Season of Migration to the North


Tayeb Salih

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Season of Migration to the North: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

During his visit to the village, the narrator goes to his grandfather’s house, standing outside a door built by the “village engineer” Wad Baseer. He notes, however, that Baseer is no longer in business in the village; he used to make traditional water wheels that have now been replaced by automated pumps. There, the narrator finds his grandfather with visitors: Wad Rayyes, Bakri, and Bint Majzoub. In the house, the narrator again feels a sense of rootedness and connection as he marvels at his grandfather’s long life. The guests talk about their various sexual exploits as young people. Bint Majzoub, a woman nearing seventy, talks about her sex life with one of her husbands. In the village, she is notorious for her uninhibited talk. The elders discuss Wad Rayyes’s desire to marry again and whether it is appropriate, given that he is growing old.  A heated debate erupts about the merits and disadvantages of female circumcision, a widespread practice in the village and in the country. When the guests finally rise to leave, Wad Rayyes invites the narrator to lunch the next day.
The conversation between these village elders points to the complicated gender politics of the village of Wad Hamid. On the one hand, the social landscape of the village makes space for such strong and bold women as Bint Majzoub, who can hold her own with men, speaking openly and without shame about her own sexual exploits. On the other hand, the discussion around female circumcision, and the prevalence of the practice in the village, also shows how women are routinely subjected to violence under the guise of ‘traditional practices.’ This moment also hints at the questions surrounding modernity in the village, as it demonstrates how traditional ways of may have both positive and negative features. While more modern treatment of women seems like it would be a positive change, the valuable work of craftspeople like Wad Baseer is being made obsolete by the forces of increasing modernity.
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After the guests leave, the narrator’s grandfather informs the narrator that Wad Rayyes wants to marry Mustafa Sa’eed’s widow, Hosna. Wad Rayyes has invited the narrator to lunch because the narrator, per Sa’eed’s request, is now Hosna’s guardian. His grandfather thinks it is time for the widow to marry—it has been three years since Mustafa Sa’eed’s death. The narrator, however, is upset by this news. He is angry that people—including his own grandfather—want to force Hosna to marry Wad Rayyes, a man forty years her senior, even though she has rejected much younger men who have sought her hand.
The news that Wad Rayyes wants to marry Hosna—and that the narrator’s grandfather expects the narrator to pressure her to do so—points to the precarious place women occupy in the social landscape of the village. Clearly, village men such as Wad Rayyes and the narrator’s grandfather feel they have the authority to determine what is right for Hosna, rather than allowing her the freedom to determine this for herself. This moment creates a link between the women the village and the women that Sa’eed tried to dominate back in England; even in two such different settings, the novel suggests, women face similar kinds of danger and oppression.
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