Heart of Darkness vs Seasons of Migrations to the North

“Place and displacement are crucial features of post-colonial discourse. ” (Bill Ashcroft et al , The Post-Colonial Studies Reader).

Explore the ways in which ‘place’ in its broadest sense affects both colonial and post-colonial writing in ‘The Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Season of Migration to the North’. In this essay, I will be discussing how place shapes individuals and their identity. The geographical location in both novellas focuses on the northern and southern hemisphere divide between Europe and Africa. This fits in with the colonial history that occurred in that particular time period whereby Africa was colonised by England.

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Heart of Darkness’ is a novel based on the times of colonisation and ‘Season of Migration to the North’ is based on post-colonialism. In that sense, Africa and England somewhat reflect each other due to the certain similarities and differences that both cultures imbibe which puts forward the concept of alterity. Moreover, place has a symbolic underlying meaning which is identified through the identity of characters. Marlow and the unnamed narrator are ultimate characters in both novellas who are in search for the true identity of Kurtz and Saeed.

They follow a quest that turns in to waste when they realise the ghastly nature of the truth that appals them. This reflects the high ideas of colonialism being meaningless and being filled with corruption and deceit. The symbolism in these novellas are supported by moral and psychological views that are exerted throughout. Alienation is a key concept in the novellas as they symbolise dislocation. To reveal the consequences of displacement, Conrad implemented evident racism and Salih employed misogyny that later on created criticisms.

The idea of control represents both continents in these novels. Europe seemed to have a dominant control over Africa and because of this Europeans attempted to impose their failed morals upon the Africans. Both novellas portray Africa to be a very beautiful place. In ‘Heart of Darkness’, it is described with picturesque imagery such as “colossal jungle” and “a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mist” (pg. 15).

But, Conrad also quoted it to be the “Dark Continent”. Therefore, the scenery within Africa seems to be attractive but at the same time has negative associations ttached to it. And in ‘Season of Migration to the North’, Sudan is illustrated with in-depth imagery of a flat landscape with date and palm trees, “like that palm tree, a being with a background, with roots, with a purpose” (pg. 2).

Such imagery represents Africa as a very peaceful place with a vast landscape which is destroyed by the invasion of Europeans. Conrad seems to see England as “one of the dark places of the Earth”, possibly to show how Europe is a place filled with secrecy. Even though there is evident political conflict between both places, they also compliment each other.This is supported by the quote by Frantz Fanon, “Europe is Africa’s creation”. Colonialism imposes discourse on the colonized land but without exploitation, Europe wouldn‘t have super power countries.

In ‘Heart of Darkness’, there is a battle between the Europeans and Africans as Europeans ridicule African culture because what the Europeans don’t understand, they frown upon, such as cannibalism. They referred to many of the Africans as “cannibals”. But what the Europeans did not understand was that the “cannibalistic incorporation” (Otto Rank) was a way of incorporating power and strength upon themselves.

Therefore, Africans carried out such acts of cannibalism. However, at the same time, both Africans and Europeans are given equal status by Conrad as both remain as nameless figures. Both Africans and Europeans are represented as the “devil”. Africans who have no knowledge and have a fear of the unknown are described as devils who have “violently dilated nostrils” (pg. eighteen) and who have “grotesque masks” (pg. 16).

And, Europeans who seemed to be superior with their knowledge were also described as “strong, lusty, red-eyed devils” (pg. 19).The word “devil” symbolises evil and the unknown. This may signify the emphasis of the title, ‘Heart of Darkness’ which may represent the evil within their hearts or possibly even signify concealing things that we are too afraid to face. For Europeans, their hearts were filled with darkness because of their lack of morality and how their European values imposed upon Africa are displaced.

And Africa itself was known to be the ‘Dark Continent’, where they had no civilization. Therefore, ‘Heart of Darkness’ may also epitomize the heart of the Dark Continent.In that sense, Africa and Europe correlate with each other as there is malevolence within them or within their culture.

Conrad doesn’t show any impartiality as such between the continents. In fact, he tries to reveal the secrets of European colonialism in Africa. Similarly, in ‘Season of Migration to the North’, both societies interrelate even though their culture seem different. Europeans attempt to conceal the truth and mask their atrocities. “The fields are all fire and smoke” and the “mementos of the season” (pg. 29) burning away shows the shame of the people being charred as they want to hide the death of Hosna.

There are many representations of “fire and smoke”. One may be that it symbolises cremation. But, in the Islamic faith, cremation is not permitted. Therefore, it may signify regeneration, or the beginning of something new after everything is burned away and for the truth being hidden.

Conrad uses pathetic fallacy to emphasise this as it is a turning point in the novella as it reveals to the readers that there are secrets in the Sudanese society which doesn’t come from the values of the Europeans.This proves that the Sudanese society is not much different to that of the Europeans and that people are much similar than we give them credit to be. A sense of humanity is shown in this passage as it explains how humans do the same thing when under pressure. No matter how much cultures differ, human instincts are still the same.

