Season of Migration to the North

by

Tayeb Salih

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Mustafa Sa’eed Character Analysis

Mustafa Sa’eed is the mysterious and charismatic protagonist of the novel. Born in the early 20th century in Sudan during British colonization, Sa’eed’s is raised by a single mother after his father dies before Sa’eed’s birth. A child prodigy at school, he is sent on scholarship to study in Cairo and then in England. Settling in England, Sa’eed further distinguishes himself as an economist. There, he also commences a series of destructive relationships with English women, playing up his “exotic” background to seduce them. He deploys his good looks, his intelligence, his seductive charm, and his powers of manipulation to the utmost in ensnaring these women. Three of his lovers commit suicide; he murders the fourth, his wife, Jean Morris. He is tried for the murder and given seven years in prison, after which he returns to his native land of Sudan, where he settles in the small village of Wad Hamid, on the banks of the Nile river. There, he meets the narrator of the novel, who has also lived in England. While brilliant, Sa’eed is also twisted—he frames his exploitation and deceit of English women in terms of “revenge” for the colonial wrongs done to the Sudanese people under British colonial rule. He is, furthermore, alienated and trapped between his native Sudanese culture and the culture of England, the country where he spent many of his formative years. The extent to which he is caught between the two cultures is reflected in his two rooms—the London apartment, which represents a fetishized version of his native culture, and his secret room in Sudan, which is an homage to English culture. In spite of his attempts to settle down and lead an ordinary life in a Sudanese village, where he also marries Hosna bint Mahmoud and has two children, Sa’eed’s alienation is such that he ultimately ends up drowning—quite possibly intentionally, by suicide—one night during floods. His death seems to reflect his inability to come to terms with the contradictions of his identity and his experience.

Mustafa Sa’eed Quotes in Season of Migration to the North

The Season of Migration to the North quotes below are all either spoken by Mustafa Sa’eed or refer to Mustafa Sa’eed. 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 1 Quotes

I tell you that had the ground suddenly spit open and revealed an afreet standing before me, his eyes shooting out flames, I wouldn’t have been more terrified. All of a sudden there came to me the ghastly, nightmarish feeling that we—the men grouped together in that room—were not a reality but merely some illusion.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mustafa Sa’eed
Page Number: Book Page 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

“As we drank tea, she asked me about my home. I related to her fabricated stories about deserts of golden sands and jungles where non-existent animals called out to one another. I told her that the streets of my country teemed with elephants and lions and that during siesta time crocodiles crawled through it […]There came a moment when I felt I had been transformed in her eyes into a naked, primitive creature, a spear in one hand and arrows in the other, hunting elephants and lions in the jungles.”

Related Characters: Mustafa Sa’eed (speaker), The Narrator, Isabella Seymour
Page Number: Book Page 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

“For a moment I imagined to myself the Arab soldiers’ first meeting with Spain; like me at this instant sitting opposite Isabella Seymour.”

Related Characters: Mustafa Sa’eed (speaker), The Narrator, Isabella Seymour
Page Number: Book Page 36
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Was it likely that what had happened to Mustafa Sa’eed could have happened to me? He had said that he was a lie, so was I also a lie?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mustafa Sa’eed
Page Number: Book Page 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

“…mysterious things in my soul and in my blood impel me towards faraway parts that loom up before me and cannot be ignored. How sad it would be if either or both of my sons grew up with the germ of this infection in them, the wanderlust.”

Related Characters: Mustafa Sa’eed (speaker), The Narrator, Mahmoud, Sa’eed (junior)
Page Number: Book Page 56
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“The ships at first sailed down the Nile carrying guns not bread, and the railways were originally set up to transport troops; the schools were started so as to teach us how to say “Yes” in their language.”

Related Characters: Mustafa Sa’eed (speaker), The Narrator
Related Symbols: The Nile River
Page Number: Book Page 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

I struck a match. The light exploded in 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 Mustafa Sa’eed. […] I found myself standing face to face with myself.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mustafa Sa’eed
Page Number: Book Page 112
Explanation and Analysis:

How ridiculous! A fireplace—imagine it! A real English fireplace with all the bits and pieces.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mustafa Sa’eed
Page Number: Book Page 113
Explanation and Analysis:

“How marvellous your black colour is!” she would say to me—“the colour of magic and mystery and obscenities.”

