E m a n


art of writing

كما حبّي للقراءة.. أعاهد نفسي على حبِّ الكتابة..
بإذن الله..


Language in Athol Fugard’s Master Harold…And the Boys

     One of the main roles of literature is to provoke its readers to raise questions about the role of language in forming and affecting power relations between certain groups or characters within a given text, and how it reflects what already exists in society, both real and fictive. As explained by Radhika Mohanram and Gita Rajan in their book,English Postcoloniality: Literatures from around the World (1996), reading literature from a post-colonial view point will:

 “focus upon the imprint of language in constructing subjectivities and the nuances of synchronous tensions among the colonizer, colonized, native, foreign, male, female subjects, which exceed clear dichotomies of “us” and “them”” (Monahram and Rajan 3).

This paper will focus on the use of language, word play, and verbal abuse by characters from different class background in Athol Fugard’s (1932-present) one act play, Master Harold…And the Boys (1982).

     Christian Mair explains in his book,The Politics of English as a World Language: New Horizons in Postcolonial Cultural Studies (2003), that:

“Language competence proves to be an important element in the oppressed group’s increasing conscientization. By contrasting racist and condescending language use with the honest language of oppressed individuals, [this play] suggests that a creative, multilingual dialogue in opposition to the monolithic and monolingual discourse of apartheid is a powerful medium for anti- apartheid[1] agency” (Mair 305).

Apartheid language is adamant in its insistence on drawing binary distinctions between the “whites” and the “non-whites”. As such, “white” portrays all that is good, decent, superior, advanced and civilized, while “non-white”, which include both Bantu and people of mixed race, denotes all that is evil, inhuman, inferior, primitive and savage. Such connotations perpetuate stereotypes and aim to preserve the racial hierarchy of society. In his play, Fugard maintains that racist discourse pervade life under apartheid imposition, and aims to illustrate how the manipulative aspects of apartheid language and racist discourse are countered with the honest language of the subjugated groups within that society through the verbal exchanges between the three main characters of the play, Hally, Sam and Willie. As Patrick O’Neil puts it in his book, Great World Writers: Twentieth Century (2004): Fugard’s plays reveal the political aspects of government-sanctioned hate, which poisons all interpersonal relationships and corrupts the human soul” (O’Neil 359). And later on he states that:

Athol Fugard’s plays during the apartheid era document not just the social and political effects of this national policy but also the insidious and sometimes subtle ways in which hate corrupts peoples’ psyches, souls, and relationships” (O’Neil 365).

     At the beginning of the play, Hally and Sam’s conversations are seemingly friendly. However, as Mair asserts that:

“…whites like to address non- whites with orders and insults. ‘Normal’ mutual conversation between the white and non-white group does not exist. Apartheid rhetoric makes it impossible to describe reality outside of its discursively imposed frame, and language becomes subjected to manipulation” (Mair 308).

     The power of apartheid discourse makes itself felt when Hally claims the right to define concepts and imposes his views on Sam. He reprimands Sam for “mentally polluting” his mind by reading comic books. He is “intellectually outraged” (1.1.425) by Sam’s dismissal of Charles Darwin’s scientific achievements, insisting that “It’s the likes of you who kept the Inquisition in business. It’s called bigotry” (1.1.435). When Sam chooses Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln as “men of magnitude” (1.1.390) for their efforts in abolishing the oppression of the poor and slaves, Hally demands that he does not “confuse historical significance with greatness” (1.1.394), and tells him not to “get sentimental. You’ve never been a slave, you know. And anyway we freed your ancestors here in South Africa long before the Americans” (1.1.439-42).The seventeen year old Hally is imposing his own opinion on Sam, even though Sam is twice his age and has experienced life to the fullest. His sense of superiority stems from both his status in society as a white man in charge of two black servants, and his confidence in his formal education, which Sam lacks. Although Sam playfully reminds him that he “tried to be better than me” (1.1.565), Hally declares that “Tolstoy may have educated his peasants, but I’ve educated you” (1.1.540). However, later on when Sam’s hopes for a better future clash with Hally’s sense of defeat, he stammers that “so much for trying to give you a decent education. I’ve obviously achieved nothing” (1.1.1028). He tells him not to “try to be clever, it doesn’t suit you” (1.1.895), and is quick to order him around, reminding him of his “mom’s orders…you’re to help Willie with the windows…I don’t want any more nonsense here” (1.1.920-22).

     Another example of how submerged in the condescending mind frame of the white mentality is when he remembers when Sam made him a kite when he was younger. He recalls that:

“The sheer audacity of it took my breath away. I mean, seriously, what the hell does a black man know about flying a kite? I’ll be honest with you Sam, I had no hopes for it. If you think I was excited or happy, you got another guess coming. In fact, I was shit-scared that we were going to make fools of ourselves. When we left the boarding house to go up onto the hill, I was praying quietly that there wouldn’t be any other kids around to laugh at us” (1.1.709-16).

