large mirrors and coloured lights in the corners …” (146). Ann Hammond would kneel and kiss his feet saying: “You are Mustafa, my master and lord, … and I am Sausan, your slave girl” (146).  And speaking of Sheila Greenwood, Sa’eed says: “I seduced her with gifts and honeyed words … It was my world, so novel to her, that attracted her. The smell of burning sandalwood and incense made her dizzy …. She entered my bedroom a chaste virgin and when she left she was carrying the germs of self-destruction within her.” (35)

Within this frame of stereotyping of the Orient and its people, there are two contrasting images, the romanticized exotic image of the Arabian Nights and the negative colonial stereotype. Such extremes are best described in the narrator’s exclamation as he recalls Isabella Seymour’s words to Sa’eed, “O pagan god of mine.” The narrator comments: “How strange! How ironic! Just because a man has been created on the Equator some mad people regard him as a slave, others as a god. Where lies the mean? Where the middle way?” (108) It is this kind of misconception which allows Mustafa Sa’eed and his like to prey on those  who would take the stereotype for the reality. (See Davidson 397)

The village itself is not immune from the germ of the moral confusion and corruption. It suffers from a conflict of values, a collision between traditionalism and modernism, the offshoot of acculturation. Sa’eed spreads the germ of modernism in the village illustrated in Hosna’s flouting of all the laws of the community; her rejection and murder of Wad Rayyes is an act which shakes and changes the stability of the community forever.  This event opens the narrator’s eyes to a serious friction between popular religion, reinforced by patriarchy and unquestionably accepted by the villagers, and the true spirit of Islam. Wadd Rayyes misquotes the Qur’an to support his misogyny. In the words of W. Hassan, “patriarchy … hijacks religion” (Ideology 114) and misogyny is perpetrated in the name of Islam.  Hosna is forced to marry Wad Rayyes in blatant violation of the dictates of the Qur’an. The narrator is aware of this violation but he is helpless to fight against the social values of the village and its uneducated inhabitants. It is this shocking realisation of the evil at the heart of his village, leading to Hosna’s murder of Wad Rayyes and her own suicide,  which alienates him at the end from the place and the people he thought he belonged to. Chaos reigns and destroys the apparent serenity and peace of the village.  Even the grandfather, who, in the eyes of his grandson, figures as the epitome of wisdom, permanence and steadfastness, is torn apart at the end.  In his bewilderment, the narrator questions his grandfather’s sense of stability: “Is he above this chaos?” (108).  “It was the first time in my life I had seen him crying. He cried much” as he talked to his grandson: “To end up like this! There is no power and no strength save in God – it’s the first time anything like this has happened in the village since God created it. What a time of affliction we live in.” (123-24) In Season, “a critique of patriarchy becomes indispensable to the critique of colonial discourse” (Hassan, “Gender and Imperialism,” 91); Salih finds both worlds, North and South, guilty of sexism and misogyny. The grandfather blames women for the evil that has touched the village: “God curse all women! Women are sisters of the Devil.” (123). On the other hand, the North has always feminised and exploited the South. Sa’eed seems obsessed with this idea as the titles of his books indicate: The Rape of Africa, The Cross  and the Gunpowder, Colonialism and Monopoly (137). From the perspective of gender, using Hassan’s words,  “north and south are allies. Colonialism, anti-colonial struggle, and traditional society have all been sustained by a foundational misogyny.” (Ideology 115) The narrator is disillusioned; neither traditionalism nor modernism seems to bring peace and hope to the world. Thinking of his chaotic world, he states: “There is no justice or moderation in the world” (141).

Within this maze of conflicts and frictions, Salih introduces another contrast  between the appearance and the reality of Arab postcolonial political systems exposed in the novel in the conference of the ministers of education held in Al-Khartoom and which the narrator attends. Salih exposes the hypocrisy of these ministers and their well-prepared high-sounding speeches about Arab nationalism and unity, their alleged socialist values and attacks on imperialism. These so-called nationalists are described by the narrator as “a pack of wolves” (120) getting fabulously rich while preaching socialist ideals. Salih attracts attention to the dilemma of the Arabs suffering from the hypocrisy of politics and politicians, and  what he refers to as “the superstition of nationalisation, the superstition of Arab unity, the superstition of African unity.” In the mouth of Richard, the Englishman,  Salih criticises the Arabs: “Like children you believe that in the bowels of the earth lies a treasure you’ll attain by some miracle, and that you’ll solve all your difficulties and set up a Garden of Paradise. Fantasies. Waking dreams.”  He suggests that Arabs should “accept their reality, live together with it, and attempt to bring about changes within the limits of [their] potentialities.” (59) 

