In Salih's Seasons of Migration to the North, why is Mustafa Sa'eed's story told by a nameless narrator and how does their relationship affect the narrator?

Quick answer:

Salih's narrator is the personification of colonialism. He is an Englishman who has come to Sudan to work for the British government, at a time when imperialism was still in its heyday. Throughout the novel, Salih exposes this man's insensitivity and lack of understanding of the people around him. The narrator first meets Mustafa and his family at a time when they are traveling through Sudan as part of their return from Mecca. The narrator is stunned by Mustafa's very presence, as he represents everything that seems wrong about Sudan: instead of being dressed in traditional robes and headdress, he is wearing European-style clothing and has a suitcase with him.

Expert Answers

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The unnamed narrator serves both as a kind of Everyman and as a symbol of colonialism (more than as a distinct individual). While this person upholds the apparatus of the colonial state, Mustafa, who increasingly rejected the supposed benefits of privilege, epitomizes the inescapable deformity that British rule imposed on the Sudan's people.

Lured into complacency by the comforts and trappings of his status, the narrator passively observes the new round of challenges, imagining himself immune to the political fray. Mustafa's story, in contrast, shows how a man can be broken in a passionate encounter with the colonizers' world.

As Mustafa's life spirals out of control and finally ends, the narrator realizes he is trying to hold together an empty shell. Trying in vain to help Mustafa's family, the narrator now sees there are no meaningful solutions. He accepts the falseness of the whole system and the fact that his life also bears out Mustafa's fundamental assessment: "I am a lie."

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