Season of Migration to the North

by

Tayeb Salih

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The Nile River Symbol Icon

The Nile river, on whose banks the Sudanese village of Wad Hamid sits, represents the great forces of nature, which are capable of both sustaining life and destroying it. The Nile’s symbolic value as a force of nature capable of sustaining life is suggested by the fact that it is this river on which the villagers of Wad Hamid depend for their livelihoods. It is the waters of the Nile that irrigate their fields, and allow them to cultivate the crops that enable their survival in the otherwise hostile environment of northern Sudan, which is mostly desert. On the other hand, as a symbol of nature, the Nile is also depicted as potentially menacing and destructive. When the river overflows one year as a result of floods, it claims people’s lives—most notably Mustafa Sa’eed’s, who disappears into the waters, never to be found again. Likewise, the narrator almost loses his life when, at the end of the novel, he attempts to swim from one bank of the river to the other, and almost drowns in the process, as a result of the strong currents pulling him down into their depths. In its depiction as a force both capable of giving life and taking life, therefore, the Nile represents the contradictory, and awesome, powers of nature.

The Nile River Quotes in Season of Migration to the North

The Season of Migration to the North quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Nile River. 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 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:

“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 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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The Nile River Symbol Timeline in Season of Migration to the North

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Nile River 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
...group of “gentlemen,” recounts his return to his home village on the banks of the Nile river in Sudan, after seven years of studying in Europe. The narrator is happy to be... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...in the village, the narrator goes to his favorite place, under a tree by the Nile river , and, looking out at the water, he feels a sense of stability and rootedness.... (full context)
Chapter 2
Gender and Violence Theme Icon
Conquest and Colonialism Theme Icon
...London park on a summer’s day, quickly seducing her with his exotic descriptions of the Nile river and the wild animals in the jungles of his homeland. When she asked him what... (full context)
Chapter 3
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 4
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...has undertaken the most “melodramatic” act of his life. He considers, however, that perhaps the Nile river claimed him naturally—that Mustafa Sa’eed did not kill himself but rather drowned accidentally. He muses... (full context)
Migration and Identity Theme Icon
...next, until he finally 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... (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, his feet led... (full context)