Deserts versus Mountains:

In Season , the cultural and personal frictions, mentioned above, are  beautifully and poetically reflected in the natural images which Salih employs to accentuate his vision of the lethal consequences of the clash of cultures and to finally offer a glimpse of hope in the narrator’s painful effort to get rid of  his “essentialist conceptions of Self and Other” (Hassan, Ideology 126). In addressing deserts, mountains, rivers, trees, and even birds, Salih is also addressing the nature inherent in human beings. Admiring his grandfather’s stoicism and endurance, the narrator says: “He is no towering oak tree with luxuriant branches growing in a land on which Nature has bestowed water and fertility, rather he is like the sayal bushes in the deserts of the Sudan, thick of bark and sharp of thorn, defeating death because they ask so little of life.” (73)  Here lies a good example of the relationship between ecology and literature; ecocriticism acknowledges human culture’s connection with the physical world, acting upon it and affected by it. ( See Panny 2)  

Season abounds in desert images. Both Sa’eed and the narrator seem to be obsessed with the desert. Describing his “wicked” seduction of Isabella (43), he says: “I caught you unawares … and you are no longer capable of doing  anything. … Is the sun wicked when it turns the hearts of millions of human beings into sand-strewn deserts in which the throat of the nightingale is parched with thirst? … She gazed hard and long at me as though seeing me as a symbol rather than reality” (43). Here Sa’eed admits that he is as cruel as the sun, turning the hearts of  his victims into “sand-strewn deserts.”  Talking about Jean, he says, “I went on pursuing her for three years. Every day the bow string became more taut. My caravans were parched with thirst and the mirage glimmered in front of me in the desert of longing.” (91-2)  To the Narrator, the desert with its brutal sun leads to utter nothingness, to total destruction of everything in nature. Hence its symbolic significance. Twice in the novel, the narrator describes the desert in contrasting images, negative and positive. Life for him is “a long caravan that ascends and descends, encamps, and then proceeds on its own way. … The going may be hard by day, the wilderness sweeping out before us … we pour with sweat, our throats are parched with thirst, and we reach the frontier beyond which we think we cannot go. Then the sun sets, the air grows cool, and millions of stars twinkle in the sky. We eat and drink and the singer of the caravan breaks into song. … Above us the sky is warm and compassionate.”  (61) The climax of desert imagery appears in the  seventh chapter  where the narrator describes his journey to Khartoom through the desert. Here he is agonisingly embittered by the cruelty of the “merciless sun”:

 There is no shelter from the sun…  its rays spilling out on the ground as though there existed an old blood feud between it and the people of the earth. … A monotonous road rises and falls with nothing to entice the eye: scattered bushes in the desert, all thorns and leafless, miserable trees that are neither alive nor dead. … There is not a single cloud heralding hope in this hot sky which is like the lid of Hell-fire. The day here is without value, a mere torment … Night is deliverance. (105)

 The sun is described as “indefatigable”, “merciless”; it is “the enemy”, “killing” everything, leading to “Nothing.”  (108, 109, 111)  The narrator quotes the Arab poet El-Abbasi: “ ‘One mirage kept raising us up, another casting down, and from deserts we were spewed out into yet  more deserts.’ … This is the land of despair and poetry but there is nobody to sing.” (110)  In  his suffering, the narrator cries: “Where, O God, is the shade?” (108) 

In this series of desert images, the narrator’s mind turns to Sa’eed, as if associating all this “nothingness” and violence with him: “The sun, the desert, desiccated plants and emaciated animals. …We pass by the bones of a camel that has perished from thirst in this wilderness. Mustafa Sa’eed’s face returns to my mind’s eye.” (106-7). The sun is “unbearable.” “It melts the brain. It paralyses thought. And Mustafa Sa’eed springs clearly to my mind” (106). The sun is “indefatigable. No wonder Mustafa Sa’eed fled to the bitter cold of the North.” (108) Life in this desert is repeatedly compared to an “endless” road: “[t]he road is endless, without limit”; “[t]he road is unending and the sun is merciless.”  People are lost on this road. Thinking of Sa’eed in the midst of this deadly desert, the narrator remembers the Judge’s words at Sa’eed’s trial: “His twisted road all too soon leads to disaster, and generally disaster lies clearly before him, as clear as the sun.” (111)

