Nationalism and Colonialism in Arab Literature Essay

July 9, 2021 by Essay Writer


Several Arab authors have attempted to support the nationalistic ideology, calling for recognition of Arab civilization, literature as well as language on the international scene. Nationalistic discourse has become an important aspect of the Arab culture, which has evolved to compete with the colonial discourse that is fast becoming less important since the end of colonialism in the Arab world. In this paper, specific works of three prominent Arab writers, Tawfiq Al-Hakim, Tayeb Salih, and Naguib Mahfouz will be analyzed.

Analysis of colonialism and nationalism in “return of the spirit”

Nationalistic discourse in the Arab world is evident in three novels by the three authors. In his “return of the Spirit,” Tawfiq Al-Hakim attempts to portray the events of the 1919 Egyptian revolution. The author uses the story of Muhsin, a boy living with his uncles in Cairo as he matures from childhood to adulthood. In particular, love and romance are used as the major themes to portray the ideologies of patriotism and nationalism. In brief, the narrative mainly starts as a “love and romance story” that portrays the life of Muhsin, his love with Saniya and state of jealous in his family. In particular, his elder uncles are also in love with and admired Saniya.

Eventually, Muhsin and his uncles grow jealous and suspicious of each other. However, none of the three men can catch Saniya’s affection because she opts for a rich but young man and eventually marries him. Despite their initial rivalry, Mushin and his two uncles eventually realize that she was happy with the rich man. Towards the end of the novel, the three men reunite, which allows them to share ideas about the looming revolution.

United, they join the revolution but are jailed by the British colonialists. Thus, the notion and ideology of nationalism are revealed. The author’s description of Saniya indicates that she was a symbol of Egyptian nationhood. For instance, her dark hair, charming character, diction, coquetry, flashing black eyes, and other aspects symbolize Egypt. She is the ‘reincarnated Isis’, whom Muhsin meets and romances in his wet dream.

Analysis of colonialism and nationalism in “the seasons of migration to the north’

Tayeb Salih’s novel “seasons of migration to the north’, is an important narrative that depicts the feelings of Arabs (Sudanese) who have visited and obtained an education in the west. In particular, it tells the story of the Narrator and his friend Mustafa Sa’eed, a self-proclaimed Sudanese nationalist and antagonist of the western culture. As Mustafa attempts to come into terms with the idea of nationalization and find his identity as a Sudanese, he faces various challenges. His past life in England, including romance and sexual affairs with several British women, plays an important role in the story. Eventually, the narrator and Mustafa end up losing their life rather than joining the fight for independence in Sudan.

Analysis of colonialism and nationalism in “Midaq Valley”

Naguib Mahfouz’s novel “Midaq Valley’ also attempts to portray the theme of Egyptian nationality during the country’s fight for independence from western powers. In particular, the character of Hamida is used as a symbol to portray the face of Egypt. She is frustrated with several limitations that circumstances have imposed on her. She decides to break free but soon finds herself in an awkward position, with no power and hope. She represents Egypt, a country that rebelled against Britain two times, but soon finds itself in a situation that allows corruption to ruin the promise of nationalism.


The three novels provide evidence of the authors’ ideology and points of view about nationalism. Nevertheless, it is clear that Al- Tawfiq’s novel “Return of the Spirit” provides the best idea about nationalism, although the author only shows evidence of his support for nationalism towards the end of the story.

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