David Lodge informally defines duration in literature as fictional time, or where a comparison is drawn between the amount of time taken for the actions or events to occur in reality and the amount of time they take to occur in a piece of literature. Lodge also stakes the claim that duration is a factor that dictates the tempo of the work and how the audience perceives the flow of events.
In his novel Maps, Nuruddin Farah employs duration to shift through the stages of the main character, Askar’s, life as he strives to find his own personal identity amidst the conflict riddled Somalia. Just as the point of view and time setting shift in the novel, duration does as well. This is demonstrated as Farah chooses to dwell on events and scenarios for pages, providing and creating vivid imagery and description. However, in reality, these events would occur over a short period of time. For instance, it takes Farah roughly three pages to contextualize the birth of Farah and his identity due to the unconventional nature of his entrance into the world, “you were a creature given birth to by notions formulated in heads…you searched, with your hands up in the air, for someone to touch” (3-5). Farah chooses to prolong this particular event, one that would be occur in the space of mere minutes in reality, to emphasize the development of setting and character. This is meant to foreshadow the central theme and plot of the novel, as Farah attempts to stress the struggle for identity amidst political and social chaos. Thus, Farah selectively chooses his use of duration in accordance with its pertinence to the novel and the development of Askar.
Another manner in which the technique of duration is utilized by Farah is that of the shifts in time and stages of Askar’s life with no premise or warning. This is demonstrated in chapter three which begins with a dream, “And he was running and running” (43). Farah chooses to abruptly shift from Askar describing the confusion he feels about himself and who he truly is, to a dream. The reason Farah chooses to do this is to mirror both the confusion that Askar feels about his identity, as well as the confusion and predictable nature that is stemming from the novel being set in the political and social pandemonium of Somalia. This can be inferred as the audience must read for pages of this long and seemingly arbitrary reverie that Askar is having, before even realizing that it is such.