Reading this chapter, one cannot help thinking of its deep symbolism. The sun, with all its destructive power, seems to stand for al1 that is “evil” in the world, all the hostility, the antagonism, the  prejudice and violence resulting, as it were, from “an old blood feud” between North and South, West and East. The sun seems to be the symbol of all that leads to misery: extremes of prejudice,  insistence  on time-worn concepts, refusal to change and to accept new truths and new visions, hate and the desire for retaliation, resistance to accept cultural differences, and false conceptions and stereotyping of the Other. Isabella Seymour “whisper[s] caressingly” to Sa’eed: “Ravish me, you African demon. Burn me in the fire of your temple, you black god. Let me twist and turn in your wild and impassioned rites” (106). As he passes through the burning desert, the narrator recalls Isabella’s words and comments: “Right here is the source of fire; here the temple. Nothing” (106). The disease of violence spreads everywhere like a epidemic wrecking the earth, “leaving nothing of good” (111). It is the violence perpetrated by humans against each other; it is behind all the deaths and murders and suicides. To the narrator, no individual must be blamed for any crime or murder; they all “died from sunstroke” (111). “The sun is the enemy. … What a fiery liver!” affecting “all living creatures when even the stones groan, the trees weep, and iron cries out for help. The weeping of a woman under a man at dawn and two wide-open thighs. They are now like the dry bones of camels scattered in the desert.” (111)  This sexual image keeps recurring in the novel which brings us to another aspect of the sun symbolism; it is the malignant illness that lies at the heart of both, imperialism and post-colonial patriarchy, with their insidious desire for  sexual and cultural domination. The narrator is “equally horrified by Sa’eed’s past and by the disastrous consequences of the abuses of traditional patriarchy” (Hassan, “Gender and Imperialism” 321). He  imagines “Hosna …as being the same woman in both instances: two wide-opened thighs in London, and a woman groaning before dawn in an obscure village on a bend of the Nile under the weight of the aged Wad Rayyes. If that other thing was evil, this too was evil” (86-87).  Salih attracts attention to the brutality and bigotry in both societies. If the desert stands for the South, the sun stands for all that turns life to nothingness,  When the sun sets and night comes, there is harmony and acceptance of differences. “Night is deliverance”(106):

           

 And suddenly the war ended in victory. The glow of sundown is not 

 blood but henna on a woman’s foot …  the war ended in victory for all 

 of us: the stones, the trees, the animals, the iron, while I, lying under

 this beautiful, compassionate sky feel that we are all brothers; he who 

 drinks and he who prays and he who steals and he who commits adultery

 and he who fights and he who kills. The source is the same. No one knows 

    what goes on in the mind of the Divine. … On a night like this you feel   

    you are able to rise up to the sky on a rope ladder. This is the land of 

    poetry and the possible – and my daughter is named Hope. We shall 

    pull down and we shall build, and we shall humble the sun itself

    to our will. (113)

It is as if Salih is saying that “insularity (or exclusion)” of the Other (Maalouf 171) is self-destructive and it is only through tolerance and acceptance of difference can human beings find hope and experience peace.

