Growing up with Two Cultures. A Psychoanalytical Reading of "Anita and Me" by Meera Syal

Term Paper, 2017

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3




1. Introduction

2. Human Identity in Theory

3. Identity in Anita and Me
3.1 British and Indian Identity in Anita and Me
3.2 Meena’s Identity

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1. Introduction

I knew I was a freak of some kind, too mouthy, clumsy and scabby to be a real Indian girl, too Indian to be a real Tollington wench, but living in the grey area between all categories felt increasingly like home. (Syal, p. 149-150)

Meena comments on herself stating that she is aware of being neither completely British nor Indian. In the novel Anita and Me, Meera Syal writes about the girl Meena, whose parents are first generation immigrants from India and live with her in England. Generally, the plot deals with Meena’s friendship to Anita, but also with several other events, which lead her personality to undergo a remarkable development during the book.

When reading Anita and Me it becomes obvious that identity evolves, among other factors, from the person’s surrounding and is never constructed only once to a fixed one (Oyserman, Elmore, Smith, p. 70). The topic “identity” is very interesting in Meena’s case, because she grows up with two cultures and her personality changes during the plot. The main question is: How does Meena’s identity develop throughout the story and how can that be arranged in the bicultural context in which she grows up? I assume that the process of developing Meena’s identity is based on a constant balancing act between the British and the Indian culture and according to the circumstances one side predominates the other one. Also, my thesis is that Meena tries to rebel against her Indian identity at the beginning of the book, whereas later she allows a balance between her British and Indian identity.

The following thesis investigates Meena’s identity and its development during the story line of Anita and Me. The psychoanalytical view on this character will refer to Sigmund Freud’s theoretical assumptions. The inclusion of several theories would be rather imprecise, so I chose to restrict the focus on Freud’s view to get a detailed look on one possible approach. According to his ground-breaking discoveries and his popularity (Feist, p. 16) I found it meaningful to choose his theory to support my analysis. Freud’s psychoanalytical model is extensive and implies many statements, but I will mostly zoom in on his “Provinces of the Mind”, which are the id, ego, and superego.

My term paper is aimed at finding out, how Meena’s identity changes throughout the book and how growing up with two cultures affects this process. The analysis mainly sections into four parts: The first step will be to explain Freud’s fundamental theory including his significant technical terms, after that I will explain how the English and Indian culture are presented in the novel, then I will transfer Freud’s hypotheses to Meena’s behaviour by finding appropriate examples in the novel, and in the end I will complete my work by summing up my findings as well as reflecting them.

2. Human Identity in Theory

As already stated in the introduction, the theory I will use to discuss Meena’s identity in Anita and Me derives from Sigmund Freud. Freud lived from 1856 to 1939 and was an Austrian neurobiologist as well as an important theorist in the field of psychoanalysis (Feist, p. 16 – 17).

If we consider the human mind as a theoretical construct, then Freud is of the opinion that it can be divided into these three provinces: the “it” or “id”, the “I” or “ego”, and the “above-I” or “superego”. The three Provinces of the Mind form the personality in their combination, nevertheless they should be considered in particular. (Feist, p. 24)

The id unifies the human instincts, which have the function to achieve the state of pleasure or satisfaction If a human pursues and satisfies his instincts, he reduces prevailing tensions. The id operates unconsciously and not logically; it has no reference to reality. An example for this would be an infant’s habit to suck its thumb or dummy as an alternative to the mother’s nipple. Originally, the idea behind the sucking is to get nutrition. The baby does not understand that sucking its thumb or dummy will not lead to satiety, although it had made this experience already many times. Moreover, the id does not function according to moral principles, since it is not able to differentiate between good and evil and is aimed at fulfilling its wishes egoistically without any consideration of, for instance, someone else’s feelings. (Feist, p. 25)

An example for this characteristic of the id would be a homeless person, who goes to a supermarket to buy food that is essential for him to survive. He does not possess enough money to pay for the groceries and steals them. The id of his mind predominates in this case, because the instinct to eat and keep himself alive is prominent; the person’s instinct is stronger than the actual awareness that his behaviour is criminal and unmoral. The id is present since the birth of a person and given by nature.

