The Issue of Hybridity in "The Buddha of Suburbia"

An Investigation of Karim Amir

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2019
16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Short Summary of The Buddha of Suburbia

3. Relevant Key Concepts
3.1 Postcolonial Studies
3.2 Hybridity
3.3 Identity

4. Historical and Social Background

5. Hybridity and Identity in the Character of Karim
5.1 The Opening
5.2 In-betweenness
5.3 Theatre
5.4 Third Space
5.5 Gender and Sexuality

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

By merely reading the books's title, one gets a sense of the novel's main theme. The connotation of each of the two subjects already creates an atmosphere of two different and yet cohesive aspects.

While Buddha (from a European point of view) stands for something being far away, strange, exotic, the term suburbia reminds of something that is around the corner, familiar, comforting. Thus, already the title hints at one of the main themes The Buddha of Suburbia deals with. It is a subject the Western world is heavily confronted with these days: Who am I? Where do I come from? and followed by the inevitable subsequent question: Where do I belong? Obviously, this question is mainly asked by people with at least two cultural backgrounds. In 1990 Hanif Kureishi looked into this subject in his aforementioned novel. Born in 1954 in London, the author himself grew up as son of an English mother and a Pakistani father. In the following I will examine how Kureishi depicts the matter of growing up in a (Western) society having a multicultural background. The analysis will focus on the main character of Karim. I will apply the method of practical criticism and furthermore rely on pertinent secondary literature. Based on selected motives and scenes concerning the protagonist, I will explore how the novelist broaches the issue of hybridity in his story. Therefore, I will refer to relevant postcolonial theories dealing with the subject of colonization and identity. The theorists to be mainly drawn on will be Homi K. Bhabha, Edward Said, and Stuart Hall.

To fully understand Kureishi's main figure it is crucial to consider England's historical background in the 1970s. Set in times of change and immigration the novel requires to take these then tense social conditions into account. Hence, the following lead questions will guide this analysis: How and where does Kureishi show the issue of hybridity through his main character Karim?

Due to the term paper's guideline of length, only carefully selected scenes and motives can be covered.

2. Short Summary of The Buddha of Suburbia

The Buddha of Suburbia was written by Hanif Kureishi and first published in 1990. It is about the adolescent main character and first person narrator Karim, who is the protagonist of the novel and at the same time serves as the first-person narrator, was born into a family with European and Asian cultural background, having an English mother and an Indian father. He grows up in suburban London in the 1970s and faces problems concerning his British and Indian background.

3. Relevant Key Concepts

Karim, as a son of an English mother and an Indian father, exemplarily represents the advantages and disadvantages of growing up as an in-betweener. In his introduction to his book The Location of Culture Homi K. Bhabha states that "[t]hese 'in-between' spaces provide a terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood" (Bhabha 1994: 23). Hence, the concepts to be taken into consideration in this term paper are hybridity and identity, which are embedded in the field of postcolonial studies, which will be explained first in a short overview.

3.1 Postcolonial Studies

Colonization is a process that took place over centuries and is more than just a uniform or central controlled process. In literature, the discovery of America in 1492 is often referred to as the point of beginning of colonization. But that is just an arbitrary dating (cf. Varela&Dhawan 2005: 11). The procedure of colonizing was often legitimized by the denying of humaneness of the colonized due to their race and culture. Commonly, the colonizers' proceeding against the native people was very brutal. However, it was often considered as an inevitable proceeding against the native people in order to build the colony and provide development aid (cf. Varela&Dhawan 2005: 13).

