GEOG4, Cultural Geography
The difficulty of a multicultural identitiy is the theme that permeates every aspect of Brick Lane, by Monica Ali. It infiltrates every character in one way or another and imposes on the reader some very important struggles that oppose those of multicultural identities. Through her characters Ali truly grasps and illustrates the intergenerational conflict, as well as a stereotypical element that is an ongoing battle not only between her characters, but in the real world as well. The setting in Brick Lane plays a major role in this conflict in that our characters are displaced from their country of origin; Bangladeshi into a community in England named Two Hamlet Towers. The older generations desperately want their culture to stay alive, and they are disgusted by how their youth have been immersed into western norms. For example they are appalled at the way the latter generation dresses and their dabbling with drugs and alcohol. Their younger counterparts, on the other hand, view the actions of their elders in the same light. They don’t view their culture as being destroyed, but rather changing and evolving. These conflicts are no better depicted through the characters of Razia Iqbal and Karim.
Razia serves as a prime example of one who struggles to break free of the old ways and assimilate into western culture. Her husband does not allow her to work and he often confronts her of being frivolous with their finances; by his orders she is only allowed to take one English class. Nevertheless, Razia doesn’t care what her husband thinks, or anyone else for that matter. She shortens her hair and begins donning a track suit instead of the traditional Bangladeshi Sari. Subsequent to her husband’s death, Razia truly begins to display her freedom. She becomes a full British citizen, and proudly wears a sweatshirt branded with the British flag. Soon after she begins working at a local sewing factory in order to support herself and her family. Razia is an example of the newer generation, while her husband served as a beacon of the older generation. Razia struggles’ with her own faith, particularly her husband’s demands, and that of western society depicts one facade of the many difficulties a multicultural person faces.
Karim is a particularly interesting character in that his view shifts throughout the course of the novel. In the earlier parts of the novel, Karim feels that his father’s generation, i.e. the older generation was too self-righteous, and inversely he saw the younger generation as being far too listless. Things begin to change, however, with the rise of anti-Islam sentiments that were printed in little pamphlets which were circulating in the community. In response to these brochures Karim creates the organization known as the Bengal Tigers. The true turning point in terms of Karim’s view comes about after the attacks of September 11th in New York; after theses attacks Karim becomes extremely radicalized in regards to his scrutiny of Islam, and in particular the Muslim children that resided in the community. In the past he expressed disapproval of the fact that the children partook in gangs, but now he advocates for the kids, saying that they are just naïve and innocent. Karim’s signature attire earlier in the novel was that of trainers and a gold chain, towards the end he starts wearing traditional Panjabi pajamas along with a skull cap. Karim then partakes in a counter march against the Lion Hearts, which ends in a riot. Soon after Karim goes to Bangladesh, and it is believed that he went there for jihad. Karim is the perfect illustration of a multicultural person who peaceful, and marginally assimilated views drastically changed as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is evident that multicultural Muslim Americans not only have to deal with the dilemma between their culture and the western way of life, but...
Cited: Ali, Monica. Brick Lane: a Novel. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.
Trevino, Melina, Ali M. Kanso, and Richard A. Nelson. "Islam Throught Editorial Lenses: How American Elite Newspapers Portrayed Muslims before and after September 11. 2001." Journal of Arab & Muslim Media Research 3.1 (2010): 3-15. Print.
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