Related Characters: Mustafa Sa’eed (speaker), The Narrator, Sheila Greenwood
Page Number: Book Page 115
Explanation and Analysis:

“In London I took her to my house, the den of lethal lies that I had deliberately built up, lie upon lie: the sandalwood and incense; the ostrich feathers and ivory and ebony figurines; the paintings and drawings of forests of palm trees along the shores of the Nile, boats with sails like doves’ wings, suns setting over the mountains of the Red Sea, camel caravans wending their way along sand dunes on the borders of the Yemen, baobab tress in Kordofan, naked girls from the tribes of Zandi.”

Related Characters: Mustafa Sa’eed (speaker), The Narrator, Ann Hammond
Page Number: Book Page 121
Explanation and Analysis:

“The moments of ecstasy were in fact rare; the rest of the time we spent in a murderous war in which no quarter was given. The war invariably ended in my defeat. When I slapped her, she would slap me back and dig her nails into my face...”

Related Characters: Mustafa Sa’eed (speaker), The Narrator, Jean Morris
Page Number: Book Page 133
Explanation and Analysis:

“I pressed down the dagger with my chest until it had all disappeared between her breasts. I could feel the hot blood gushing from her chest. I began crushing my chest against her as she called out imploringly: ‘Come with me.””

Related Characters: Mustafa Sa’eed (speaker), The Narrator, Jean Morris
Page Number: Book Page 136
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Was I asleep or awake? Was I alive or dead? Even so, I was still holding a thin, frail thread: the feeling that the goal was in front of me, not below me, and that I must move forwards and not downwards. But the thread was so frail it almost snapped and I reached a point where I felt that forces lying in the river-bed were pulling me down to them.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mustafa Sa’eed
Related Symbols: The Nile River
Page Number: Book Page 138
Explanation and Analysis:

Now I am making a decision. I choose life […] I moved my feet and arms, violently and with difficulty, until the upper part of my body was above water […] I screamed with all my remaining strength, “Help! Help!”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mustafa Sa’eed
Related Symbols: The Nile River
Page Number: Book Page 139
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mustafa Sa’eed Character Timeline in Season of Migration to the North