With both the Europeans and Africans, it is difficult to see them for who they really are. Also, it’s difficult for African and Europeans to believe that their culture is more similar than different.This is evident when in ‘Season of Migration to the North’, the narrator says the Sudanese people “were surprised when I told them that Europeans were, with minor differences, exactly like them, marrying and bringing up their children in accordance with principles and traditions, that they had good morals and were in general good people” (pg. 3). This proves that both cultures seem to expect the opposite of each other.

For Africans, Europeans seem to be ‘out of the world’ human beings that are not civilized and that is the same perception Europeans have of Africans.They try regarding each other with stereotypes, without realising that they are similar in many ways. Sense of belonging is a crucial issue of place. People don’t naturally fit into a place, they need to adapt to their environment.

Both these novellas illustrate the consequences of not fitting in and the destruction it brings. Kurtz and Saeed are characters that are unable to integrate into the African culture. In ‘Heart of Darkness’, Kurtz embraces the ‘darkness’. According to Marlow, “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (pg.

1). Kurtz believed that Europeans could help bring culture to the region and its inhabitants but that didn’t happen and therefore he turned into a “hollow” (pg. 72) man with no integrity and lack of social responsibility. He symbolised the imperial, callous and ignorant European mind. Kurtz was a man of many identities which were exhibited to different people; a great musician to his cousin, a great politician to the journalist and a great humanitarian and genius to his fiancee.

All of them differed to the man that Marlow encountered.Kurtz may have made many disguises to mould a person that appealed to different people, in order to fit in. He was not aware of his true identity. But by making himself an enigma, he became immortal and achieved the ultimate. Hence, Marlow regarded Kurtz to be a “remarkable” (pg. 77) man because he had the courage to judge and to deny ambiguity even if the world around Kurtz was a lie. Kurtz became living proof to Marlow that although the world at times seems horrific, the darkness must be embraced and accepted and in no way be allowed to take over a man’s life.

Kurtz being cut off from civilization reveals his dark side. Once he entered within his heart of darkness he was shielded from the light to such an extent that he allowed people worshipping him as a god. This is evident when it states that Kurtz “got the tribe to follow him“ and the natives “adored him“ (pg.

70). Daring to face the consequences of his nature, he loses his identity; unable to be totally beast and never able to be fully human, he alternates between trying to return to the jungle and recalling in grotesque terms his former idealism.This forces him to become mad; Marlow says that Kurtz “soul was mad” (pg. 83).

But not only that, Kurtz madness can be realised physically as well as his sickness is a reflection of his diseased mind. His slow, painful spiral into death is marked by visions and unintelligible ravings. This is supported by the famous quote of “The Horror! The Horror! ” (pg. 86). This emphasises the darkness of the Europeans that was cast over Kurtz which didn’t allow him to retain himself.

His ending showed how the greed consumed him so much that he ended up destroying himself.Similarly, in ‘Season of Migration to the North’, Saeed is a man full of secrecy and is very discreet. This may possibly be the reason why he doesn’t really fit into the Sudanese society or even the Western society. He is a confused character that doesn’t play a role which may point out his possible impotence. His past makes him to be an enigma. In reality, he is a womaniser and this is evident as he states, “I’ll liberate Africa with my penis” (pg. 120). Saeed becomes a victim of his own desire for women.

But the people of the village have much more of high expectations of him.He only seems to be fully truthful to himself to hide the real nature of his identity. This explains why people have to hide their inner self from people as certain cultures have high expectations of their followers. In the Islamic faith, it is a sin to be a womaniser but yet you are allowed to marry four women as long as you treat them equally.

But Saeed couldn’t bring forward that aspect of his past to the villagers as he might have had the fear of being shunned by society. Therefore, there is speculation that Saeed faked his own death.But another reason may be that he wanted to make history but the narrator started to self-destruct whilst unravelling the past of Saeed as what he found was so horrifying. This is evident as the narrator says, “no doubt there were many more bits buried away in this room, like pieces in an arithmetical puzzle, which Saeed wanted me to discover he wants to be discovered, like some historical object of value” (pg.

154). This may imply that Saeed was never able to reveal his true identity in front of others as he felt alienated from others.Therefore, he chose the narrator to bring forward his inner self which he could never bring forward himself as the burden of hiding the truth may have become so unbearable. Ambiguity is created regarding Mustafa Saeed as he is unfathomable.

Whether he murdered Jean Morris or whether he really died is questionable. It is possible that the murder may only be a fantasy of Saeed whereby he is able to exert control. And his disappearing act may be in the attempt of conforming to his fantasy and trying to find a place where he belongs; where he can obtain control.The readers only know what was told by the narrator so there is no real sense of truth exhibited. The narrator is biased as he is tangled in the world of Saeed.

