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The Sense of Place in Nuruddin Farah’s Maps – Idrisa

Lodge’s first claim is that “effects in fiction are plural and interconnected, each drawing on and contributing to all the others.” (page 56)

We must first understand that the sense of place is totally different than the description of place. In his essay, Lodge is referring to the sense of place as how the setting reflects on the characters and the effect of the setting on the theme of the story. In Maps, we know this this story is set in the war-torn Ogaden region where Ethiopians are hated and Somalians are trying to gain the land however this is never explicitly stated. One of the ways this divide is highlighted in the story through the impact of Askar’s experiences based on the fact that Misra is Ethiopian and Askar is Somalian. Ethiopians and their culture are described as being ugly and disgusting etc. through Misra’s character. This shows how Askar is trying to make the connection between who he is supposed to be as an individual vs. how he is supposed to be as a Somali. In chapter 5, page 98, Askar (narrator bc 3rd person POV)  says, “I remembered that she was different from us – that she wasn’t a Somali like me and others…… She worm a grim appearance and was ugly…” This shows the setting more than a literal description because the theme of maps and borders are seen to just be all in people’s heads so what really is Somalia and what really is Ethiopia. Its just how people think about it in their head. Askar is associating Misra with this despite the fact that he loves her. On the next page, Askar says “But how was i supposed to know what species an Ethiopian is?” and then agains says “Your people, my people – what or who are these?” He is trying to connect the fact that through a Somali identity, he would not be close with Misra whereas he was raised by her and doesn’t know how to not love her. She tries to let him in on that part of his identity by saying one day he might kill her although earlier in the chapter she tells him that one day he may be the only person there to pray for her soul when she dies. This is confusing for Askar because he does not know which side of himself he should let be dominant. This shows how the setting of the story causes a dichotomy in Askar’s character and its effect on him and his journey in self discovery. Ultimately, the sense of place works with other literary features to  contribute to theme and help the reader derive meaning from the text which shows how effects are interconnected.

Lodge states that authors need to “attempt to make the reader “see” or to describe its sensory impact” in their descriptions which ultimately the goal of the sense of place. (page 58) 

This part of the essay explains how the sense of place work with diction and syntax to create an effective meaning. Since the sense of place is a semi-late development in literature, Lodge gives examples of how the literal description of a setting is used. Lodge talks about how post-romantic authors used scene/setting description more to describe its impact on the character rather than what everything literally looked like. One example he gave was about Martin Amis’s novel, Money. Here, Lodge says that in order for the reader to experience the events as the narrator of the story, John Self does, he made the choice to embody the language that a person living in Los Angeles (setting of the story) would during the time. His language choices were expressive and hyperbolized in order for the reader to effectively understand how the reader felt about the industrialization of Los Angeles. John Self thought industrialization ruined a perfectly fine city and the language gives off an apocalyptic vibe from the word choices which hold a negative connotation.

In Maps, many aspects of the sense of place are hyperbolized to make the reader connect with Askar’s experiences. For example, on page 64, the narrator says “In other words, this woman [Misra] wasn’t were you began in the clotted form of a tiny germ which grew, lived and developed on its own inside the body of another. But you loved her as you might have loved your mother…” In this quote we can see the hyperbolized language of the process of fetus growth during the time of pregnancy. This shows Misra’s effect on Askar. Askar loved this woman as if he had inhabited her in the early stages of his life. She is a mother figure to him because she saved him and took him in as her own and that is something he can never repay her for. This shows how the hyperbolized affect of the language contributes to the reader’s journey alongside Askar because earlier in part 1, we see that he is confused about whether he should turn on her or still treat her as his mother. This confusion is heightened because of these extended effects of Misra’s presence on Askar. In this case, the language contributes to the sense of place because it shows the intense effect of one character on the experiences of another.

Lodge also states that “what intervened [with literal description] was the Romantic movement, which pondered the effect of milieu on man”.

Pre-romantic authors did not have the pleasure of writing figuratively to make the readers see the effect of place on the character. I think that in relation to part 1 of Maps, with Farah being a post-romantic author, this effect was specifically chosen to have this effect on the reader. Having the reader connect with Askar’s experiences is important because writers want to have readers connect with their messages. So the sense of place not only shows us the importance of the effect of the setting, but also attempts to make us “see” what Askar sees and its impact on his character development thus getting us to understand Farah’s message of division and sellf-identity.


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