     Hally’s treatment of Willie is far worse, even though Willy eagerly addresses him as “Master Harold” throughout the play hoping to please him. He hurls a rag at Willie, telling him to “act your bloody age!” (1.1.238), and constantly lectures him on “being a good loser” (1.1.659). He exclaims ” thank God I gave up on trying to teach you how to play chess” because he was tired of how “slow” Willie was (1.1.668). He justifies cheating and not playing fairly by claiming that” it was for your own benefit, which is more than being fair. It was an act of self-sacrifice” (1.1.683).

      He is quick to vent his anger and frustration on both of them, shouting at them for behaving like “a pair of hooligans” (1.1.994), regretting being “far too lenient” with them (1.1.999). Continuing his tirade by saying:

“… what really makes me bitter is that I allow you chaps a little freedom in here when business is bad and what do you do with it? The foxtrot! Specially you Sam There’s more to life than trotting around a dance floor and I thought at least you knew it” (1.1.1001-6).

When Sam interjects that dancing was a harmless pleasure that hurt no one, Hally retorts that it was rather a simple one, “like in simple-minded, meaning mentally retarded. You can’t exactly say it challenges the intellect” (1.1.1018). When Sam tries to make him understand the beauty of the art of dance, he tells him not to “confuse art and entertainment” (1.1.1038). However, when he realizes that writing about the dance will vex his English teacher, his dismissal of it as an “occasion” transforms into considering it a “significant cultural event” (1.1.1111).

     Hally knows that his teacher is expecting an essay on a conventional topic. Hally is skeptical at first when listening to Sam’s description of the ballroom championship, but soon becomes captivated by this subject and by Sam’s brilliant use of ballroom dancing as a metaphor for the way the world should be:

“There’s no collision out there, Hally. Nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. To be one of those finalists  on that dance floor is like … like being in a dream about a world in which accidents don’t happen” (1.1.1202-6)

Afraid of his teacher’s authority and power, Hally must justify his unusual choice with words that will pacify him. He explains to Sam and Willie:

“…my English teacher is going to argue with me, of course. He doesn’t like natives. But I’ll point out to him that in strict anthropological terms the culture of a primitive black society includes its dancing and singing. To put my thesis in a nutshell: The war-dance has been replaced by the waltz. But it still amounts to the same thing: the release of primitive emotions through the movement” (1.1.1128-34).

 Hally’s speech is shockingly racist. His arguments sound pre-fabricated, and adhere to the tenets of the apartheid’s racist discourse. He fails to realize that his own words are discriminatory.

     As Hally sinks into despair after learning about his crippled father’s return back home, he exclaims in despair: “so much for a bloody world without collision” (1.1.1349). He attempt to belittle and shred Sam’s dream by pointing out that not only are we “all bad dancers”, but that Sam has “left out the cripples” (1.1.1370) who are “guaranteed to turn that dance floor into shambles” (1.1.1380), “tripping up everyone and trying to get in on the act” (1.1.1388). Sam is alarmed and appalled by Hally’s sudden recklessness, but his attempts to dissuade him from mocking his father any further infuriates him, and he directs his shame and rage towards Sam:

“All that concerns you here, Sam, is to try and do what you get paid for… My mother is right. She’s always warning me about allowing you to get too familiar. Well, this time you’ve gone too far. It’s going to stop right now. You’re only a servant here…And as far as my father is concerned, all you need to remember is that he is your boss…He’s a white man and that’s good enough for you” (1.1.1426-39).

     Hally is quick to forget his friendship with Sam as he faces his shame, and instead of confronting his own flaws, he demands to be treated with “respect”, and for Sam to cast familiarities aside and begin to appropriately address him as “Mater Harold”, just as Willie has always done. He further insults Sam and Willie alike by sharing his and his father’s favorite joke:

“Want to know our favorite joke? He gives out a big groan and says: “its not fair, is it, Hally?” Then I have to ask: “What, chum?” And then he says:”A nigger’s ars”…and we both have a good laugh. What’s the matter, Willie?.. You always were slow on the uptake. It’s called a pun. You see, fair means both light in color and to be just and decent. I though you would catch it, Sam” (1.1.1483-91).

In retaliation, Sam reminds him that Willie has always accorded him the respect he wanted so badly, which was not fair either, and Sam means “just or decent” (1.1.1503). Meanwhile, Willie disregards the offence and attempts to restore the piece by reminding Sam, who is blinded by his desire for vengeance, that Hally was still a “little white boy” (1.1.1539), and that in hurting him Sam will only be hurting himself. Without apologizing for or acknowledging his actions, Hally leaves the tearoom, despite Sam invitation to set things right and to “fly another kite” (1.1.1610). Hally simply says that kites cannot be flown on rainy days.