Even though he is married, he “was in love with Hosna Bint Mahmoud, the widow of Saeed” (pg. 104). But he didn’t marry her because he would become inferior to Saeed or maybe because he didn’t believe the death of Saeed to be true.

Mustafa Saeed didn’t belong with the Sudanese society or the Western society. With his relationship with Jean Morris, an overwhelming passion was taking over, “my blood was boiling” (pg. 62). This juxtaposition represents how he was out of his rightful place and didn’t seem to belong there either.

Saeed lives out of a fantasy. He doesn’t have power and he can only acquire it by through taking someone’s life. It is quite a paradox as even as a child, Saeed didn’t fit in with the Sudanese society and after full analysis, it revealed the same that fire and ice don’t fit together. Saeed was unable to fit into the society and culture of either continents. So, does he really belong somewhere?It seems as if he was trying to find his roots but can’t seem to belong anywhere with anyone as if he is a law onto himself. One of the things brought into place is racist agenda in colonial writing. According to Chinua Achebe, Conrad seems to be a “thorough going racist”. Achebe accused Conrad to be a racist because of his refusal to see the black man as an individual in his own right, and because of his use of Africa as a setting, which is supposedly a representation of darkness and evil.

Conrad uses discriminatory terminology to describe the Africans.For example, the term “nigger” (pg. 10) is repeated throughout the novella along with “brutes” (pg. 62) and “savages” (pg. 22), which can be considered racist. But, when looking at the time period in which the novella was written in, 1902, it proves that what seems to be discriminatory now was normal back then. It was very common in the Victorian era for Africa to be known as the ‘Dark Continent’. Many readers think that Conrad’s representation of the ‘Dark Continent’ and the people within it was part of a racist tradition that has existed in Western literature for many years.

But, maybe because of this novella, people started to become aware of the sudden divide between the Europeans and Africans. Social classes were already present but some readers may argue that because of this book, racism became more apparent creating more of a social divide between race and culture. On the other hand, ‘Season of Migration to the North’ is a novella about misogyny.

Saeed comes forward to be a woman hater. It seems that because of Saeed’s desires, actions and compensation for his inadequacies the lives of Hosna and Jean ended as a tragedy.This can be seen as an act of male impotence. Saeed’s fantasy involved manipulating women and seeing them as objects. His gaze forced Jean Morris to be “robbed of her own violation” (pg. 163).

Women such as Jean and Jennifer seem to be passive and were murdered by Saeed’s obsession. But, is that the truth? The scene in which Saeed presses the “dagger” (pg. 164) in the heart of Jean Morris is similar to the scene in which Othello kills Desdemona. This intertextual reference is alike to the events narrated making the event seem fictional.However, the way Jean Morris was murdered was to Hosna’s suicide, creating a mirrored parallel between Jean’s murder and Hosna’s suicide. This reveals that what seems to be false is true as Mustafa must have shared this event with Hosna for her to carry out the same act.

This also discloses that the relationship between Hosna and Saeed was possibly of love as Hosna committed suicide in the same manner in which her husband killed his first wife to prevent re-marrying. Like Kurtz, Saeed has many facets, it is impossible to understand what the truth is and what is fabricated.It is possible that Saeed created these fantasies because he faced rejection from these women and that went against his obsession for control. His control is exhibited when he states, “I am, over and above everything else, a colonizer” (pg.

94). This quote represents how he is taking revenge upon European women for the atrocities that were carried out upon Africa due to the oppression of the Europeans. Salih created an enigmatic character to illustrate how men saw women in that time period.

It is as if women are only an object to a man’s sexual desires and as if they don’t have any rights of their own as an individual.Women had to conform to ways of men whilst men had complete control over them. People like Saeed believed very much that for men to be powerful, women need to be weak or be weakened. Both novellas are fantastic in the way they are written and the way in which they put forward both moral and political issues. They are enigmatic novels; a puzzle never to be solved. This shows how searching for one’s identity is never ending and what may be unravelled can be destructive to one self and to others.

Kurtz turned mad in attempt to find his identity and Saeed disappeared because of his hidden identity. Both novellas are challenging to read of explicit nature. But, one thing that both authors try to point out is the true reality behind the hidden truth. Conrad tries to reveal the secrets of European colonialism in Africa. And Salih puts forward the oppression of women in a male chauvinistic world. Place has an immense effect on an individual’s identity as it is shaped by where we are from and our experiences.

Africa and Europe are two different continents that appear to be very different in the way they present themselves but they have much more in common than expected. The lies and corruption doesn’t come from within a culture, it comes from within human self and how each individual respond under pressure. Because people belong to different places, doesn’t mean that they are different.

In the end, everyone is human and they all commit the same mistakes as one another. Therefore, place having an effect on identity doesn’t change the ways of human instinct. WORD COUNT = 3051

Author: Frankie Taylor


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