The bloody sun in the desert (South) or the ice in the mountains (North) are equally fatal. While Sa’eed sees himself and is seen as the burning sun, Jean Morris is described by Sa’eed as a “mountain of ice.” In Sa’eed’s mind, each woman he seduces is a city he conquers; and both city and woman are compared to a “large mountain.” (25) The mountain is cold and icy, superior and cruel, and Sa’eed is determined to defeat it, with a coldness that surpasses his enemy’s: “my sole weapon being that sharp knife inside my skull, while within my breast was a hard cold feeling – as if it had been cast in rock.” (26) Ironically, Sa’eed who represents the South is colder than the North, while his English victims, with the exception of Jean Morris, are portrayed as extremely romantic and passionate. The climax of mountain imagery appears  in those passages which describe his liaison with Jean Morris, and particularly in the murder scene. Jean Morris, that symbol of the North, with all its arrogance and coldness, enrages him: “All the fires of hell blazed within my breast. Those fires had to be extinguished in that mountain of ice that stood in my path. … My throat grew dry with a thirst that almost killed me. I must quench it with a drink of icy water.” (156-7).  In the murder scene, the imagery gets more intense: “I was the invader who had come from the South, and this was the icy battlefield from which I would not make a safe return. I was the pirate sailor and Jean Morris the shore of destruction.” (160)  “It was a dark evening in February … dark and gloomy. The sun had not shone for twenty-two days. The whole city was a field of ice … And all the while my blood was boiling and my head in a fever. … Though ice crackled under my shoes, yet I sought the cold. Where was the cold? I found her stretched out naked on the bed. …” (162-3).

The battle between desert and mountain proves catastrophic to both Sa’eed and Jean Morris. Though Sa’eed outlives Jean Morris and goes back to the Sudan after he gets out of jail, and though he tries to start a new life away from this fierce struggle of South and North, he remains essentially the same man, haunted by his past, which finally drives him to suicide. Unlike Sa’eed, the narrator, though torn apart by the same struggle, tries to find a way out, to keep away from the dance of death Sa’eed and Jean Morris perform to the very end of their lives. “Where lies the mean? Where the middle way?” he questions. In the desert, burnt by the heat of the sun, he cries for “the shade.” In his desperation he longs to be “above this chaos”, to survive “despite epidemics, the corruption of those in power, and the cruelty of nature.” (108) When the night comes, he finds a sort of peace in the harmony of nature and brotherhood of men. But it is in the final chapter that he actually experiences the middle way, not in the desert of the South nor in the mountains of the North, but in the neutral river.

The narrator goes to the river to escape from his troubled and agitated self. Hosna’s death affects the narrator very deeply. Enraged and embittered, he attacks Mahjoub when the latter insults Hosna’s memory. But his real rage is against the late Sa’eed, who keeps haunting him like a phantom. Before going to the river, we see him at the door of Sa’eed’s secret room , the key in his hand. “The world has turned suddenly upside down,”  he says. Is it “love” for Hosna or is it “hatred” that pushed him to assault Mahjoub? “Love? Love does not do this. This is hatred. I feel hatred and seek revenge; my adversary is within and I needs must confront him” (134). The adversary is Sa’eed whom he blames for all the evil that has contaminated the village. The narrator is in a state of confusion and despair. No longer sure of his roots, and losing his sense of belonging to the village, he enters the room, which nobody else has entered since the death of Sa’eed. The germ of hatred and violence has taken hold of him; he hates Sa’eed but he identifies himself with him; opening the door in the darkness, he sees his own reflection in the large mirror and thinks it is Sa’eed’s: “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 Mustafa Sa’eed.” Moving closer, “I found myself standing face to face with myself. This is not Mustafa Sa’eed – it’s a picture of me frowning at my face from a mirror” (135).  After spending the night inspecting the room with its memories of Sa’eed’s past affairs with English women, he says bitterly: “ I feel bitterness and hatred, for after all those victims he crowned his life with yet another one, Hosna Bint Mahmoud, the only woman I have ever loved. She killed poor Wad Rayyes and killed  herself because of Mustafa Sa’eed.” (!41-42) With such feelings he leaves the room and goes to the river. 

The novel concludes with the narrator in the middle of the river calling for help. Just like the desert of the South and the mountains of the North, the river is fraught with symbolic meanings: 

My feet led me to the river bank as the first glimmerings of dawn made their appearance in the east. I would dispel my rage by swimming. … I began swimming towards the northern shore. … I continued swimming and swimming, resolved to make the northern shore. That was the goal. .. I was conscious and not conscious. … Was I alive or dead? … A numbness ran through my legs and arms. … Now – and suddenly, with a force that came to me from I know not where – I raised my body in the water. … Turning to left and right, I found I was half-way between north and south. I was unable to continue, unable to return. … (166-67)