     In this Final exchange, Fugard intimates that society cannot continue to flourish without having its different fabrics interacting with each other while maintaining mutual respect. He also indicates that the “natives” have long realized what the “whites” have yet to grasp.  This is illustrated by Hally’s state of being as he breaks his bond with Sam, preferring to side with his ailing racist father. He leaves a broken human being submerged in despair with no hopes or dreams at all, while Sam and Willie, who in spite of their differences maintain mutual respect, continue dancing as they hopefully await a brighter future. From the bleakness of the South African social landscape, Fugard is able to conjure hope, especially as it relates to individuals within a damaged society.

Works Cited

Primary Resource:

Fugard,    Athol.   Master    Harold…And    the    Boys,  The   Wadsworth

Anthology of Drama. brief 5th  ed. Ed. W. B. Worthen. Berkeley: Thomson Wadsworth ,2007.

Secondary Resources:

Chapman, Michael. Southern African Literatures. London: Longman, 1996.

Gikandi, Simon, ed. Encyclopedia of African Literature. London: Routledge, 2003.

Mair, Christian, ed. The Politics of English as a World Language: New Horizons in Postcolonial Cultural Studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003.

Mohanram, Radhika, and Gita Rajan, eds. English Postcoloniality: Literatures from around the World. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

 O’Neil, Patrick M., ed. Great World Writers: Twentieth Century. Vol. 3. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2004.

[1]  When Great Britain gave South Africa independence in 1910, white people held all the power. In 1950 several restrictive laws were passed. The Population Registration Act classified all South Africans, either as Bantu (black), colored (mixed race), white (descendants of the British, Dutch, and other European settlers), or Asian (Indian and Pakistani). The Group Areas Act set aside separate sections for each race to live, and each was forbidden to work, reside, or own land in any other area. More than 80 percent of South Africa’s land was set aside for whites even though they made up less than 10 percent of the population. In 1960 nonwhites had to carry a pass validating that they had special permission to travel through an all-white area. Violent demonstrations and countless deaths followed, and the carnage escalated through the 1980s. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, a country that had finally outlawed apartheid. (O’Neil 364).


John Esposito and the Concept of Jihad

     In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the American nation, people began to aggressively attacking the Islamic religion and its people. These attacks were generated because of the religious reasoning given to justify these attacks, causing them to brand Islam as being “radical”. The attacks also raised an important question revolving around the nature of jihad, and its stature in Islam. Many political commentators and scholars have declared that until the roots of 9/11 were understood, the American people can never feel safe. Such comments contribute massively to feeling of anxiety and rage that swept the Western nations, resulting in the consequent maltreatment of the various peoples and nations of the Islamic world.

     The discussions surrounding jihad, legitimate warfare, and the use of violence were all related directly to Islam and Islamic groups; mainly focusing on Al-Qaida. This, later on, gave some of those American commentators, scholars, and others the chance to successfully employ the media to lunch severe attacks against Islam. However, there are some moderate American Orientalists, such as John Esposito[1], who use their knowledge to fill the gap between Islam and the West in order to come to a better understanding of the whole situation.

     The media portrayal of Islam and Muslims became extremely complex since 9/11. The familiar Orienatlist view of Islam as backward, cruel, and exotic was being slowly replaced as people attempted to achieve a better understanding of this religion and its significant political power in the Islamic world as well as the West. In their book, Media Representations of September 11 (2003), Steven Chermak, Frankie Y. Bailey, and Michelle Brown stated that:

“… the media became an important forum through which contested images of Islam were circulated, which fragmented the homogenous Orientalist framework and offered new points of departure for the exploration of even notoriously difficult areas of Islamic jurisprudence such as Jihad” (17).

Later, they posed the question:

“… Did September 11 signal a new stage in an Islamic Jihad against the West? This question was inevitable once it was established that Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network were its perpetrators. As the media both asked and attempted to answer that question, the issue of what Jihad exactly is became central. The fanatical Muslim warrior threatening civilization has been an enduring image in the West since the Crusades” (18).

     John Esposito wrote his book, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (2002), as an attempt to answer the question about the nature of jihad. He started by explaining that it was not enough to simply label terrorists as “evil people” because they believe that they are doing something justified and righteous. He clearly and carefully explained the teachings of Islam, and the Islamic laws concerning jihad. It’s essential, as he clarified, that we understand the distinction between the religion of Islam, and the actions of extremists who use the term “jihad” as a justification to their actions.

    Jihad is commonly understood in many Islamic circles as a struggle between the Muslim and personal morality and social justice, and this is consistent with the Arabic root of the word meaning “effort” or “to struggle”. This, as Esposito maintains, is entirely different from the meaning Al- Qaeda and other extremist groups maintain. He explains this concept in his book, What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam (2002), as:

“Jihad as struggle pertains to the difficulty and complexity of living a good life: struggling against the evil in oneself—to be virtuous and moral, making a serious effort to do good works and help to reform society. Depending on the circumstances in which one lives, it also can mean fighting injustice and oppression, spreading and defending Islam, and creating a just society through preaching, teaching, and, if necessary, armed struggle or holy war” (117).

