Comparative Analysis


Comparative Analysis

In this second and final essay, you will compare and contrast the representation of exile in two books of your choice. You should:

1. Briefly introduce the reader to each novel, and explain why you are comparing them, what they have in common;

2. State your argument at the end of the introduction, or in the second paragraph. Your argument should focus on the contrast between the two literary works: in terms of where the author locates exile (its source, or cause) and the form the narrative takes (issues of style or narrative method).

3. Explain how each literary work relates to its historical and/or political context. You may also want to give a biographical context.

4. Use Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism OR one of his insights from “Reflections on Exile” to compare and contrast exile in the two literary works.

5. Compare and contrast the endings of both novels: is exile overcome or is it portrayed as insurmountable?

6. Draw conclusions from your findings. To return to the question on the syllabus:

How does reading these works side-by-side change the way we read them individually? AND/OR: How does the act of comparison foreground differences in perspective across time and place, and between cultures? How are these differences in perspective shaped by each author’s social positioning (class, race, gender, ethnicity)?

Sample Topics:

Female Subjugation and Resistance in Breath, Eyes, and Memory and Season of Migration to the North

Orientalism in Othello and Season of Migration to the North

The East/West Conflict in The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Season of Migration

Exile and Migration in Breathe, Eyes, and Memory and The Reluctant Fundamentalist

(Write your own title)

Your essay should be double-spaced, at least five pages in length, and should include an MLA Works Cited page.


1. Be sure to include the titles of the works you are analyzing in your title. Example: “Exile, Race, and Gender in Othello and Season of Migration to the North.”

2. Do not double space between paragraphs.

3. Cite your sources, both primary and secondary, in parentheses throughout your paper. Include a Works Cited page at the end of your paper.

4. Integrate textual evidence into the body of your essay (see “Incorporating Quotes into Your Argument”).

5. Make sure each paragraph has a topic sentence and that there are effective transitions between paragraphs.

A topic sentence relates directly to your thesis. Example (for option A):

Both Othello and Season of Migration represent women as victims of Arab-African men’s inability to assimilate to the North.

6. Avoid comma splices, or putting a period between sentences that are complete.

Use semi-colons or rewrite sentences with conjunctions.

Example of comma splice: Desdemona can be seen as a feminist heroine, she defies patriarchal norms by eloping with a Moor.

Rewritten: Desdemona can be seen as a feminist heroine because she defies patriarchal norms by eloping with a Moor.

7. Avoid block quotes. Quotes should not exceed three lines.

8. Number each page at the top right-hand margin.

9. Italicize titles.

10. Be sure to use the present tense when you discuss literary works (details of plot, character, etc).


First of all, do not compare Othello with Breath, Eyes, and Memory; these works do not lend themselves to comparison. Second, make sure you make it clear to the reader from the beginning of your essay why you are comparing the two works you have chosen, and what contrast you will be focusing on throughout your essay. Before doing this, let the reader know what each work is about and its historical context, in a few sentences. 

Regardless of what works you have chosen, you should make clear the source of the protagonist’s exile (the political or cultural factors involved) and how the protagonist attempts to overcome this exile. This should be addressed in the body of your essay, which is a good place to integrate Said’s reflections on exile or his theory of Orientalism. 

Your focus, in this paper, should be on the CONTRAST; you don’t want to compare two works only to reduce them to the same idea/theme. If you have chosen to compare RF with BEM, you will want to think about how reading the two novels side-by-side underscores how gender and class affect the immigrant’s experience of exile. Consider the status of women in Duvalier’s Haiti. Unlike Changez, Sophie is unable to adopt a nationalistic stance; she must return to Haiti to confront its history of sexual violence. You might want to contrast Changez’s individual cultural identity struggle with Sophie’s quest to heal from an intergenerational trauma, and relate the difference between the endings of the two novels to Said’s definition of exile (in “Reflections on Exile”) as a permanent rift between the self and its true home.  How does this definition apply to Changez, but not to Sophie? 

If you are comparing Season of Migration to the North with Othello, you will want to think about the intertextual relation between the two. How does Salih define Mustafa against Othello, and Jean Morris against Desdemona? should be addressed in the body. How can Season be considered a postcolonial revision of Othello? You will want to integrate Said’s theory of Orientalism into your discussion of how Salih writes against Shakespeare’s Orientalist portrayal of Othello. 

If you are comparing Season with Breath, Eyes, and Memory, you will want to spend some time discussing the parallels in the women’s stories: more specifically, how acts of sexual violence are normalized in both cultures and how the women adopt or resist misogynistic cultural norms. That in Season the women’s stories are narrated through a male perspective, while BEM is narrated from a female perspective, is important. How is a postcolonial feminist novel different from a postcolonial novel with a feminist subtext? Which novel gives women more agency/freedom to redefine themselves? I would suggest you incorporate Said’s reflections on the relationship between exile and nationalism in your discussion. For example, you can argue that they do not apply to women in countries like Duvalier’s Haiti or postcolonial Sudan.    

If you are comparing Season with RF, you will want to spend some time discussing the parallels in narrative method (each makes use of a narrator-narratee relationship in different ways) and use of ambiguity (what we don’t know about Changez or Mustafa).  However, focus your essay on the contrast in postcolonial contexts: Salih’s novel addresses the traumatic effects of British colonialism on Sudanese identity while Hamid’s novel is a broad critique of American imperialism. How do each of these novels, in different ways, contribute to a definition of what postcolonial literature is? Which text goes further in challenging the logic of Orientalism?

Your essay will be graded on the strength of your argument, your ability to develop it through textual evidence, and the quality of your writing (style, grammar, and organization).

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