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My Son the Fanatic
The theme of my term paper is the analysis of a short story with special regard to the socio-cultural and historical background. All the stories I could have chosen for that in school result from our semester theme “Britain: Past and Present”, but the story of my special choice was: “My son the fanatic“, by Hanif Kureishi. I have chosen this story because, as reported by my English teacher, this story does not only describe the situation of immigrants in Great Britain, it also describes problems between a father and his son so that the story also has reference to every boy’s life.
So I hope the story will be interesting to read and will also help me to learn more about Britain’s past and present.
2. Historical and socio-cultural background
2.1. Postcolonial time of Great Britain with special regard to the immigration
With the demands for self-government, sovereignty and the dissatisfaction with the British rule more and more colonies of the British Empire claimed their independence at the end of the 19 th century. So the first result of this claim was the achievement of the “dominion” status by many colonies about 1900, which declared them to be a free nation. Finally in 1926 the “British Commonwealth of Nations” was founded which meant that all former colonies of the British Empire had reached total independence though united by a common allegiance to the British Crown, with the right to leave the Commonwealth.
With the British Nationality Act in 1948, which created a British citizenship for every member of the British Commonwealth, a mass immigration into Great Britain began. Most of the two million immigrants were Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. On the one hand they came to Britain because of racial discrimination and persecution in their own country and on the other hand it was just the time when the British economy was growing and so they were welcome or recruited to work in badly-paid and less popular jobs even in the coal- or steel industry.
But the high rate of immigration into Great Britain from different continents and so the development to a multicultural country created problems. Because of different cultures, religions and languages immigrants had problems in identifying with other immigrants and to integrate in the existing community. A lot of the British were afraid of losing their jobs to the immigrants so racial conflicts arose and segregation became very widespread. Especially in the 60s and 70s when Britain’s economy deteriorated, the situation of the immigrants reached its lowest point. Most of the immigrants became unemployed which increased racial conflicts. Another point was that many immigrants had done unskilled jobs so that they were abandoned to do more profitable jobs which demand know-how.
Since a lot of them were unemployed and wanted to escape from racial conflicts many immigrants had to live in overcrowded, unsatisfactory accommodations in run-down city areas. 1
So the British government had to consider politics against racism and problems of immigration in Great Britain. One of the first results was the Race Relation Act of 1976, which made racial discrimination unlawful. To reduce immigration in Great Britain The British Nationality Act was passed in 1983. By this act the members of the British Commonwealth and those who were not born in Great Britain or whose parents were not born there lost the British Citizenship. 2
1 Abiturwissen, Landeskunde GB/USA: Social Structure of Britain (pp.39-53)
2 Informationen zur politischen Bildung Nr.262/1999
2.2. Aspects of Islam
Islam is a religion which means total submission to the one and only god Allah who is the almighty and the creator of “everything”. The members of Islam are called Muslims. They believe in Allah and in Muhammed as the final prophet of god. The main source of Islamic practices result from the Koran which is understood by the Muslims as the words of god.
Islam teaches the Muslims to live in peace with oneself, with other people and with the environment; nevertheless the doors of forgiveness are always open for those who repent sincerely. Peace is attained through complete obedience to the commandments of Allah who personifies peace. The importance of living in peace result from the belief in the “hereafter”, which means that all human beings will be resurrected to account for their deeds. So those who have performed righteous deeds will be rewarded with eternal bliss i n heaven while those who have performed evil acts will be punished in hell. But although Islam teaches the Muslims to live in peace there is also a chapter calling “jihad” which is translated as “holy war”. Jihad means that Muslims resort to violence when their basic “human rights” are violated to defend their faith and the welfare of the Muslim community.
But Islam does not only teach, it also obliges. So Muslims have to stick to the rules of the Koran. Some of these rules are: • The daily prayers. To communicate with Allah and so to get a closer relationship with him Muslims have to pray five times a day. • The Zakat, which means to donate some of your riches for those in need. Following this rule is necessary to relieve the soul. • The Saum, a third rule, means fasting during Ramadan, which helps the Muslims to reach self-control.
• A last important rule for every Muslim is the Hajj. The Hajj is the go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, which lets Muslims feel the brotherhood of the Muslims and the closeness to Allah.
These four most important rules help Muslims to live a fulfilled life in this world and to live near to god in the hereafter.