     Esposito examined the recent history of US relations with the Muslim world, and explained how the global reaction against the Americans developed in the Muslim World. He showed with great clarity how economic conditions, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the continued presence of US armies in the Arab countries led to a deep hatred and strong sense of resentment towards the US.

     What made Esposito different from other writers is that he spoke to the West as well as to Muslims. He strongly supported the idea that the Western powers must rethink and reconsider their foreign policies. He also insisted that Muslims in the world must also try to deal with the threat to Islam from religious extremists. Esposito’s message is clear: it is not Islam; rather it is the trouble of contemporary Muslims forced by American meddling in Muslim affairs that has made both Islam and America suffer from terrorism.

     Furthermore, Esposito described Bin Laden as motivated by his own ideology, stating that, for Bin Laden, global politics were a competition and jihad, a clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and the West. Esposito charged Bin Laden with selectively using religious texts to justify his use and promotion of violence. He states that:

Throughout history, the sacred scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been used and abused, interpreted and misinterpreted, to justify resistance and liberation struggles, extremism and terrorism, holy and unholy wars. Terrorists like Osama bin Laden and others go beyond classical Islam’s criteria for a just jihad and recognize no limits but their own, employing any weapons or means. They reject Islamic law’s regulations regarding the goals and legitimate means for a valid jihad: that violence must be proportional and that only the necessary amount of force should be used to repel the enemy, that innocent civilians should not be targeted, and that jihad must be declared by the ruler or head of state. Today, individuals and groups, religious and lay, seize the right to declare and legitimate unholy wars of terrorism in the name of Islam” (122).

 He further explains that:

“Islam, like all world religions, neither supports nor requires illegitimate violence. The Quran does not advocate or condone terrorism. The God of the Quran is consistently portrayed as a God of mercy and compassion as well as a just judge… However, Islam does permit, indeed at times requires, Muslims to defend themselves and their families, religion, and community from aggression… Like all scriptures, Islamic sacred texts must be read within the social and political contexts in which they were revealed. It is not surprising that the Quran, like the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament, has verses that address fighting and the conduct of war… Peace is the norm. Permission to fight the enemy is balanced by a strong mandate for making peace” (117).

     He explained that Islamic law calls for jihad, but it also forbids killing women, monks, etc. unless they participate in the fighting. Esposito viewed the Muslims as “a community of believers, in a special covenant with God that transcended all other allegiances… they realize their obligation to strive (jihad), to submit (Islam) to God, and to spread their faith both as individuals and as a community” (40).  He also noted that:

“Some Muslims…concluded that Western dominance and Muslim dependency were the result of unfaithfulness and departure from the path of Islam. This was a powerful argument that encouraged holy warriors to struggle (jihad) to bring the Ummah [Muslim community] back to the straight path”(49).

He argued that the following Qur’anic Verse, “But if they repent and fulfill their devotional obligations and pay the Zakat then let them go their way for God is forgiving and kind[2],” establishes the true meaning of the scripture as a call for peaceful relations unless there is interference with freedom of Muslims.

     By the end of the book, Esposito proposed a reexamination and reformulation of American foreign policy, warning that:

 “Short-term policies that are necessitated by national interest must be balanced by long-term policies and incentives that pressure our allies to promote a gradual and progressive process of broader political participation and power sharing” (156).

He called for an inter-civilizational dialog which is the opposite of just accepting the inevitability clash of civilizations, declared by other Orientalists such as Huntington and Lewis.  Esposito’s book presented an analysis of Islam, talking about the causes of Islamic rage and the attack on America. However, on the key question of whether Islam legitimates terrorism under the name of jihad, the answer of the author is a very clear: it does not.

     Nevertheless, depending on a study prepared by both Esposito and Dalia Mogahed[3], they find out that the negative view towards Islam is related to the fact that a lot of people do not know the views and beliefs of Muslims around the world. This caused many to believe that Islam encourages violence more than other faiths. On the other hand, studies showed that Muslims around the world are as likely as Americans to condemn attacks on civilians. Muslims believe that terrorism is against the teachings of Islam and there are a lot of verses in the Qur’an prohibiting the killing of innocents. This study, later published in a book entitled Who Speaks for Islam (2006) by both Esposito and Mogahed, explained that it’ was politics, not piety that drove some Muslims towards anti-Americanism.

