Season of Migration to the North

by

Tayeb Salih

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Season of Migration to the North can help.

The Narrator Character Analysis

The narrator is from the small village of Wad Hamid in northern Sudan. He goes abroad to England, where he spends seven years pursuing doctoral studies. After his studies he returns to the village on the Nile river, and while he initially feels deeply rooted in the village, his encounter with Mustafa Sa’eed, a stranger who has settled in the village during the narrator’s absence, turns everything upside down. While Sa’eed maintains the appearance of a regular village farmer, the narrator learns that he has, in fact, lived abroad in England, too. Over a long night, Sa’eed confesses to the narrator the story of his turbulent life in England—which included the murder of his English wife, Jean Morris. Soon after confessing his life story, Sa’eed drowns—quite possibly by suicide—and leaves the narrator as guardian of his wife Hosna bint Mahmoud and their two young sons. Sa’eed also leaves a key to a secret room in his house to the narrator. The narrator takes a job with the ministry of education in the capital and moves away from the village. However, he continues to be haunted by Mustafa Sa’eed. Things reach a head when Hosna, for whom the narrator develops feelings, is forcibly married off to an older man in the village, Wad Rayyes. Things end in tragedy when, resisting rape by Wad Rayyes, Hosna murders him and kills herself. Upon returning to the village after the murder-suicide, the narrator decides to enter Sa’eed’s secret room. There, he initially mistakes his own face in a mirror hanging on a wall for Sa’eed’s—a misrecognition that reflects the extent to which the narrator’s identity has been affected by Sa’eed’s. Both have been alienated from themselves and their native cultures as a result of their migrations abroad. Shortly after the narrator leaves Sa’eed’s secret room, he goes to swim in the Nile and almost drowns, but manages to save himself. The narrator’s survival contrasts with Sa’eed’s death, in that it indicates that the narrator is ultimately able to confront and overcome the crisis of identity that destroyed Sa’eed.

The Narrator Quotes in Season of Migration to the North

The Season of Migration to the North quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. 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 hear a bird sing or a dog bark or the sound of an axe on wood—and I feel a sense of stability, I feel that I am important, that I am continuous and integral. No, I am not a stone thrown into the water but seed sown in a field.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: Book Page 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 5 Quotes

Though Wad Baseer is still alive today, he no longer makes such doors as that of my grandfather’s house, later generations of villagers having found out about zan wood doors and iron doors which they bring from Omdurman. The market for water-wheels, too, dried up with the coming of pumps.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Wad Baseer
Related Symbols: The Nile River
Page Number: Book Page 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 7 Quotes

[Mahjoub] will not believe the facts about the new rulers of Africa, smooth of face, lupine of mouth, their hands gleaming with rings of precious stones, exuding perfume from their cheeks, in white, blue, black and green suits of fine mohair and expensive silk rippling on their shoulders like the fur of Siamese car, and with shoes that reflect the light from chandeliers and squeak as they tread on marble.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mahjoub
Page Number: Book Page 98
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Season of Migration to the North LitChart as a printable PDF.
Season of migration to the north.pdf.medium

The Narrator Character Timeline in Season of Migration to the North

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator 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
The narrator, addressing a group of “gentlemen,” recounts his return to his home village on the banks... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
In his first days in the village, the narrator goes to his favorite place, under a tree by the Nile river, and, looking out... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Two days after the narrator’s visit to his grandfather, Mustafa knocks on the narrator’s door. The narrator is at home... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The next day, the narrator goes to find Mustafa in his fields. He again confronts him about speaking in English... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator doesn’t have to wait long. Mustafa appears at his house later that day and invites... (full context)
Chapter 2
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Modernity and Change Theme Icon
Mustafa begins telling his story, informing the narrator that he was born in Khartoum, as his passports show, but that his father died... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
...that she was tired of him chasing her. They then married. But Mustafa tells the narrator that their bedroom was a “theater of war,” one which always left him defeated, after... (full context)
Chapter 3
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...along the riverbank, but they cannot find his body—it seems that he has drowned. The narrator, who has returned to Khartoum for work, hears of Sa’eed’s death in the capital. Since... (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 Khartoum. Sa’eed has become a “phantom” in... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator listens to the Mamur, without mentioning that he himself had known Mustafa Sa’eed, and that... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Mustafa again appears to the narrator unexpectedly, less than a month after the encounter with the Mamur. At a party in... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...Sudan. Now, the man says, Mustafa is a millionaire living in the British countryside. The narrator corrects him. He tells him that, at the time of his death, Mustafa Sa’eed owned... (full context)
Chapter 4
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Speaking to the “gentlemen” directly, the narrator states that he does not want them to think that he became obsessed with Mustafa... (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... (full context)
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
In the letter, Mustafa Sa’eed asks the narrator to spare Mustafa’s two sons Mahmoud and Sa’eed the “pangs of wanderlust.” He himself had... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator reflects that, if Mustafa Sa’eed has committed suicide, then he has undertaken the most “melodramatic”... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
The narrator recalls Mustafa Sa’eed telling him that, at his trial, the jurors deprived him of the... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...ended up in the small village of Wad Hamid by the Nile river. But the narrator says he has not returned to the village to think of Mustafa Sa’eed. Instead, he... (full context)
Chapter 5
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Modernity and Change Theme Icon
During his visit to the village, the narrator goes to his grandfather’s house, standing outside a door built by the “village engineer” Wad... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
After the guests leave, the narrator’s grandfather informs the narrator that Wad Rayyes wants to marry Mustafa Sa’eed’s widow, Hosna. Wad... (full context)
Chapter 6
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
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,... (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 end was coming.... (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... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
The next morning, Wad Rayyes comes to visit the narrator, unable to wait even until their appointed meeting time later that day. The narrator tells... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
The narrator goes to see his friend Mahjoub, whom he finds working in his field, and they... (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 the narrator he had gotten... (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... (full context)
Chapter 7
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
After the circumcision ceremony of Mustafa Sa’eed’s two boys, the narrator leaves the village of Wad Hamid and returns to Khartoum, going by road over the... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
A Bedouin asking for cigarettes stops the lorry the narrator rides in, and then they come across a government car that has broken down; the... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
As the sun is setting, the lorry stops again for a break. The narrator is moved by a sense of peace, and he listens to the lorry driver as... (full context)
Chapter 8
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator descends from a steamer onto the quay of the village of Wad Hamid. Only his... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
Modernity and Change Theme Icon
The narrator doesn’t want to talk about the conference. Under better circumstances, he would have shared details... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
As they pass the cemetery, Mahjoub tells the narrator that they have buried the bodies and asked the women of the village not to... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Hoping to learn more, the narrator asks around the village, but he is met with silence everywhere. His mother shares with... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
On his third day in the village, facing walls everywhere, the narrator goes to see Bint Majzoub, taking a bottle of whiskey with him to offer her... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
After his meeting with Bint Majzoub, the narrator goes to find Mahjoub out in his field, working. He shares with Mahjoub what he... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
Modernity and Change Theme Icon
...her marriage to Wad Rayyes, Hosna had approached him and asked him to ask the narrator to marry her, only platonically, to save her from Wad Rayyes. Mahjoub says Hosna was... (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. Inside, he strikes... (full context)
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
The narrator picks up a photo of Mustafa Sa’eed with Mrs. Robinson and Mr. Robinson in Cairo,... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator opens a notebook entitled “My Life Story—by Mustafa Sa’eed.” There is hardly anything in the... (full context)
Chapter 10
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator enters the Nile river, naked. He has left Mustafa’s secret room, without burning it. Instead,... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator is exactly in the middle of the river, between north and south. He begins to... (full context)