To escape from moral corruption, Muslims are strictly forbidden to take drugs or to drink alcohol. They are also forbidden to eat pork because Muslims think it contributes to the “lack of morality and shame” because in their opinion it increases the greed for wealth to eat pigs. 3
2.3. Reference to the short story
Because there is no specific time given at which the story takes place, I would suppose that the short story “My Son the Fanatic” is probably set in the time after the Second World War when there was a mass immigration into Great Britain. Parvez and his family could be some of these immigrants who hoped to find work and better living conditions in Britain. A hint for this is given on page 149 ll.17-18: “His dreams of doing well in England…”. The aspects of Islam, which I have described on page 3-4 (Aspects of Islam) are surely of importance to understand Ali’s behaviour, who is definitely a Muslim, and his relationship to his father who is also a Muslim but not to the extend his son has developed.
3. On the author
Hanif Kureishi was born on December 5 th , 1954 in London as a son of an Englishwoman and a Pakistani. 3 Since he grew up experiencing racial and cultural conflicts, most of his works are marked by this. His decision to become a writer was already made at a young age at which he began writing novels that were intended for publication.
At 1972 Hanif Kureishi studied philosophy at the University of London and earned his living by writing pornography under the pseudonym of Antonia French. After a humble beginning as an usher for the Royal Theatre, Kureishi later became a writer in residence of the theatre. His first play, “Soaking Up the Heat”, was produced in 1976 at London’s Theatre Upstairs. He had a first great success with his second play, “The mother Country”, for which he received the Thomas Television Playwright Award in 1980. But his breakthrough was his first play for the Royal Court Theatre,” Borderline”.
But also with his first efforts in the film business Kureishi was very successful and gained him a larger audience. “My Beautiful Launderette” for example, written in 1985, won several awards. 4
The short story “My son the Fanatic”, by Hanif Kureishi is about problems between Parvez, who is a Pakistani immigrant in England and his son Ali. Since Ali’s behaviour has changed Parvez supposes that something is going wrong with his son. One night when he is together with his two closest friends, he talks with them about his problems with his son and they come to the conclusion that Ali is taking drugs. As Parvez is a taxi driver he often drives Bettina around, who is a prostitute. Since their relationship to each other is very
3 Microsoft ENCARTA 98 ENZYCLOPÄDIE
good he also talks with her about his son. She advises him to watch his son more critically and to search for clues for his addiction. But although Parvez observes his son very strictly he cannot find any kind of hint about his son’s addiction. But what Parvez finds out is that his son is growing a beard and that he does not sell his belongings but he gives them away to charity shops. Furthermore Parvez notices that his son prays five times a day. So Parvez decides to go out with his son to talk with Ali about these things. But when they are in a restaurant, Parvez drinks too much alcohol so they begin to quarrel. Ali criticises his father because of breaking to many rules of the Koran and wants him to change his life. Later he also tells his father that he wants to give up his studies in accounting. Because Parvez thinks that he has lost his son and he cannot endure his son’s criticism any longer he wants his son to get out of his house. But Bettina can convince him of trying to identify with his son so that Parvez endures his son’s criticism and that he is even growing a beard to please his son. Furthermore he tries to talk to his son to tell him his attitudes of life. But Ali still despises his father because he does not stick to the Koran. When Parvez drives around Bettina with his taxi they meet Ali on the street and they stop and take him with them because Bettina wants to talk with him. But when she tells him that his father loves him, Ali only gets angry and begins to insult Bettina so that she leaves the car. Because Parvez now is very angry about his son he begins to drink when they arrive at home so that he finally goes into his son’s room to hit his son who neither covers himself nor retaliates.
5. Analysis and interpretation of the short story
5.1. Main characterization of Parvez
Parvez is a Pakistani immigrant in England. He grew up in Lahore (p.153 l.21) and he has been a taxi-driver for twenty years (p.148 l.21). Although Parvez was taught the Koran i n Lahore (p.153 ll.21-22), his relationship to the Koran is very bad which becomes clear in many parts of the text. P.153 l.22-p.154 l.3 describes Parvez’ indifference to the Koran at his young age: His maulvi had to attach a string to the ceiling and to tie it to Parvez’ hair to stop him from falling asleep while he was studying the Koran. And also in England his attitude to the Koran has not changed. When he is told by his son that he is breaking the rules of the Koran (p.157 ll.1-2), Parvez only shrugs (p. 156 l.6) or answers “For instance?” (p.157 l.3). He even says that he loves crispy bacon (p.157 l.7) and that he avoids all religions (p.154 ll.3-4). A person Parvez likes very much is Bettina. This is indicated for example on p.151 ll.11-12: ”He could talk to her about things he’d be never able to discuss with his own wife” or p.150 l.20:”To his relief, he found Bettina sitting in his car”. He even shouts after her to make her come back when she jumps out of the taxi and runs away (p.164 ll.23-24).