In contrast to the id, the ego for the most part acts consciously and has a reference to reality. It is responsible for the mediation of the id and superego and at the same time considers requirements from the outside world. The ego makes decisions about the person’s behaviour by weighing up impulses from both the id and superego. (Feist, p. 25 – 26)

Considering the example with the hungry homeless man, his ego is in a dodgy situation: on the one side he is hungry and his instincts tell him to steal food that is essential for his survival, but on the other side he knows the consequences he has to face when he gets caught. The ego is therefore in charge of finding a balance between the other two provinces and a possible solution for the problem would be that the man decides to scrump.

The superego develops from punishments and rewards for certain behaviour, whereupon especially parents play a dominant role as an authority figure practising them. The superego strives insofar for perfection and control that it is directed at moral and ethical behaviour. This prohibits that feelings of guilt come up. (Feist, p. 26 – 28)

Referring to my former example with the homeless man stealing food, the man would not have stolen the groceries, when his superego predominated in this situation. His superego is able to distinguish between good and evil and acts morally and ethically correct. So if someone steals in this context, his id probably predominates, whilst the superego would be stronger when he would decide to not steal and perhaps try to find an alternative solution for his problem. It is possible to say that the superego is somehow the opposition of the id, because it tries to oppress its instincts in order to behave “good”. “Good” behaviour embodies behaviour that is in agreement with the parent’s rules and prohibitions, who function as a role model (Feist, p. 27).

The following image sums up Freud’s model of the Provinces of the Mind. The superego describes a person’s moral and ethical concepts, the id is stimulated by instincts, and the ego tries to make a decision about the person’s behaviour by taking both of them into account.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1 Own figure based on Feist (1985)

3. Identity in Anita and Me

3.1 British and Indian Identity in Anita and Me

When analysing Meena’s identity, at first it has to be stated how she shows whether her British or Indian personality predominates in a specific situation. My assumptions on how the British and accordingly the Indian culture are expressed, derive from Anita and Me and how British and Indian people are demonstrated in it. Of course these ideas might be subjective and rather prejudices from the author Meera Syal herself, or intentionally presented stereotypes in an ironic way. Nevertheless, I found it important to use her imaginations about British and Indian identity, because the basic message of the book would probably get lost when I would consult e.g. studies about these cultures that prove those to be wrong. Also, my findings about when Meena is more or less British or Indian would be invalid, if I would not work with the potential stereotypes used in the book. In general, Meena’s family can be used as an example for the Indian identity and Anita as well as other English friends or neighbours of Meena can be used as an example for the British identity.

Meena’s parents as well as their friends and relatives determine how typical Indians or immigrants with an Indian background behave. When Meena lies to her father about what she did in Mr Ormerod’s shop, he is very disappointed:

Papa’s face sagged, he looked down and then up at me, disappointment dimming his eyes. He let go of my hand and walked back towards our house without looking back (Syal, p. 23).

Honesty is an important value to Meena’s father and he finds it frustrating that his daughter lied to him. He expresses his dislike for Meena’s behaviour by his facial expression and ignorance towards her. He wished that Meena had told the truth and had not lie. Meena’s father also emphasises that lying is not justifiable in other scenes of the book, e.g. by telling a story. When he finishes it, he says that frequent lying will lead people to not believe her anymore, although she might tell the truth in this specific case (Syal, p. 70).

Another value which Meena’s family pays close attention to, is a healthy lifestyle. Meena’s mother refuses to eat out, because this mostly ends in unhealthy and processed food. Instead of this she cooks at home herself by using vegetables and spices (Syal, p. 26). Traditional Indian food is important for Indians living in Britain, because it reminds them of their homeland:

This food was not just something to fill a hole, it was soul food, it was the food their far-away mothers made and came seasoned with memory and longing, this was the nearest they would get for many years, to home (Syal, p.61).

In this context it is important for Indians to remain true to their origin by cooking traditional food. They prefer Indian food, because they miss their home country and in this way they somehow can get closer to it again, although they now live in Britain and are far away from India.