The symbolic significance of the river has been interpreted in different ways: a boundary between south and north, a bridge between disparate cultures, a place of escape from the conflict, an act of cleansing the “soul of all seeds of hatred and violence that had defined a whole epoch” (Amyuni 213), the “middle way” the narrator is looking for, “the epiphanic and Nietzschean moment in which the narrator chooses to impose his own perspective on events rather than succumb to a particular culture’s interpretation” (“I Choose” 1). The narrator’s fight between death and life in the river is also said to symbolise his attempt to transcend the cultural limitations of both the British and the Sudanese.  After a fierce struggle in the water, the narrator chooses to live and let live: “I thought that if I died at that moment, I would have died as I was born – without any volition of mine. All my life I had not chosen, had not decided. Now I am making a decision. I choose life. … If I am unable to forgive, then I shall try to forget” (168-69). The narrator here is seen to achieve a sort of “personal humanism,” a humanism that “lies at the core of the novel”, and  is “in a sense an abandonment of the restrictive composite picture of the culture clash that is provided by the contending parties. … It is a reliance on self, on defining one’s world by criteria which grant equality and respect to everyone.” (“I Choose” 4)

All these interpretations sound valid and convincing. But there is more in this rich symbolism. The final chapter opens with these words: “I entered the water as naked as when my mother bore me.”  After spending long hours in Sa’eed’s room, the narrator’s feelings of hatred and despair become more intense. His nakedness is a symbolic act of ridding himself of his old self and of all negative feelings. His swimming northwards may signify his desire to follow Sa’eed’s steps, his desire to leave this world of insoluble  cultural conflicts. Stranded in the middle of the river between north and south, east and west, the narrator is lost, “unable to continue, unable to return” in “a state between life and death.” Then suddenly “in an instant, “ he is made aware of “a vivid brightness like a flash of lightning. … And this was the instant of waking from the nightmare. …Then my mind cleared and my relationship to the river was determined.” (168)  It is this moment of insight that leads him to choose his own salvation, the salvation that lies in tolerance and acceptance of the Other: “I choose life. … It is not my concern whether or not life has meaning. If I am unable to forgive, then I shall try to forget. I shall live … .” The narrator is determined to live and let the world take care of itself.  Unlike the deserts and the mountains, the river becomes a place of healing. Plunging naked into the river shows the narrator’s innate desire  to get rid of his human trappings, the trappings of prejudice and aggression; it is his desire to merge with and be one with nature,  to find in nature a cure for the “cultural schizophrenia” (Topan 246) that afflicts him and is about to destroy him. Nature receives him and gives him a new insight, a new healing vision,  a vision of cultures in contact and not cultures in conflict. His cry for help at the end is a cry for a helping hand, for human contact.

This final vision, however, is not totally new to the narrator; throughout the novel, he utters statements which show him to be aware that harmony and peace come only through acceptance of life with all its differences:

 Over there is like here, neither better nor worse. But I am from here, just as the date palm standing in the courtyard of our house has grown in our house and not in anyone else’s. The fact that they came to our land, I know not why, does that mean we should poison our present and our future? Sooner or later they will leave our country, just as many people throughout history left many countries. (49)

And in another place, he comments: “But their own coming … was not a tragedy as we imagine it, nor yet a blessing as they imagine. It was a melodramatic act which with the passage of time will change into a mighty myth. … The world goes on whether we choose for it to do so or in defiance of us.” (60-61). And again in the midst of the desert, in the coolness of night, the narrator also experiences a sense of universal tolerance, where all differences disappear. There and then, in the middle of the “huge caravanserai of more than a hundred men who ate and drank and prayed and got drunk. …clapp[ing] … and humm[ing] in unison,  making a festival to nothingness in the heart of the desert” (113-14), he sees a glimpse of the “middle way”, “the shade”, salvation from the murderous sun of hatred and prejudice. There men and women celebrate together: “Actual women entered the circle … and the bedouin women sang and danced, the night and the desert resounding with the echoes of a great feast, … .” (114)  The narrator thus knows where salvation lies but does not have the will to make decisions. Instead, throughout the course of the novel, he drifts passively, haunted by Sa’eed, afraid to be like him, unable to take action; he runs away from Hosna when she most needs him, until he finally reaches a state of delirium and plunges  into the river, following, as it were, Sa’eed’s path. It is only by a strong act of will that he “chooses” to live and save himself from falling into the same abyss of Mustafa Sa’eed. He decides to “forget”, if not to “forgive”, and look ahead for a better world. At the beginning of the novel, he asserts: “I must be one of those birds that exist only in one region of the world” (49), thus echoing Sa’eed’s dedication on the first page of his unwritten “Life Story”: “To those who see with one eye, speak with one tongue and see things either as black or white, either Eastern or Western.” (150-51)  In the final chapter, at “the instant of waking from the nightmare”, he sees “formations of sand grouse heading northwards” in “a casual flight or a migration” (168), and he decides to live. Like the sand grouse, his spirit will migrate northwards and southwards, embracing the whole world.