It i s also obvious that Parvez has his problems with alcohol. An example for this is p.148 ll.17-18: “he went more often to the whisky bottle, even when he was at work.” And even when he knows that he gets drunk he cannot stop himself from drinking (p.156 ll.12-13).
5.2 Main characterization of Ali
Ali is the son of Parvez. He is going to give up his studies in accounting (p.160 ll.1-2) to work in prison (p.160 l.10). His behaviour has changed. He has givin up sports (p.152 ll.11-12), is getting tidier (p.147 l.6) and is outgrowing his teenage attitudes (p.147 ll.10-11). Furthermore he parts from his English girlfriend (p.147 ll.15-16) and throws his possessions out (p.148 ll.12-13). His behaviour results from his Islamic religion, which makes him stick to the Koran. So he prays five times a day (p.153 l.20) and goes to the mosque (p.163 l.26). That he has a very close relationship to Islam becomes clear on p.158 ll.5-7: “The law of Islam would rule the world, the skin of the infidel world would burn off again and again: the Jews and Christers would be routed”, which makes him even think of going to war: ”My people have taken enough. If the persecution doesn’t stop, there will be jihad.” His Islamic religion lets him also become arrogant which becomes clear in his behaviour to Bettina. When she asks him something he only replies: “Who are you to ask me these questions?” (p.164 ll.1-2).
5.3 Analysis of the relationship between Parvez and his son Ali
It is obvious in the story that the relationship between Parvez and Ali is bad and that they do not understand each other.
A reason for this mainly is Ali’s development to a Muslim, which Parvez does not notice. Of course Parvez notices that his son’s behaviour has changed, he notices for example his son’s c omputer disks, videotapes, new books and fashionable clothes beside the dustbin (p.147 ll.11-15) and that Ali throws out his possessions like his TV, his video-player, his stereo system and his guitar (p.148 ll.12-14), but Parvez is not able to bring up the subject of Ali’s unusual behaviour (p.147 ll.18-20). Of course this behaviour results from Ali’s religion
and there is a rule he has to stick to called Zakat (explained on page 3-4: “Aspects of Islam”)
And also when Ali is growing a beard (p.152, ll.22-23) and when he is praying five times a day (p.153 l.20) Parvez does not recognize his son’s Islamic religion. So Parvez does not only have problems to understand his son, he also misunderstands his son by interpreting his behaviour as being addicted to drugs (p.150 l.18: “His boy - the drug-addict”).
But although Parvez does not understand his son anymore he loves Ali anyway. He works long hours for Ali (p.148 ll.8-9) and yearns for the time when they were “brothers” (p.150 ll.3-4: “We were not father and son - we were brothers! Where has he gone?”). So Parvez decides to go out with his son (p.154 ll.14-15) because he desires “more than anything” (p.154 ll.17-18) to know why his son’s behaviour has changed (p.154 ll.17-19). By this I think Parvez wants to restore his old relationship with his son. But by Ali’s claim that he has an appointment and that he refuses to accompany his father (p.154 ll.20-21) it becomes clear that Ali does not like his father anymore. So Parvez has to insist on his opinion that no appointment could be more important than that of a son with his father (p.154 ll.21-22). Here even Parvez describes their relationship as father and son, which shows that their relationship has become worse and worse.
Especially when they are together in the restaurant the religious aspect why they do not understand each other becomes clear. Ali does not accept his father’s way of life (p.158 ll.18-19: “the boy urged him to mend his ways”) because he does not stick to the Koran (p.156 ll.9-10: ”Each time Parvez took a drink, the boy winced, or made some kind of fastidious face”) so that he even hates his father for this (p.156 ll.13-15: “Ali had a horrible look, full of disgust and censure. It was as if he hated his father”).