On the contrary British teenagers are living rather unhealthy and as if they would just live for the present, not thinking about the consequences of their behaviour and pretending that there are no moral standards. The English boys drink cider and smoke cigarettes and permanently make new girls to their submissive girlfriends. The girls feign about being mad, but end up allowing physical contact on the part of the boys (Syal, p. 83). Obviously, at this point adults and teenagers are compared, but the teenager’s behaviour is applicable to English adults, too: The relationship of Meena’s parents is much more passionate and marked with sweet and caring touches and statements (Syal, p. 85 – 86), in a different way from Sam and his friends. Also, there is evidence that relationships between adults differ from the one that Meena’s parents maintain. While Meena’s parents care for each other, the English couples of their neighbourhood do not share an intense bond like they do. It is not possible to speculate whether they were not that much in love from the beginning on, because Anita and Me only delivers an insight into the current state, but the situation now is that the partners had drifted apart. “I sometimes had difficulty matching up the husbands to the wives as their lives seemed so separate” (Syal, p. 85), Meena says about the neighbours. The relationships she notices with her neighbours and her parents differ in the behaviour of the partners to each other. The relationship of Meena’s parents seems to be very deep and close, whereas the relationship of her British neighbours is marked by superficiality and coldness:

There was something that intrigued me, the brazenness of their behaviour, an absence of sentiment and a boldness of self which I could not see in my parents’ almost claustrophobic connection (Syal, p. 86).

Meena’s parents pay attention to their daughter neither looking too adult for her age nor in any way cheap. That is why Meena e.g. has to take off the make-up she had put on her face once, she is not allowed to wear it (Syal, p. 108). Anita does not hesitate to let herself being treated as a sexual object, when the ‘Poet’, a boy Anita meets and introduces to her friends, says vulgar things to her (“’He said […] he wanted to shag the arse off me!’”, Syal, p. 105). She is even proud that he said something like this to her and takes it as a compliment (“’It means […] that he really really loves me’”, Syal, p. 106). Also, she wears revealing clothes, as e.g. in one scene where she has a very short skirt on (Syal, p. 151).

Moreover, Indians have faith in God and believe that He wants the best for the people. In contrast to this, Britains think that “He had simply forgotten them.” (Syal, p. 67). So they probably agree with Indians in the point that God exists, but they do not trust in his merciful behaviour. Therefore, Indians are religious and Britains are not.

When generalising this, it is plausible to say that Indians mostly rely on values like honesty and modesty and behave gender specific, whereas British people follow other ethical and moral concepts. They wear rather revealing clothes and make-up, and use vulgar language, what shows that they feel more free to follow their sexual instincts and do not care much about others or specifically men to think that they are probably very open-minded and easy to have. These aspects can be connected to Freud’s Provinces of the Mind. The superego includes the person’s culture in large part, that is the religion and moral concepts from which the behaviour of a person results. This again derives from how the person grows up and how its parents as well as other educational institutions brings it up. (Feist, p. 27)

Consequently, the aspects I explained are part of the super-ego, which implies basic moral concepts. The ego can be involved in this context, too, because a revealing or not revealing dress style as well as the way in which the characters deal with the other gender may have its roots in the different control they have over their sexual instincts. In contrast the fact that the children of both cultural backgrounds steal is not applicable to sexual instincts, but rather to the craving for sweets and demand to act rebellious, taking into account that they are in an age that goes over to the teenage. Meena is nine years old (“It had happened two years ago, we had celebrated my seventh birthday”, Syal, p. 24), whereas Anita’s age is not clearly defined, but she is a little bit older than Meena. In one scene Meena feels complimented by Anita, especially taking into account that Anita knows “the fact that [she] was younger” (Syal, p.122).

3.2 Meena’s Identity

In the following Meena’s identity will be discussed. For this purpose, certain text passages were selected to exemplify her identity at a particular point in the plot as well as to illustrate its development during the book. I will focus on the super-ego of Meena’s identity, because it describes the moral concepts which are connected to either the Indian or the English culture.

The first scene I want to have a close reading of, starts when Meena explains Mrs. Worrall that she has relatives to whom she refers as uncles and aunts, but also addresses to friends of their parents as if they would be related to each other (Syal, p. 29 - 30). She would not want to miss them, although they are always on her parent’s side when it comes to criticism about what she is doing wrong:

But I could not imagine existing without them, although I hated the way they continually interfered in my upbringing, inevitably backing up my parent’s complaints (Syal, p. 30).