Thus Salih’s final chapter in this novel offers a glimpse of a resolution to all the conflicts. This resolution is foreshadowed in the earlier chapters through other natural images. Most memorable are the tree images: Saeed’s lemon-orange tree, Mahjoub’s palm tree and the palm tree in the grandfather’s courtyard, which carry symbolic meanings. But while the grandfather’s palm tree stands for the sense of stability of the villagers and their way of life, the other two images suggest clues about and foreshadow the novel’s final message. In Patricia Geesey’s words, Sa’eed’s lemon-orange tree “reveals that grafting or fusion of two entities can produce a healthy tree with a split or dual productivity”. But unlike his unique tree, Sa’eed fails to fulfil “the promise of cultural grafting.” (133)  References to trees, Geesey says, “direct the reader’s attention to the important notions of cultural hybridity, grafting, and contamination that operate on symbolic and literal levels in the text.” (128) Geesey analyses the tree images in the light of Homi Bhabha’s concept of cultural hybridity. In Bhabha’s opinion, hybridity “is both a product of and a response to the colonial situation by the colonised subject.” It is “the sign of the productivity of colonial power, its shifting forces and fixities” which eventually leads to “strategies of subversion that turn the gaze of the discriminated upon the eye of power.” (Bhabha 112) Sa’eed, “the black Englishman”,  is in this sense “the cultural hybrid” who turns his gaze back upon “the eye of power” and engages in a quest for personal victory over the British: “I .. am a coloniser,” he asserts, “I came as an invader into your very homes… .” (Season 95)  By doing so, he indulges in psychopathic acts of retaliation and eventually destroys himself in the process. In other words, he fails to transcend the negative effects of colonial, cultural contamination.   Both Sa’eed and the narrator are cultural hybrids who suffer from the negative effects of hybridity; both are contaminated by the same germ; both are unable to create a balance of cultural differences, but while Sa’eed embraces and revels in his hybrid nature, the narrator tries hard at the end to transcend it. Though he keeps longing for the stability and purity symbolised by the palm tree, he comes to realise the “discontinuity of cultures which come into contact with other elements” (Geesey 137). The narrator exclaims: “Outside, my world was a wide one; now it had contracted, had withdrawn upon itself, …  Where, then, were the roots that struck down into time past? … What had happened to the caravan and to the tribe?” (134) He is totally bewildered in his search for a way out of his predicament. It is only at the very end that he gets a glimpse of the solution, already beautifully expressed in the two tree images mentioned above: Sa’eed’s lemon-orange tree, the “graft” that bears fruit of two kinds, thus creating a union and a balance, and Mahjoub’s transplanted palm tree. Mahjoub separates a baby palm from its mother tree, explaining to the narrator that in order for the young shoot to continue living, its roots have to be protected. The narrator does not pay close attention to Mahjoub’s words, nor does he see in this example of nature any deeper meaning. At the end, in the middle of the river, he experiences a flash of insight, and  comes to see the truth: to live peacefully is to keep your roots intact and simultaneously tolerate and respect cultural differences. In this sense, the transplanted tree can be seen as a symbol of the narrator after his experience in the river. Through these natural images, the novel, using Geesey’s words, “presents a positive message of bicultural, or cultural, grafting as an antidote to the ‘germ’ of cultural contagion that may be a negative by-product of European colonial endeavours in Africa.” ( 139) 

In the words of Mona Amyuni, Salih “addressed  both Western and Arab readers when he destroyed all stereotypes and called for new bridges to be built and mentalities to change.” (220) His intention is “to exorcise revenge and hatred from men’s hearts.” (211)  Salih himself is quoted to say: “I believe if I have contributed anything to modern Arabic literature, it is in my constant plea for toleration.” (qtd. by Davidson, 399)

