Season of Migration to the North is an award-winning novel that explores many socio-cultural themes. Throughout it, the author Tayeb Salih makes direct comparisons and references to other popular cultural works and symbols. The character Mustafa Sa’eed is directly compared to Caliban from William Shakespeare’s renowned play The Tempest, and many scholars view similarities with the protagonist from Othello as well. This report will investigate and contrast these aspects in a comprehensive exploration of Mustafa Sa’eed’s character.
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Comparison to Caliban
In Western literature, sex is directly associated with power. It implies control defined by cultural boundaries. To some extent, colonialism used this principle as an extension to assign sexual identity in order to justify domination. Caliban, a literary archetype created by Shakespeare, identifies with bestiality, uncivilized behavior, and uncontrolled sexual desire. Both Caliban and Mustafa are characterized by compulsion and sexual desire. Moreover, Caliban views sex as a natural act for the purpose of recreation (Shakespeare). He does not deny attempting to rape Miranda when questioned by Prospero.
Going back to viewing colonialism from a perspective of sex, it can be regarded as rape, while any resistance as sexual revenge that Caliban exalts upon Miranda. Meanwhile, Sa’eed is described as a womanizer, engaging in interracial relationships. It is interesting to note that Mustafa begins his sexual conquests the same year the League of Nations sanctioned mandates to rule the sea to France and Britain. Season of Migration to the North inverts these stereotypes by reflecting the condition of a post-colonial world. The whole novel approaches the struggle between the East and the West from the sexual perspective as a mirror to European colonization, suggesting that cultural history and geopolitics affect the formation of a colonial identity, which both Caliban and Sa’eed are forced to adopt.
Caliban and Mustafa are both undergoing an identity crisis due to the colonial impacts that have defined their life and order by establishing cultural and psychic borders. They are a representation of the “colonized” perspective. The Tempest places Caliban in a position of inferiority and naivete. Meanwhile, Sa’eed is of a nobler and more educated stature but still faces similar attitudes. It can be said that even though Mustafa is not necessarily a patriot, the struggle allows him to establish a connection to his culture and tradition. However, both of them have a unique feature of adopting and almost venerating a foreign culture in their attempts to defeat it. When Mustafa kills Jean Morris, it symbolizes the conquest of the invading culture, similar to Caliban, who adopts Prospero’s language and learns of its power to curse. These events are symbolically intertwined as the characters demonstrate resistance against invading cultures in the only way they can.
Comparison to Othello
In Shakespeare’s play Othello: The Moor of Venice, Othello is a successful Venetian general of an African origin. He has achieved this rank through bravery and competence as a military man. He is able to win the heart of Desdemona, the daughter of a widely known senator from Venice. Similar to Othello, Sa’eed is a young Sudanese man who is able to breakthrough through the colonial establishment. Through his talent, charm, and potential, he greatly rises through the ranks to find a place in London, in the society that has colonized his home. There, he is a successful economist and also has romances with white women, including his future wife, Jean Morris.
Mustafa is a stranger in the relationship with Morris, similar to that of Othello with Desdemona. This is due to their distinct cultural backgrounds; both are unable to enter the social circles and interests of their respective partners. In fact, both only got their wives to agree to marriage after continuous persistence and eloping because of the general social disapproval. However, Othello seeks to adapt to Western society by acting as a Venetian and using his marriage and religion as entryways. Meanwhile, Sa’eed attempts to create an orientalist image of himself, especially in front of his partners, as a seduction technique, in order to engage in sexual revenge upon the Western society. This may be the primary difference between the two characters as Sa’eed realizes the true nature of colonization. Othello, despite his rank, is manipulated by Iago, who exclaims that “Men should be what they seem” (Shakespeare)—then proceeding to use reserve logic to hint about Desdemona’s infidelity with Cassio. Shakespeare inherently creates a white character that is a fraud and sets the plot so that Othello is manipulated by him, a reflection of the great lie that underpinned colonization and imperialism for centuries.
Othello and Sa’eed are men who both committed violent crimes against their wives by killing them in a jealous rage. However, Othello goes on to greatly regret his motives and decision, being so distraught he commits suicide. Meanwhile, Sa’eed is a man that inherently incites and accepts evil. He shows little regret as he states, “I am not Othello. I am a lie” (Salih 29). However, it can be argued that both characters were intentionally set upon self-destruction. It was due to their backgrounds, inability to fit in, and powerfulness as they were pushed into suicide and imprisonment.
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It is evident that in Season of Migration to the North, the author deliberately includes parallels to Shakespearean works and their archetype characters. Mustafa Sa’eed is uniquely similar to Caliban in his resistance to invading cultures of colonialism through the context of sexual revenge. Meanwhile, there is an eerie resemblance of Sa’eed to Othello, both in terms of their background and their downfall after the irrational murders of their wives. This parallelism allows for a unique comparison of how colonial culture affects the psychosocial behavior of the respective characters.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice. Shakespeare’s Plays.” Folger Digital Texts.
Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North. NYRB Classics, 2009.