Those complaints could be for example, that she should dress and behave more girlish and in that way conservatively and gently (Syal, p. 30). It bothers Meena to hear this, but she restricts herself from answering the parent’s friends back, because they share many memories with her parents and have a long friendship with them (Syal, p. 31). When applying Freud’s Provinces of the Mind to Meena in this situation, it is possible to say that the English part of her super-ego wants to do what it wants to and feels the need to rebel against the parents and the parent’s friends. Meena’s English identity dislikes that she is criticised, no matter if the criticism is justified or not. It feels oppressed by the way that Meena’s parents want Meena to be like, because they ignore the fact that Meena is a unique human being with an own individuality who wants to express herself with precisely this identity. Her real personality is somehow asked to remain hidden just for the purpose of making the parents and relatives feel comfortable with Meena’s look and behaviour. Imagining that the English morals would have been dominating in this specific situation, Meena would have probably start a discussion that questions the complaints she gets confronted with as well as their right to make the complaints. This idea is not valid, because Meena’s ego finally decides to pay more attention to the impulses that come from the Indian part of the superego. It gets her to remain calm and say nothing against the complaints of the adults. This has the reason that it would be inappropriate with regard to the close relationship of Meena’s parents and their friends. The Indian part of her superego would feel ‘guilty’, if we assume that we may personify it to make Meena’s situation clear, because it would not fulfil its moral concepts. Perhaps it is not appropriate and rather respectful to disagree with people that are older than Meena herself, but more striking is the friendship they have with her parents. Meena would somehow hurt her parents by disagreeing with their friends, because Meena belongs to them and they would get involved in the disagreement. It would give the impression that they did not raise their daughter right, so that she treats them with respect, as well as it would question what the parents think of their friends and their opinion. The ongoing dilemma between the English and the Indian part of the super-ego results in the ego’s decision to go along with the complaints. Meena, or her Indian superego, does not want to face the consequences of rebellious behaviour and refers to her feeling for moral mannerism. So the tension that is present between the Provinces of the Mind is compensated by letting the Indian super-ego domineer over the English one.

Meena’s identity is rather Indian than British in this situation, because she attaches great importance to respect towards her parents and their friends. She is humble enough to keep calm and submits herself to the adults. It is not the English part of her identity that predominates here, because this would supposedly influence her behaviour insofar, that she would not care about what the adults think of her or her parents. She would probably rebel against their complaints about her.

Later on Meena gets into contact with Anita Rutter and feels honoured to get attention from her: “I was happy to follow her a respectable few paces behind, knowing that I was privileged to be in her company” (Syal, p. 38). She was surprised that she was allowed to be with Anita and her friends and thinks:

I would watch them strolling round the yard, arms linked, feet dragging along in their mother’s old slingbacks, and physically ache to be with them. But they were much older – ‘Comp wenches’ – and I never expected them to even notice me (Syal, p. 39).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Growing up with Two Cultures. A Psychoanalytical Reading of "Anita and Me" by Meera Syal
University of Paderborn  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Meera Syal
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ISBN (Book)
cultural, intercultural, bicultural, culture, psychoanalysis, psychoanalytical, reading, anita and me, meera syal, meera, syal, close reading, identity, identification, human identity, british, indian, britain, india, british identity, indian identity, theory, immigration, immigrants, immigrant, personality, personal development, two cultures, growing up with two cultures, freud, sigmund freud, book, novel, analysis, interpretation, it, id, i, ego, above I, above-I, superego, moral concept, moral concepts, ethical concept, ethical concepts, intermediator, intermediators, instinct, instincts, norm, norms, standard, standards, value, values, system, value system, norm system, stereotype, stereotypes, prejudice, prejudices, english, england, gb, great britain, feist, jess feist, oyserman, daphne oyserman, elmore, kristen elmore, smith, george smith, concept, self-concept, self-perception, self concept, self perception, self-image, self image, society, societal, childhood, youth, teenage, teenagers, teenie, teenies, socialisation, socialization, behavior, behaviour, verma, gajendra verma, gajendra k verma, gajendra k. verma, disadvantage, disadvantages, multiculture, multicultural, growing up, growing, growing up with cultures
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