     This was supported with what Esposito said in a TV interview with Bill Moyers. Esposito mainly talked about the lack of understanding of what Islam was really about. When he was asked if he thought that jihad or holy war was at the heart of Islam, he replied:

“I think that jihad as a concept is at the heart of Islam, but not a holy war.  Jihad in Islam means the struggle to be a good Muslim. That’s its primary meaning in the Qur’an. And we find that in all faiths, in Christianity and Judaism. The idea that to lead a virtuous life, to follow God’s path in this worldly society is often difficult. Jihad also means the right, indeed the obligation, of a Muslim to defend himself, herself, Islam or the Muslim community. In that sense, it’s a legitimate defense. One might call it in the tradition of just war. But as we know, just war is a little bit like beauty in the eye of the beholder. So, the problem is that the notion of just war or a defense of jihad can be hijacked by extremists. This is what bin Laden does. Bin Laden hijacks. And that’s why I call it unholy war. And the way in which you see it is that bin Laden winds up saying exactly the opposite of what Islam and Islamic laws say with regard to a just jihad… the war should not be targeting non-combatants. But what does bin laden say at the end? It’s an open field. You can target Jews, Christians, Americans, Muslims, anybody who disagrees with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.”

     All in all, Esposito asserted that Islam as a religion doesn’t represent an international threat; and is a religion of peace, and that extremist groups are using this religion to justify their actions. He made clear that was possible to fight terrorism without it becoming a worldwide clash, as he mentioned in another radio interview with Jacki Lyden. He explained that that requires a good deal of work on both sides’ part. More than once, Esposito talked about the danger of the Palestine-Israel problem especially when the US tends to be very unilateral in its approach. By this, he put his hand on the base of the problem and tried to offer some solutions. He affirmed that the Western governments fail to see the differences between the extremists groups and common Muslims. These groups cover their political motives by claiming to wage jihad against the Western tyrant, paving the way for the Western world to lunch attacks against Islam in general.

     Different nations should be brought together in an “inter-civilizational dialog” in order to reconcile their differences and come to better understanding of each other. Nations should participate in shaping their own views about the different communities in existence away from the negative influence of some governments. Truth mustn’t be tarnished by either the extremist groups or the leading powers in the world.


Works Cited

Primary Resources:

Esposito, John. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. NY, Oxford

University Press, 2002.

Esposito, John. What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam. New

 York: Oxford University Press, 2002

Esposito, John and Mogahed, Dalia. Who Speaks For Islam. Oxford

University Press, 2006.

Secondary Resources:

  1. Books:

Chermak, Steven, Frankie Y. Bailey, and Michelle Brown, eds. Media Representations of September 11. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

  1. Articles:

McDaniel, Charles. “Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam.” Journal of Church and State 45.2 (2003): 384.

  1. Interviews:

Lyden, Jacki. All Things Considered. June, 2002.

Moyers, Bill. Bill Moyers’ Show. May, 2002.

[1]  Esposito is a Professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is also the director of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal center for Muslim-Christian understanding at the same university.

[2] Surah 9 (At’Tawbah) Aayah 5.

[3] The executive director of Gallup Center for Muslim Studies

Buzy Maze

Places in E.M. Forester’s A Passage to India and Al-Tayyeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North


     In fiction, places or settings traditionally add more layers to enrich certain aspects of a given novel. As maintained by Jerome Beaty in The Norton Introduction to English Literature (2002):

“All stories are embedded in a context or setting – a time and place… Just as characters and plot are so closely interrelated as to be ultimately indistinguishable, so too are character, plot, and setting… the more we know of a setting, and of the relationship between the character and the setting, the more likely we are to understand the character and the story” (Beaty 157).

This paper aims to illustrate the function and effect of certain settings or places in both Al-Tayyeb Salih’s (1929-2009) Season of Migration to the North (1966), and E.M. Forester’s (1879-1970) A Passage to India (1924).

      The main setting in E.M. Forester’s A Passage to India is the city of Chandrapore, a city which was “never large nor beautiful”. “Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges”(13), it is divided into two sections: where the Indians live is unorganized, random, bleak, unadorned, not carefully planned, and mud-colored. In fact, “the very wood seemed made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving” (13).  In contrast, where the British lived was very organized, carefully planned, with many gardens and flowers. It appeared as a “tropical pleasance, washed by a noble river”(13). This division between the inhabitants foreshadows the conflict that will occur later on in the novel when each party decides to side with the person that belongs to their race, the Indians with Aziz, the British with Adela. From the beginning of the novel it is understood the citizens of Chandrapore are categorized as either Natives or Anglo-Indians, and they do not intermingle with each other. How the city is organized is suggestive of the characterization of its inhabitants: the Indians are primitive, colorless (brown), unorganized, irrational, random, and under-developed, while the British were advanced, organized, united, rational, planned their action, and in control of their emotions. In his book, The Achievement of E. M. Forster (1962), J.B. Beer states that:

 “In the early part of the novel the ‘pattern’ consists mainly of a suggestive atmosphere. There is a constant emphasis upon the existence, side by side, of attractiveness and hostility in the Indian scene. The two interweave constantly” (Beer 142).

