Overcoming Fate. Nazneen's Bildung in Brick Lane

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

14 Pages, Grade: 2,7

Alana Speer (Author)


Table of Contents

1. Overcoming Fate: Nazneen's Challenge

2. Nazneen's Transformation into an Independent Woman in Brick Lane
2.1 The Female Bildungsroman
2.2 The Origin of Nazneen's Belief in Fate
2.3 Factors Promoting Nazneen's Bildung in Brick Lane
2.4 Nazneen Finding Her Own Voice

3. Overcoming Fate: Nazneen's Journey of Self-Realization Works Cited

1. Overcoming Fate: Nazneen's Challenge

This essay examines Nazneen's transformation in the course of Monica Ali's Brick Lane. It analysis how Nazneen changes into an independent woman by overcoming her belief that fate determines her life and focuses on how the people around her contribute to her transformation of character.

First I will select characteristics of the female Bildungsroman which are relevant for Brick Lane and Nazneen's development throughout the novel. I will pick up those characteristics in the course of the essay and apply them to Brick Lane. To understand where Nazneen's belief comes from I will take a closer look at the story of How She Was Left To Her Fate and therefore the origin of fate and the role of women in Islam. After that I will concentrate on different factors for Nazneen's transformation, how the people she interacts with contribute to her change, and take a closer look at crucial scenes from Brick Lane. Finally, I will take a look at how a transformed Nazneen stands up for herself and becomes her own person.

2. Nazneen's Transformation into an Independent Woman in Brick Lane

2.1 The Female Bildungsroman

The female Bildungsroman contains the motive of travel, which leads the protagonist through different social areas. The new environment provides the female protagonist with conductive conditions for her self-testing and self realization. The motive of the quest is present and relates between spatial growth and individual development of the protagonist. The main protagonist, Nazneen in Brick Lane, often feels that she can not develop her own identity and has limited opportunities within her familiar environment (Frank 22).

Carol P. Christ divides the quest for an own identity into a spiritual quest, a social quest and a cultural quest (Frank 23). Whereas the spiritual quest emphasizes the psychological element of searching for an identity, the social quest focuses on the main character's social integration and aims for social acceptance and autonomy. The quest for a cultural belonging adds a third element to the female protagonist's quest for identity (22-24).

Joining female communities and developing special relationships with other women often make the transition into a patriarchal society easier for the main character. In the female Bildungsroman, a guardian figure also supports the protagonist's positive transformation and helps her on her journey of self-realization. In contrast to the picaresque novel, the Bildungsroman ideally leads to a happy end for the female protagonist (Frank 24-25).

2.2 The Origin of Nazneen's Belief in Fate

Brick Lane starts off with Nazneen's birth and introduces the story of How She Was Left To Her Fate, the story which will define Nazneen's whole life from the moment she was born. Her mother, Rupban, decides against taking newborn Nazneen, who is born two months early, to the hospital because “we must not stand in the way of fate” (BL 1 4). She believes that “fighting against one's fate can weaken the blood. Sometimes, or perhaps most times, it can be fatal” (5). Rupban advises Nazneen to “be still in her heart and mind, to accept the Grace of God, to treat life with the same indifference with which it would treat her” (6) and teaches her to embrace her fate and to accept and tolerate everything that comes her way. “Not once did Nazneen question the logic of the story of How You Were Left to Your Fate” and she believes that it is because of her mother's wise decision that she survived (5). Her mother's philosophy of life is the strongest influence on young Nazneen. Because of Rupban's instructions she does not doubt that the arranged marriage to Chanu, an older man, is her fate. Nazneen says that she hopes she “can be a good wife, like Amma” (7).

The Qur'an teaches that “there is no room for chance in God's creation. Everything in the universe has been created by God with a definite purpose and in precise measure” (Cohen-Mor 191). Growing up, Nazneen never questioned fate. But she is often confused whether following fate means following her heart or accepting whatever comes her way. Yet she never asks which of these possibilities is the right way because her mother told her that “if God wanted us to ask questions, he would have made us men” (BL 78).

Born into a Muslim society, Nazneen grows up believing that fate controls her life. Because fate also determines gender, being born as a girl also means accepting a difficult life. In Bangladesh, women have to face many restrictions due to Islamic beliefs. They are “subordinate to men by God's will and design” (Cohen-Mor 133), and consequently have limited opportunities in education and work compared to their male competitors. Women are believed to be better suited for housekeeping work whereas men are supposed to be created for intellectual work. Nazneen grows up with the traditional belief that she “should listen to her father and husband absolutely” (Cai 5) and that she should never doubt God's will and her fate. Women are expected to adopt the traditional role of the housewife and mother. As their place is the home, they are deliberately prevented from participating in public life (Cohen- Mor 133). Chanu shares these beliefs and thinks of his wife as subordinate to him. He does not understand why Nazneen should go out and isolates her from the public life.

2.3 Factors Promoting Nazneen's Bildung in Brick Lane

When Nazneen arrives in London, she feels lonely and tired of staying at home and busies herself with housekeeping work. But since she only “could say two things in English: sorry and thank you (BL 10),” she is clearly unable to communicate with people outside her home and her inability to speak English only contributes to her staying at the apartment. Nazneen mentions her desire to learn English to Chanu, but he does not see the need for it and turns her down. Chanu does not allow Nazneen to leave the apartment. She does not think of objecting to his will and accepts her situation when he says that he does not like her to go out. In consequence, Nazneen feels locked, like a prisoner in her own home. Outside awaits a new alien environment Nazneen does not have any connection to.

Nazneen is not satisfied with the kind of life she lives but she does not consider making a change as she was taught to tolerate and accept whatever comes her way. When Chanu decides to leave Hasina to her fate after Nazneen has asked him to help her sister, she starts expressing her anger at him through small rebellions. Because she does not dare to object to him in person, she quietly rebels against him by not cleaning the house or not doing the laundry .

Nazneen often gets the feeling of being invisible in this unfamiliar alien world, a feeling that reaches its peak when she gets lost in the streets2. She senses that Chanu does not treat her with proper respect and certainly underestimates what she can do. And because of that, she is trying even harder and wants to proof it to him that she can be her own person even more. One example where it becomes clear that Nazneen is tired of being underestimated is when she gets lost in the streets of London and for the first time talks in English to a stranger and goes to a pub to use the toilet (BL 56). Afterwards she wishes she could shout out her frustration at her husband: “Did you think I could do that? […] See what I can do (59)!” But she does not let her emotions get the best of her. In the course of the novel, her relationship with her husband gradually improves. After losing their son Raqib, they develop a mutual understanding.

In the beginning, Nazneen is constantly worrying about her younger sister Hasina, who has run away from home for a love-marriage. Nazneen begins to wonder if Hasina is actually the one who is following her fate. Even though Hasina has many obstacles to overcome, she does not give up hope. Nazneen admires her for her courage to fight against fate.


1 BL is the abbreviation for Monica Ali's novel Brick Lane

2 Ali 48-57

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Overcoming Fate. Nazneen's Bildung in Brick Lane
University of Bamberg  (Department for English Literature)
Writing India and the Indian Diaspora in the 21st Century
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
632 KB
Brick Lane, Monica Ali, Nazneen, Fate, Bildung, Emancipation, Identity, Islam, London, Beliefs, English Literature, India, Immigration, Female, Women
Quote paper
Alana Speer (Author), 2013, Overcoming Fate. Nazneen's Bildung in Brick Lane, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/281196


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