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Chapters/Divisions within Nuruddin Farah’s “Maps” (Amina)

David Lodge asserts that dividing texts into chapters or parts “gives the narrative, and the reader, time to take breath, as it were, in the intervening pauses”. Furthermore, he contends that the divisions may function as “transitions between different times or places in the action”. (pg.164)

Firstly, it is important to note what types of divisions are made, in order to understand the structural set up and the meaning behind it. Farah’s Maps is divided into two parts, each of which contains six chapters separated by an interlude. The chapter divisions do not follow any set function, except for changing point of view. Sometimes, they separate events chronologically, and other times they introduce new themes or ideas. Similarly, the divisions within the chapters seem to only contribute to the fragmentation evident throughout the text. However, Farah seems to link the stories or ideas through diction, by connecting the two events, stories, or ideas separate within the chapters using similar or identical words and phrases. For example, on page 37, the ending of the upper portion between the VI separation states “the prophet has said that men are asleep”, while the beginning of the lower portion states “She looked like a corpse when asleep.” Also, on page 50, the ending of the upper portion between the III separation states “she was depressive”, while the beginning of the lower portion states “…be of poor health and depressive”.

The divisions of chapters and within chapters may serve the purpose of allowing the reader to understand the text, despite the fact they feel confused. As we discussed earlier, the style of writing is designed to confuse the reader, as to allow them to relate to Askar’s confusion, however, the divisions simply allow the text to be understood. Changing points of view or randomly jumping from story to story without some type of minor transition, would take the confusion a bit too far. Nonetheless, the divisions remain to be a structural feature that may bring the reader to question their purpose.

Perhaps these divisions, which often seem enigmatic, reflect the major theme of division which includes political divisions caused by maps, the divisions between males and females, and the internal divisions between parts of the self. Perhaps these chaotic and seemingly random separations between and within chapters are Farah’s way of saying that these arbitrary divisions don’t matter, or rather that he believes they should not.

(As for the divisions of the chapters into part one and two, with an interlude, that will be discussed in a later post, as we have not finished the book)

Lodge also contends that the chapters and divisions also may have “Expressive rhetorical effects, especially if it has a textual heading, in the form of a title, quotation, or summary of contents” (pg.164)

As a form of “overt intertextuality”, part one of Maps starts with a quote by Charles Dickens which states “No children for me. Give me grow ups.” This quote is taken from Dicken’s novel called Our Mutual Friend, which explores the themes of societal expectations as well as rebirth and renewal. The quote is said by a character with two names, a real one and a fake one, Jenny Wren and Fanny Cleaver. This character is portrayed as a strange girl who cannot have kids of her own, but acts motherly towards her drunken father, referring to him at times as “bad child”. Perhaps this quote was chosen to reflect Misra’s character, a woman with many names (Misra, Misrat, etc.) who struggled to have her own children, eventually adopting a child that is allegedly adult like. Furthermore, on page 7 of Maps, it is stated that Misra sees her father in Askar, which also highlights the similarity between the two characters.

According to Lodge, “Throughout most of the nineteenth century…novels were most commonly published in three volumes” to “suit the conveniences of the circulating libraries” or “encourage authors to see their novels in terms of a kind of three act structure.” (pg.166)

Although Maps was published as part of the “Blood in the Sun” trilogy, the three books have little relation to one another in terms of characters and plot. Thus, it could be inferred that Farah took a post-modernist approach to this 19th century custom of publishing books in volumes of three

Lodge states that the “two dimensions” of divisions are “spatial distribution”, which typically follows some kind of “symmetry”, and “semantic” distribution, “the addition of levels of meaning, implication, suggestion, through chapter headings, epigraphs and so on” (pg.167)

So far, I believe the divisions within Maps only serve to emphasize the arbitrary nature of the lines that we draw in society, whether these lines are on maps, between men and women, between cultures or political groups, between languages, or what have you. Although one could counter this argument by stating that the first part describes Askar in the Ogaden, the interlude describes his trip to Mogadishu, and the second part describes Askar in Mogadishu; I would argue that the separation is very loose, as even chapter one makes references to Askar in Mogadishu. The entire book consists of Askar jumping back and forth, from place to place, and year to year. Therefore, so far, I would contend that the divisions contribute to the theme of Askar’s transcendence beyond the Ogaden and Mogadishu, beyond Misra, and beyond the divisions of maps, politics, and language.


  1. idrisarahman says:

    Amina. This slays. Mashallah.

  2. denagarada says:

    This blogpost really cleared up some questions I had about the novel- because as Amina stated- the book is formatted in a way that is meant to confuse the reader. I think the primary purpose of that is to allow the reader to feel the confusion that Askar is experiencing as well. Faced with a critical decision of choosing his own land and country, or a woman who cared for him, Askar is in a mentally chaotic state. The book shifts back and forth between Askar’s recollections of his past, and his present self’s internal conflict. I agree with Amina that Farah most likely intended to separate the chapters into sections and divisions to add clarification for the reader. I never thought of these divisions to symbolize any real features of the book, however now that Amina mentions that they could represent divisions in their society (male, female)- it helps me understand the book a bit more. This concept connects to my chapter in Lodge’s work, where implication is used to conceal but hint at the oppression of women and their sexual harassment. Great post Amina 🙂

  3. idrisarahman says:

    I chose to comment on this blog post because while I read, I get really annoyed by the fact that the chapters are broken up instead of having the whole chapter flow all together. Amina’s post cleared up the fact that the purpose for this was done intentionally to help the reader derive meaning from the text. From what I understood and from my own perspective, I think I agree with the fact that these sub-chapters within the chapters are put in to emphasize the theme of division. I think that that theme may be slightly down-played by the other literary features such as point of view, syntax, diction etc. The reader is also largely focused on Askar’s journey in self discovery and not so focused on how the divisions play a role in this. I also think it is interesting how Amina said that these divisions represent the arbitrary divisions that people draw between cultures, religions, etc so the author actually literally made divisions to make the ones in the book more clear. This really helped clear things up for me. Once again this slayed.

  4. lanahasan8 says:

    After reading this blogpost it helped me understand the book format because as you stated it is separated into different parts and each chapter has a different story portrayed then the other chapter.

  5. hebazaidan says:

    This blog-post assured me that I’m not crazy. This book really is confusing, but thank God it’s for a purpose. I agree with Dena, the main reason for the confusion is to simulate what Askar is feeling to the readers. It helps us empathize with him. I also think that the way the book is written is a reflection on the political and geographical anarchy that was and is going on in Somalia, and the toll it takes on it’s people. I concur with Idrisa, this truly does slay and it was really well thought out and organized. It really helped my understanding, and turned my frustration into appreciation of the authors choices. This also made me take the book more seriously, because now I see that every detail was thought out, and not just thrown together.

  6. diabsabrina says:

    Amina’s blog post really helped me fully grasp why certain split changed were made. I feel as though the splits were in fact made to give the reader a moment to absorb the information as well as grasp it’s meaning. But at the same time the formatting is also used to confuse the reader which I think is genius work from the author. But I also think that it serves to allow the reader to feel the confusion Askar does too. Amina did an excellent job at clarifying any confusions on how the book was split. The way Amina’s post relates my topic is in a very small way in which, since the book is split into different sections and part, this just exemplifies the use of intertextuality. It does so because it is very important for a reader to focus on when intertextuality is used and what meaning it contributes the the text. So depending on the section of the book the use of intertextuality could be implying a different meaning. (you go girl)

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