     The main setting of Altayyeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North is an obscure Sudanese village on the bend of the Nile (3). It is described as fertile, green, trees, peaceful and tranquil, on the bank of the river Nile, its inhabitants have a sense of purpose, and everyone works on their lands. It is a place where an outsider such as Mustafa can easily blend in and lead a peaceful, purposeful, productive life on par with the other villagers. This setting suggests that the inhabitants are content with their lives with all of their blessings and shortcomings. The Narrator states that, as he looks at the Nile, he saw:

“… men with their bodies leaning against ploughs or bent over their hoes, and my eyes take in fields flat as the palm of a hand, right up to the edge of the desert where the houses stand. I hear a bird sing or a dog bark or the sound of the axe on wood – and I feel a sense of stability, I feel that I am important, that I am continuous and integral” (6).

Nothing suggests the shocking events that would take place by the end of the novel, nor of Mustafa’s past. This is suggestive of the Narrator and Mustafa’s understanding of their own characters, they are more rooted, more logical (Mustafa is far more logical than the narrator), rational, and contemplative than Aziz and the Indians who are passionate and sensitive and at times irrational. It is not akin to Chandrapore where the British constantly complain about the Indians and the Indians constantly complain of and are suspicious of the British. Patricia Geesy suggests in an article published as ” Cultural Hybridity and Contamination in Tayeb Salih’s Mawsim Al-Hijra Ila Al-Shamal (Season of Migration to the North)” that  :

“At the very first recollection of his return to the village and his family home there, the narrator’s description underscores the symbolic importance of trees and nature for Season of Migration to the North. Waking up after the first night back within the fold of the family, the narrator glances out into the courtyard to observe the palm tree that grows there” (Geesey 131).

Both nature and trees suggest self-understanding and a sense of belonging or rootedness.

     Another main setting of Season of Migration is The British city of London, described by Mustafa as: “… an ordered world; its houses, fields, and trees are ranged in accordance with a plan. The streams too do not follow a zigzag course but flow between artificial banks” (24). Though we do not see Mustafa “physically” there; we see it through his own eyes in flashbacks as he entrusts the Narrator with details of his past. Our understanding of this setting and the events that occurred there is limited to Mustafa’s own point of view, further colored by that of the Narrator’s. This suggests that he has a lot to hide, he only confides in the narrator, but then he tells him very little of his past and only in bits and pieces. We only see Mustafa in the village ourselves and not in London because Mustafa wants to control how others perceive him, he does not want anyone to see who he really is, but rather how he wants others to see him. Another point to be made is the contrast between the organization of the British landscape and the randomness of the Sudanese, though such a description also suggests the coldness of the British and the warmth of the Sudanese. Mustafa thought of England as “changing like a mirage with the changing of the seasons” (31).

    Their dwelling tells a lot about their character. Aziz was ashamed of his bungalow, and thought of it as a “detestable shanty near a low bazaar”(69), with “horrible masses of flies that hung from the ceiling” (97), and a” floor strewn with fragments of cane and nuts, and spotted with ink, [and] the pictures [were] crooked upon the dirty walls’ (104). He invites Adela and Mrs. Moore over in a fit of passion, but upon realizing the unpresentable state of his home he becomes ashamed and moves the setting of this invitation to the caves. He is critical and self-conscious and does not wish to lead the ladies into accepting the stereotypical image of the Indians that had been spread by the British in the club.

      Mustafa’s room in London is the extreme opposite; it is adorned by everything that sparks the European imagination or stereotypical vision of the East. It was:

“a graveyard that looked like a garden… its curtains were pink and had been chosen with care, the carpeting was of warm greenness, the bed spacious, with swansdown cushions… The room was heavy with smell of burning sandalwood. and incense, and in the bathroom were pungent Eastern perfumes, lotions, unguents, powders, and pills” (27).

 He is thus presenting what the British expect to see, and what he himself wants them to see, not who he really is. He is trying to prove that he is outgoing and rich in character to appeal to them in a manner that they accept, unlike Aziz who lives as a native should and who wants to be accepted as friend for who he is and not who he should be.

     Mr. Fielding lived worked as a headmaster in the College, which “grounds included an ancient garden and a garden house, [where] he lived for much of the year… [It had] some luxury in it, but no order – nothing to intimidate poor Indians” (63). The untidiness of the living room of Fielding’s house assures Aziz of his humble nature, which is enforced by his invitation to Aziz to make himself at home. Aziz is not intimidated by his “Britishness”, and quickly becomes and behaves more self-assured, instigating their turbulent friendship. While Mustafa studied and lived, in his native village, at Gordon Collage Boarding School (43), where he was the center of his teachers’ admiration and his colleagues’ envy. It was “a nice stone building in the middle of a large garden on the banks of the Nile” (19). To attend the school was Mustafa’s “first decision” he had taken of his “own free will” (20). In the Encyclopedia of African Literature (2003), Simon Gikandi states that:

Season of Migration to the North [is a] novel of education. [It is] premised on the crisis triggered in their subjects by the process of education, which functions both as an opportunity and as a loss. Education is an opportunity because it provides the characters with social mobility, material advancement, and the expansion of horizons. But it is also plotted as a loss because the more the characters move toward the horizons defined by [British] mobility; the more they are distanced from their natal spaces or at least from the mythology of a pristine culture (Gikandi 167).

