The Return of the Primal Father: A Comparative Freudian Reading of Two Novels


Against common postcolonial and historical readings, this article argues that the rise of the primitive urge to dominate and exploit others is what drives Kurtz and Mustafa Sa’eed, the two main characters in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902) and Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North (1966), respectively, to act as primal fathers and thus commit violence on others. Adopting Freud’s theory on the primal-horde and notions like “hypnosis” and “suggestion,” this article reveals the universal theme of the primal father as disguised in an imperial mask in the two novels under discussion. The article argues that the recurrence of the primal father is manifest in narcissistic, paranoid, and sexually rapacious yet apparently gifted characters who act as the Nietzschean “superman.” It then sheds light on the infectious germ of the primal father as reactivated in the narrators of the novels, i.e. in the form of rival Oedipal sons in Charlie Marlow in Heart of Darkness and the anonymous narrator of Season of Migration to the North. Each narrator (Oedipal son) identifies with the respective protagonist (primal father), and both are fascinated yet repelled by such an affinity. This study is thus an attempt to justify the prevalent darkness haunting the human psyche by arguing that the germ of primitivism recurs in history and world cultures. Though it can lay dormant, it is ready to resurface anytime among the uncivilized or even “the civilized” who claim the white man’s burden. Therefore, this article provides an essential psychoanalytic and comparative intervention to understand the underlying motivations behind imperialism and master/slave power relations.


Fida' I. Krunz and Shadi S. Neimneh


Comparative literature, Conrad, Freud, Oedipal son, primal father, Salih