It is also obvious that Parvez suffers from his son’s intolerance towards him. So Parvez even cries (p.158 l.18: “Parvez eyes filled with tears”) and tries everything to please his son so that they will be “brothers” again (p.159 ll.24-25: “Parvez told Bettina he was willing to pray, if that was what the boy wanted”). But Ali does not seem to notice his father anymore. Even when Parvez is growing a beard to please his son, Ali does not seem to notice it (p.161 ll.14-17). So Parvez feels that he has lost his son (p.160 l.16: “I feel as if I’ve lost my
son”). In my opinion it also shows that they have “lost” each other on p.159 ll.20-23: “Parvez stumbled and fell in the road, scraping his hands and ripping his trousers. […] The boy didn’t even offer him his hand.” I would interpret this situation as follows: Parvez is at his lowest point here. He does not know how to please his son in order to become “brothers” again. And Ali does not come to meet his father to give him the “helping hand” to come together again. Another situation, which shows that they are really apart from each other, is when Parvez and Bettina drive around with the taxi. They meet Ali and take him with them (p.163 ll.5-20). In this situation it even seems that Bettina has a closer relationship to Parvez than Ali has because he gets into the back seat (p.163 l.19), where passengers normally sit, while Bettina sits in the front (p.163 ll.19-20), beside Parvez.
In addiction, I think it is not only the religious aspect which makes Parvez and Ali understand each other so badly. I would also interpret their situation as generation conflict because they often have different attitudes towards life. Parvez for example says: “Was it asking to much for Ali to get a good job, marry the right girl, and start a family” (p.149 ll.15-16) or “While I am here on earth I want to make the best of it. And I want you to as well” (p.162 ll.13-14). So Parvez wants his son to make “the best” of his life but this life is for sure not the life Ali wants. For example Parvez works long hours for Ali to spend a lot of money on Ali’s education as an accountant (p.148 ll.8-10), but this is not what Ali wants. Ali wants to give up his studies in accounting (p.160 ll.1-2) and he is going to work in prison with poor Muslims (p.160 ll.10-11). And there are many more examples of these contrary attitudes: While Parvez thinks he has lived a decent life (p.156 l.23), Ali does not think so because in his opinion his father has broken countless rules of the Koran (p.157 ll.1-2). Or while Parvez thinks that they have to fit in in England (p.157 l.13), Ali thinks that Parvez is “too implicated” in Western civilisation (p.157 ll.18-19).
Because of this generation conflict and their bad situation resulting from Ali’s religious behaviour the situation escalates. Parvez who feels that he has lost his son (p.160 l.16) loses his temper and hits the boy (p.165 l.4: “Parvez kicked him over. Then he dragged the boy up by the front of his shirt and hit him. The boy fell back. Parvez hit him again. The boy’s face was bloody.”)
Although the story ends at this point, you can figure out that by this act Parvez and Ali have “lost” each other forever.
Taking everything in consideration I can say that I am satisfied with my choice of this story. My hope the story might be interesting to read and help me to learn something new became true. On the one hand the term paper for sure helped me to practice my English by writing in this language and by looking up lots of new English words. On the other hand I have learned something about Britain’s history, about Islam and about the author Hanif Kureishi, which was also very interesting.
Although it is clear that most short stories have an open ending, I’m keen on getting to know what could happen next in the story, after the father has hit his son. Could they find together again or have they “lost” each other forever? After reading the story several times, I could really identify with the situation of Parvez and Ali, which perhaps is because Ali could be my age. And with every time I was reading the story I found more and more aspects to analyse so that I could have written five more pages.
But at the end I can say that the term paper was a positive experience for me and that I did my best for it.
Kureishi, Hanif “My Son the Fanatic“ in: “Many Voices Many Cultures, Multicultural Brirish Short Stories”, Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart 1997 Publisher: Barbara Korte und Claudia Sternberg, p.147-165
7.2 Secondary Literature
1. Abiturwissen, Landeskunde GB/USA: Social Structure of Britain (pp.39-53) 2. Informationen zur politischen Bildung Nr.262/1999 3. http://www.islam.de/?site=virtuelle_bibliothek/wasistislam 4. http://www.al-islam.org/beliefs/index.html 5. http://www.al-islam.org/beliefs/content.html 6. Microsoft ENCARTA 98 ENZYCLOPÄDIE 7. http://www.emory.edu/English/Bahri/Kureishi.html
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