     The journey to the Marabar caves through the scorching heat is similar to the car trip in Seasons of migration: in both cases the heat causes Adela and the Narrator to contemplate upon many philosophical issues, both personal and universal. Both question reality and whether the truth could ever be known. Adela wonders if she could ever see the “real” India and if it was too late to see it, and whether she loved Ronny and the possibility to endure a loveless marriage, while the Narrator questions the validity of certain aspects of life which were taken for granted. In both journeys there was a feast where plenty of food was served but could not divert both characters from their thoughts. By the time both reach their destination, they doubt all that they’ve believed before. How people reacted to their conclusions are different: as the narrator proposes that the nameless, murdered husband died of a sunstroke rather than by his wife’s hands was dismissed by his fellow travelers, leading him to conclude that they had no sense of wonder. While Adela’s accusation of assault was readily accepted by masses of people, leading to the imprisonment of Aziz.

     The entrance of the Marabar caves and the secret room in Mustafa’s house are similarly dark. They are not suggestive of what lies behind them, and both Adela and the Narrator did not expect what lied there nor foresee the shocking change or self-discovery that happened there. Neither or sure of what they strongly believed in before. “Very little penetrates down the entrance tunnel [of the caves]… There is little to see, and no one to see it… Nothing is inside them”(120-21). Most importantly, the echo of the caves “is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotones noise replied” (141). To shout in the caves is useless, for “a Marabar cave can hear no sound but its own” (147). In an article entitled “Transitional passages: the metaphysical art of E. M. Forster”(2003), Nicholas Poburko indicates that:

 ” Marabar Caves, extraordinary and inexplicable… they tease and resist understanding, even as they invite exploration. They provoke questions and echo with warnings… Here is an imaginable and appalling world where perfect isolation might well be perfect contentment. To explore this terrain is to find another form of life, unsociable and yet… not alien.”

      There mere striking of a match for light doesn’t illuminate much, both Adela and the Narrator leave the cave and the room more confused than they were previously, both (especially the narrator) were destructive. An additional similarity is that when Mrs. Moore leaves the caves she attempts to write a letter to her children, while the narrator attempts to complete the poem composed by Mustafa which he finds in the room. However, both are uninspired and thus abandon the thought, not wishing to communicate to anyone. They, Adela and Narrator, learn that what they thought was true turns to be false. They thought they knew themselves well, and felt self-assured, but they discovered that they knew nothing and thus their self-image was shattered. They leave confused and lost, not accepting the conclusion they have reached. There reaction is destructive since Adela accuses Aziz of an unspeakable action, while the narrator attempts to burn the room down. In African Identities: Race, Nation, and Culture in Ethnography, Pan-Africanism, and Black Literatures (1998), Kadiatu Kanneh states that the , the journey to the heart of Sa’eed’s self, is represented by entry into his room.  ” . Entering the room, the narrator sees surface, not depth… and is discovered to be ‘hollow at the core’” (Kanneh 151).

     The trials in both novels have a contrasting atmosphere. Mustafa’s trial is held in London and is attended by the British only, both his accusers and defenders are British, but there is a sense of impartiality there since they only want to achieve justice. He notes that had he:

 “…asked one of [the British jurors] to rent me a room in his house he would as likely as refused, and were his daughter to tell him she was going to marry this African, he’d have felt that the world was collapsing under his feet. Yet each one of them in that court would rise above himself for the first time in his life, while I had a sort of feeling f superiority towards them” (79).

 Mustafa behaves coldly during his trial, he confesses to have killed his wife, as well as leading others to commit suicide. On the other hand, the court room in Chandrapore is very frightening and stifling. It is attended by both Indians and British, Aziz’s lawyer is an Indian like him, while the judge and jurors are British. They Indians are rioting outside the courtroom, the tempers are high, and each party sides with their native passionately and blindly defends them.

     The journey back to the roots after they’ve become fed up with the British: Aziz moves to Mao to live under Indian rule after rejecting the Anglo-Indians. Mustafa leaves everything behind, locking his books away and severing his ties with everyone he knew in order to lead a simpler life in the small village. Both sought to live as equals among their own people and achieved a level of happiness.

     Both Aziz and Mustafa where greatly undermined where they worked, they were characterized as being out of place. Mustafa, who was “appointed a lecturer in economics at London University at the age of twenty-four” (29), was considered a success because he was a product of Western education, not because he was clever. While Aziz, who worked as a surgeon under Major Callendar, was always misunderstood by his boss and accused of resorting to any extent possible so as to escape his duties.