The timeline below shows where the character Mustafa Sa’eed 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
...asks his father about him, and his father tells him that the man is named Mustafa, a stranger about whom little is known. Mustafa arrived in Wad Hamid five years earlier... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...it was fifty—or even eighty—years ago. During a visit, the narrator asks his grandfather about Mustafa, but his grandfather cannot tell him anything about the stranger’s roots. However, he praises Mustafa’s... (full context)
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Two days after the narrator’s visit to his grandfather, Mustafa knocks on the narrator’s door. The narrator is at home with his family during the... (full context)
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Two months pass by in peace, during which the narrator occasionally encounters Mustafa. One evening, he is at a drinking gathering at his friend Mahjoub’s house, and Mustafa... (full context)
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The next day, the narrator goes to find Mustafa in his fields. He again confronts him about speaking in English the previous night. Mustafa... (full context)
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The narrator doesn’t have to wait long. Mustafa appears at his house later that day and invites him to come over the next... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Modernity and Change Theme Icon
Mustafa begins telling his story, informing the narrator that he was born in Khartoum, as his... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
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A scholarship is arranged for Mustafa to attend high school in Cairo. His mother seems happy when he tells her that... (full context)
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Mustafa arrives in London, which he finds to be incredibly green and orderly. It is interesting... (full context)
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Mustafa goes on to recount to the narrator the moment of his meeting with Jean Morris... (full context)
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Mustafa skips from the memory of Ann Hammond’s suicide to his trial in a British courtroom.... (full context)
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Mustafa pursued Jean Morris for three years. One day, she gave in to him, telling him... (full context)
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Mustafa then recalls another of his lovers, Sheila Greenwood, wondering aloud how she had found the... (full context)
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Mustafa then recalls his encounter with Isabella Seymour—another of his victims. He met her in a... (full context)
Chapter 3
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On a July night, during a summer season when the Nile river floods, Mustafa Sa’eed disappears. The village men search for him along the riverbank, but they cannot find... (full context)
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The narrator recalls that, after Mustafa finished narrating his life story on that night, he left Mustafa’s house and wandered through... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Although Mustafa Sa’eed died two years earlier, the narrator continues to think of him while living in... (full context)
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The narrator listens to the Mamur, without mentioning that he himself had known Mustafa Sa’eed, and that he has died by drowning (quite possibly a suicide). When he died,... (full context)
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Mustafa again appears to the narrator unexpectedly, less than a month after the encounter with the... (full context)
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An Englishman at the party goes on to recount what he heard about Mustafa Sa’eed: that he had become a darling of the British aristocracy in England, as well... (full context)
Chapter 4
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...narrator states that he does not want them to think that he became obsessed with Mustafa Sa’eed after his death, although he continues to return to the village every year from... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
On one such visit to the village, the narrator’s mind wanders back to Mustafa Sa’eed, especially since Sa’eed had left him a letter before his death, designating the narrator... (full context)
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
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In the letter, Mustafa Sa’eed asks the narrator to spare Mustafa’s two sons Mahmoud and Sa’eed the “pangs of... (full context)
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The narrator reflects that, if Mustafa Sa’eed has committed suicide, then he has undertaken the most “melodramatic” act of his life.... (full context)
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The narrator recalls Mustafa Sa’eed telling him that, at his trial, the jurors deprived him of the death that... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
That 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... (full context)
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Hosna tells the narrator that it was as if, before his death, Mustafa Sa’eed knew his end was coming. He had arranged everything beforehand—paying off his debts, and... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
...about the future—about marrying again. She says she will never marry after the death of Mustafa Sa’eed. When the narrator mentions Wad Rayyes’s interest in her, she says she will kill... (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 Sa’eed; he tells... (full context)
Chapter 7
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After the circumcision ceremony of Mustafa Sa’eed’s two boys, the narrator leaves the village of Wad Hamid and returns to Khartoum,... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...how Mahjoub could have let “this” happen, and Mahjoub says what has happened has happened. Mustafa Sa’eed’s two sons are with him. But Mahjoub refuses to explain to the narrator what,... (full context)
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Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Modernity and Change Theme Icon
...the new rulers of Africa. There, the narrator had also met a minister who knew Mustafa Sa’eed in London. This minister told the narrator that Sa’eed used to half-jokingly say that... (full context)
Chapter 9
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...of the details of Hosna’s murder-suicide, the narrator stands outside of the secret room in Mustafa Sa’eed’s house. He enters. Inside, he strikes a match and sees a face. He thinks... (full context)
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The books on the walls are on all topics; among them are Mustafa Sa’eed’s own published books. None of the books is in Arabic. Above the mantelpiece is... (full context)
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Another signed photograph depicts Isabella Seymour. When she met Mustafa Sa’eed, she was a church-goer and a married woman, raising two children. In a letter... (full context)
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The narrator picks up a photo of Mustafa Sa’eed with Mrs. Robinson and Mr. Robinson in Cairo, in 1913, and remembers the letter... (full context)
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The narrator opens a notebook entitled “My Life Story—by Mustafa Sa’eed.” There is hardly anything in the notebook, except for a cryptic sentence. He finds... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...narrator turns to the painting of Jean Morris above the English mantelpiece. He recalls, again, Mustafa Sa’eed’s story of his relationship with Jean Morris, how she would torment and humiliate him... (full context)
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Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
After their marriage, Jean Morris refused to let Mustafa Sa’eed sleep with her. Two months into the marriage, he threatened her with a knife.... (full context)
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While Mustafa Sa’eed had his moments of ecstasy with Jean, most of the time they were at... (full context)
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One cold winter’s night in February, Mustafa Sa’eed returned home to find Jean Morris stretched out naked on the bed in his... (full context)
Chapter 10
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The narrator enters the Nile river, naked. He has left Mustafa’s secret room, without burning it. Instead, his feet led him to the river at dawn,... (full context)