In an article entitled “Terrorism is as Terrorism Does,” C.P. Watson’s following words, though political and generally presented as a call to protect “the natural laws of ecology like the law of biodiversity [and] the law of interdependence,” could be quoted to sum up what sounds like Salih’s argument:

But one thing I do know is that you don’t achieve peace through endless war and the endless infliction of death and destruction. I also do know that unless the root causes of our problems are addressed in an intelligent manner – there will be no salvation from the hell of our own invention. … So we can either waste our time rooting for this side or that side – West versus East, North versus South, … Muslim versus …Christian versus [others]. Or we can turn our back on all these anthropocentric concepts and see reality for what it is – One world, one planet, one complex biodiversity of life whose one purpose is simply to live and let live in accordance to a design that has been billions of years in the making. (4)

                            Works Cited

Amyun, Mona T.  “The Arab Artist Role in Society. Three Case Studies: Naguib

           Mahfouz, Tayeb Salih and Elias Khoury.”  Arabic and Middle eastern Literatures,     

           Vol. 2, No.2, 1999, 203-22.

Anonymous.  “I Choose Life”: Personal Humanism in Salih’s Season of Migration to the 

           North.  Raph’s Page Online – Literature. 1-6.

           http://www.legendmud.org/raph/papers/salih.html. 

Bhabha, Homi K.  The Location of Culture.  London: Routledge, 2002.

Calvo, Ana M.   “Images, Lies and Acculturation in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to

           the North.”  On Writing (and) Race in Contemporary Britain.  Eds. F. Galvan and 

           M. Bengoechea. Universidad De Alcala: Servicio De Publicaciones, 1999.;

Davidson, John E.  “In Search of a Middle point: The origins of Oppression in Tayeb  

          Salih’s Season of Migration to the North.”  Research in African Literatures, Vol. 

          20,  No.3, Fall 1989. 385-400.

Geesey, Patricia.  “Cultural Hybridity and Contamination in Tayeb Salih’s Mawsim al-

            hijra ila al-Shamal (Season of Migration to the North).”  Research in African 

            Literatures. Vol.28,  No. 3, 1997. 128-140.

Hassan, Wail S.  “Gender (and) Imperialism: Structures of Masculinity in Tayeb Salih’s 

         Season of Migration to the North.”   Men and Masculinities. Vol. 5, No. 3, January

         2003, 309-324.

____________.  Tayeb Salih: Ideology and the Craft of Fiction.  Syracuse: Syracuse 

         University Press, 2003.

Heise, Ursula K.  “Science and Ecocriticism.”  The American Book Review 18.5 (July-

         August 1997).  Asle Online (The Association for the Study of Literature and

         Environment).  http://www.asle.umn.edu/archive/intro/heise.html. 1-4.

Maalouf, May.  “Tayeb Salih and Joseph Conrad Revisited: Season of Migration to the

        North and Heart of Darkness.”   International Journal of Arabic-English Studies. 

        Vol.1. No. 1, June 2000, 157-174.

Panny, Judith D.  “Ecocriticism: Literature and Ethics.”   Writers: Social Critics, 

         Concerned with Ethics.   www.uni-trier.de/uni/fb2/anglistik/platz/ecocriti.htm. 1-5.

Salih, Tayeb.  Season Of Migration to the North. Trans. Denys Johnson-Davies.  London:

         Heinemann, 1980.

Sarver, Stephanie.  “What is Ecocriticism?”  Asle Online (The Association for the Study

        of Literature and Environment). 1-2. 

        http://www.asle.umn.edu/conf/wla/1994/sarver.html.

Topan, Farouk. “Salih’s Season of Migration to the North.”  African Novels in the 

         Classroom.  Ed. M.J. Hay.  Boulder & London: Lynne Reinner Pulishers, 2000.

Watson, Captain Paul.  “Terrorism is as Terrorism Does: a Short Little Essay on My

           Perspective on the Concerns about Terrorism.”   Ecocentrism Homepage. 

           www.ecospherics.net/pages/watson2.htm.  1-5.

            

 

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