      Other settings include the city of Mau, where there is no strong British presences, and is controlled by Indians. Aziz moves there so as to escape from British dominance. As Beer states:

 ” Throughout the novel, this failure of connection between British and Indians is a running theme. Towards the end of the novel it is symbolized perhaps in the temple at Mau which has two shrines — the Shrine of the Head on the hill, the Shrine of the Body below. At all events, the separation is strongly emphasized in the last chapter, when the two characters who have tried hardest to come together, Fielding and Aziz, are out riding. The final passage, in which the whole landscape confirms Aziz’s words about the impossibility of friendship between British and Indians, finely epitomizes this element in the novel” (Beer 163).

     Similarly, Mustafa leaves his life in London and everything he had behind, locking his books away and severing his ties with everyone he knew in order to lead a simpler life in the small village. Both sought to live as equals among their own people and, in doing so, achieved a level of happiness.

     The British’s main public forum was the Chandrapore Club. It was a building where “windows were barred, lest servants should see their memsahibs acting” (27). The Anglo-Indians seek refuge there as panic overtakes them after the false accusation of Aziz, it is also where they most freely espouse all of their prejudices against the Natives. Similarly, the Chelsea Club was frequented by Mustafa, and it was where he met Jean Morris for the first time, leading to the tragic and turbulent relationship they shared.

     The Mosque provides Aziz with religious pride and peace of mind. It is where his friendship with Mrs. Moore is instigated and cemented. Aziz had always liked the mosque, it is where he “let loose his imagination” and “experienced happiness” … “Here was Islam … where his body and thoughts found their home”(23).

     The river Ganges had a radiance belonging “neither to water nor moon… [and] dead bodies floated down… or would if the crocodiles let them”. Mrs. Moore describes it as a “terrible river… a wonderful river” (35). On the other hand, the Nile is described by the Narrator as ” contracting at one place and expanding at another… such was life: with a hand it gives, with another it takes” (6). Both rivers are a source of life and death. They fertilize the land. The Hindus scatter the ashes of the dead in the Ganges, while the Nile swallows Mustafa and carries him away from the village, though we are never certain of his death, it also nearly swallows the narrator, but his will to live was stronger than the force of the river.

     To conclude, in fiction, some settings reveal ways of life, value systems, cultural backgrounds, and insights into characters’ mentality. In both Forester’s and Salih’s novels, settings were employed successfully to reveal such aspects and add extra details to illustrate the reasoning behind the motivations that urge many of the novels’ characters to take action.

Works Cited

Primary Resources:

Forester, E.M. A Passage to India. Beirut, Lebanon: York Press, 2002.

Salih, Al-Tayyeb. Season of Migration to the North. New York: New York Review Book Classics, 2009.

Secondary Resources:

  1. Books:

Beaty, Jerome, Alison Booth, J. Paul Hunter, Kelly J. Mays. Ed. The Norton

Introduction to Literature. Shorter eighth edition. New York: Norton, 2002.

Beer, J. B. The Achievement of E. M. Forster. London: Chatto & Windus, 1962.

Gikandi, Simon, ed. Encyclopedia of African Literature. London: Routledge, 2003.

Kanneh, Kadiatu. African Identities: Race, Nation, and Culture in Ethnography, Pan-Africanism, and Black Literatures. London: Routledge, 1998.

  1. Articles:

Geesey, Patricia. “Cultural Hybridity and Contamination in Tayeb Salih’s Mawsim Al-Hijra Ila Al-Shamal (Season of Migration to the North).” Research in African Literatures 28.3 (1997): 128-140.

Poburko, Nicholas. “Transitional Passages: The Metaphysical Art of E. M. Forster.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 54.1 (2001): 23+.

It’s September 1st, FINALLY !

It’s past midnight in the lovely, sandy, stormy city of Riyadh. It is the 1st of September , 2011, also known as my 28th birthday (even though wordpress.com states that it is still the 31st of August).  I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog fro years now, since 2006 to be precise. My only determent was that, through-out my life, I’ve never successfully kept a diary! I have tried my hand at keeping one a few times, but always failed to move past the second page! I always fancied myself a writer, perhaps a satirist even, but I was always too lazy to pic up a pen (or, in more contemporary terms, to bash away at my laptop’s keyboard!)

Whenever I thought about my reluctance to start writing, I reasoned that it took George Bernard Shaw many years of reading in that stuffy library and many rejections before he attained recognition. It is high-time I left such excuses behind. Thus, I reveal my self to the web, with high hopes that this blog, which I promise not to abandon as hastily as I did my diaries, will provide me with much needed practice to hone my skills. For who knows, I might be a diamond in the rough, I might also be a poor excuse for a writer, but I’ll never know until I try.  Strictly speaking, my intention is too keep this blog politics-free, turbulent as 2011 has been, enough analysis has been done by better people than I.  This blog is concerned mainly with books, and occasionally with movies and art, with random, personal posts here and there. I hope you enjoy your stay here, and thank you for passing by.


Post Navigation