Identity in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North

Identity in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North

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Identity in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North


Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih tells the story of a man searching for an identity he was unaware he had lost. Through his growing understanding of Mustafa Sa'eed's life, the central character eventually reconciles his own identity conflicts.

Throughout Salih's novel the main character's identity is unclear. While the reader learns much about his background: educational, familial, and professional, his name is never mentioned. A surname is used in reference to his family, but is never applied to him. In once instance he is referred to by another character as "effendi" (85). This phrase, however, is an Arabic title roughly equivalent to "sir" rather than a name. The central character's namelessness serves to focus attention on another character with whom he develops an uneasy friendship: Mustafa Sa'eed.

Mustafa entrusts the main character with his affairs after his death, including the key to a private chamber. When the central character enters the mysterious room and uncovers Mustafa's past, the identity conflict becomes apparent:

…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. The face grew… and I found myself standing face to face with myself. …a picture of me frowning at my face from a mirror. (135)

Several parallels are drawn between the central character and Mustafa Sa'eed. Both speak English and had studied in London. Even though the central character had grown up in the village, his education and time abroad had made him as much an outsider as Sa'eed. Upon seeing his own reflection in the darkness, he believes it to be Mustafa, who he had grown to despise. As he moves closer to the object of his hatred, he discovers that he is "standing face to face with" himself. Mustafa represents to him all that he despises in himself.

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He is caught between two worlds, his European education on the one hand and his postcolonial experience on the other. He does not even recognize his own reflection. He has come to see himself as Mustafa, who also could not reconcile European culture with his postcolonial perspective.

The main character's struggle to construct his own identity separate from Mustafa Sa'eed culminates with his final decision to call for help after attempting suicide making the interpersonal connection Mustafa never had.
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