Mark Twain in Sudan – Tayib Salih in America
Not without significance it is Abraham Lincolin (one of the greatest American presidents and the man during whose term of presidency the almost Copernican decision of the abolition of slavery was made) who once referred to the pivotal role of literature and creative writers in changing the conditions of societies, and of the world at large. During the Civil War which broke in America after Lincoln's decision, it was told that he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, the woman who wrote the famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852, a novel which reflects, among other things, the evils of slavery in the culture of that time. Lincolin addressed Stowe as follows: “so you are the woman who wrote the book that started this Great War”, meaning the war of the liberation of slaves. Creative writers consciously or otherwise use their talents to bring about change for the better as Lincolin referred to above. Literature writers are inaugurated mediators and ambassadors for the culture they represent. I did not think of it as a coincidence when I visited Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in summer of 2002 and found Tayb Salih’s novel Season of Migration to the North in the student’s book store as a required work on a course on World Literature. Salih is a renowned Sudanese novelist. Here in our country and at Sudan University of Science and Technology I used to teach a course on American literature and culture as part of the bachelor degree in English. Mark Twain’s famous novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is usually on that course. Significantly, William Dean Howells (1837 – 1920) the famous American novelist and critic, and a contemporary of Twain called Twain “the Lincoln of our Literature”. Among many others, two ideas stand uppermost for me and my students in Twain’s novel which we used to study on the course referred to earlier. The first is the emancipating power the beauty of life and particularly that of nature can have on people’s minds. Such sensitive persons would be free, and so incapable of committing any acts of cruelty against other fellow human beings. At one moment of such enjoyment of the beauty of nature Huck goes on to say in a poetic manner: It was a most lovely day now, and bright and sunshiny; and the further and further we went over the hills towards the prairie the lovelier the trees and the flowers got to be and the more it seemed strange and somehow wrong that there had to be trouble in such a world as this. The other idea is that prejudices of all kinds (racial, ethnic, cultural, political etc..) can easily be removed and reconciled by direct personal contacts between people who are traditionally divided or made hostile to each other by deeply rooted binary oppositions or bi-polar opposites. This is conspicuously seen in Twain’s novel when Huck, the white adolescent knows Jim, the African American, by being companions during the trip down the Mississippi river. Through close personal relations Huck’s misconceptions and misunderstandings of Jim’s race and culture are completely stripped out. So the warm friendship between him and Jim triumphs.
By Dr. Mohamed Ali Musa, 07/01/2012