Season of Migration to the North

Hosna bint Mahmoud Character Analysis

Hosna bint Mahmoud is the second wife of Mustafa Sa’eed. She is a young, beautiful Sudanese woman from the small village of Wad Hamid, located along the banks of the Nile river in northern Sudan. Like all the other villagers, Hosna knows nothing of her husband’s previous life, including his time in England and his murder of his first wife, Jean Morris. She has two sons with Sa’eed, but she is left a widow when her husband drowns—possibly by suicide. Her marriage to Sa’eed seems to change her in some mysterious way. She resists pressure by her family to marry Wad Rayyes, the much older villager who becomes obsessed with marrying her after Sa’eed’s death. The narrator himself, who is designated as her guardian after Sa’eed’s death, develops deep feelings for her. In spite of her resistance, her father forces her to marry Wad Rayyes against her will, even though she seeks the narrator’s help in avoiding the marriage. The marriage culminates in tragedy when, resisting rape by Wad Rayyes, Hosna murders him and kills herself shortly after their wedding. Hosna’s murder-suicide is condemned by the villagers, and only the narrator—who is devastated by the tragedy—comes to her defense. Hosna’s violent murder-suicide reveals the devastating costs of standing up for herself and defending her rights in the small, patriarchal village community.

Hosna bint Mahmoud Quotes in Season of Migration to the North

The Season of Migration to the North quotes below are all either spoken by Hosna bint Mahmoud or refer to Hosna bint Mahmoud. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the NYRB Classics edition of Season of Migration to the North published in 2009.
Chapter 6 Quotes

“You know how life is run here,” [Mahjoub] interrupted me. “Women belong to men, and a man’s a man even if he’s decrepit.”

Related Characters: Mahjoub (speaker), The Narrator, Hosna bint Mahmoud, Wad Rayyes
Page Number: Book Page 83
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

“A week or ten days after you went away [Hosna’s] father said he had given Wad Rayyes a promise—and they married her off to him. Her father swore at her and beat her; he told her she’d marry him whether she liked it or not.”

Related Characters: Mahjoub (speaker), The Narrator, Hosna bint Mahmoud, Wad Rayyes
Page Number: Book Page 101
Explanation and Analysis:
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“The red straw mat was swimming in blood. I raised the lamp and saw that every inch of Bint Mahmoud’s body was covered in bites and scratches…Wad Rayyes had been stabbed more than ten times—in his stomach, chest, face, and between his thighs”

Related Characters: Bint Majzoub (speaker), The Narrator, Hosna bint Mahmoud, Wad Rayyes
Page Number: Book Page 104-5
Explanation and Analysis:
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Hosna bint Mahmoud Character Timeline in Season of Migration to the North

The timeline below shows where the character Hosna bint Mahmoud appears in Season of Migration to the North. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...is known. Mustafa arrived in Wad Hamid five years earlier and married a local woman, Hosna bint Mahmoud. (full context)
Chapter 4
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...left him a letter before his death, designating the narrator as guardian of his wife Hosna, his children, and his belongings and property. In the letter, Sa’eed notes that he is... (full context)
Chapter 5
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 6
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...very same day, the narrator visits Mustafa Sa’eed’s house. He is greeted by Sa’eed’s widow Hosna and her two sons, Mahmoud and Sa’eed. One of the boys is eight and the... (full context)
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Hosna tells the narrator that it was as if, before his death, Mustafa Sa’eed knew his... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
The narrator listens to Hosna weep, then tells her to think about the future—about marrying again. She says she will... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...even until their appointed meeting time later that day. The narrator tells Wad Rayyes that Hosna doesn’t want to marry him. Wad Rayyes is extremely upset, and he insists that he... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...friend Mahjoub, whom he finds working in his field, and they discuss the conflict over Hosna’s potential marriage to Wad Rayyes. Mahjoub tells the narrator that if Hosna’s family agrees to... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The conversation turns to Hosna’s dead husband, Mustafa Sa’eed, about whom the narrator questions Mahjoub. Mahjoub expresses admiration for Mustafa... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Suddenly, Mahjoub suggests that the narrator should marry Hosna himself, given that he is her legal guardian (even though the narrator himself already has... (full context)
Chapter 7
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...On the trip through the endless desert, he is haunted by thoughts of Mustafa Sa’eed, Hosna, and the secret room to which Mustafa has left him the keys. He thinks of... (full context)
Chapter 8
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...that, about a week or ten days after the narrator’s previous departure from the village, Hosna’s father had forced her to marry Wad Rayyes. For two weeks after the wedding, Wad... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...the village, but he is met with silence everywhere. His mother shares with him that Hosna had come to his father and asked that he tell the narrator to marry her.... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...has happened. She tells him that, one night, she woke up to the sound of Hosna screaming in Wad Rayyes’s house. She thought that Wad Rayyes was finally getting his way... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...they discovered Wad Rayyes’s naked body, stabbed more than ten times in the torso, and Hosna Bint Mahmoud’s almost naked body, covered in bite marks and scratches. After killing Wad Rayyes,... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Modernity and Change Theme Icon
Mahjoub says that before her marriage to Wad Rayyes, Hosna had approached him and asked him to ask the narrator to marry her, only platonically,... (full context)
Chapter 9
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
One night, shortly after learning of the details of Hosna’s murder-suicide, the narrator stands outside of the secret room in Mustafa Sa’eed’s house. He enters.... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
...narrator thinks that, after all these victims, Sa’eed still managed to crown his life with another—Hosna Bint Mahmoud. The narrator picks up a third photograph—this one of Ann Hammond. He remembers... (full context)