Furthermore, these strategies and methods were frequently justified by evolutionistic and religious beliefs. One central aspect of the colonial discourse is the construction, the representation and fixation of the other. Mar Castro Varela and Nikita Dhawan describe this type of representation that always results in a negative and unshiftable representation of other ethnic groups as necessary for the construction of a European, acting on the assumption of superiority embossed self-perception (cf. Varela&Dhawan 2005: 16). Further important theoreticians in the field of postcolonialism are Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Homi K. Bhabha. Their points of interest are not only colonialization and its effects, but also neo-colonial power structures. By doing so, they state that with the procedure of decolonization internal conflicts about the possibilities of representation, power structures and the question of how postcolonial theory should interact. Said's Orientalism is one of the core works on postcolonial studies. The author sees the orient as an ideological construct that is in opposition to the Western culture by stating that "Orientalism is a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between "the Orient" and (most of the time) "the Occident"" (Said 1995: 2). The Western domination of the Orient which is described as "undomesticated" by the "civilized" western culture is legitimated by the assumption,that the western culture's duty is to civilize the orient. By civilizing Said means the assimilation of Western cultural norms and values and the Orient's adaption of Western living conditions and circumstances which are considered as highest stage of development from an evolutionistic point of view (cf. Clifford 1988: 271). This is a eurocentristic view and is "The conscious or unconscious process by which Europe and European cultural assumptions are constructed as, or assumed to be, the normal, the natural or the universal" (Ashcroft et al. 2013: 107)

Bill Ashcroft developed the term 'other' in order to how the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is illustrated.

In general terms, the 'other' is anyone who is separate from one's self. The existence of others is crucial in defining what is 'normal' and in locating one's own place in the world. The colonized subject is characterized as 'other' through discourses such as primitivism and cannibalism, as a means of establishing the binary separation of the colonizer and the colonized and asserting the naturalness and primacy of the colonizing culture and world view (Ashcroft et al. 2013: 186)

3.2 Hybridity

Homi K. Bhabha's two main works are Nation and Narration and The Location of Culture. His focus is mainly on how cultural differences are depicted and how they are maintained. In contrast to Said, Bhabha does not act on the assumption that there is a stable structure or a conception of the colonizer and the colonized, the Orient and Occident, the civilized and wild, the developed and undeveloped, which can be described as a binary concept.

One of the most widely employed and most disputed terms in postcolonial theory, hybridity commonly refers to the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization (Ashcroft et al. 2013: 135)

With the focus on hybridity, Bhabha considers the binary concept as not sufficient. By using the term hybridity, Bhabha emphasizes on the interrelation of different cultures where no clear borders or lines between them can be drawn. Bhabha's focus is rather on the different positions of identity and names this concept hybridity. According to Bhabha

Hybridity is the sign of the productivity of colonial power, its shifting forces and fixities; it is the name of the strategic reversal of the process of domination through disavowal. Hybridity is the revaluation of the assumption of colonial identity through the repetition of discriminatory identity effects. It displays the necessary deformation and displacement of all sites of discrimination and domination (Bhabha 1994: 112)

Another quote from Bhabha specifies the meaning of hybridity a bit more:

For me the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which the third emerges, rather hybridity to me is the third space which enables other positions to emerge. This third space displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives which are inadequately understood through received wisdom (Bhabha 1990: 211)

Hence, identity is not essential and definable, but it is pluralistic and flexible. It is a mixture of previously existing separate systems. In postcolonial literature the term hybridity is often connotated with migration and the effect of migration on cultural identity. People whose ancestors are from different cultural backgrounds embrace elements of all these cultures in their identities. Through that a hybrid identity arises and it can only do so through the processes of intercultural interaction. In reference to the relationship between the colonized and the colonizer the concept of mimicry has to be taken into consideration: "colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same but not quite. Which is to say, that the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence" (Bhabha 1994: 86)

Bhabha argues, that the longing of the colonized for being like the colonizers is always likely to fail. He is claiming that by saying "to be Anglicized is emphatically not to be English" (Bhabha 1994: 87). As an example, the author refers to Indians who adapt the cultural structures and behaviours of the English but still can never be English themselves. The knowledge of and the acknowledgement of the always persisting distinction strengthens the, following Bhabha, the power of the colonizers. On the contrary, mimicry contains a deformed imitation which causes irritation and weakens the power of the colonizers (cf. Varela&Dhawan 2005: 90). It is always an ambivalent interrelation between the colonizer and the colonized (cf. Ashcroft et al. 2013: 154 f.)

When colonial discourse encourages the colonized subject to 'mimic' the colonizer, by adopting the colonizer's cultural habits, assumptions, institutions and values, the result is never a simple reproduction of those traits. Rather, the result is a 'blurred copy' of the colonizer that can be quite threatening (Ashcroft et al. 2013: 155)

In Bhabha's article "Of Mimicry and Man" from 1994 he illustrates how mimicry can erase the clear cuts between the colonizers and the colonized by the imitation of the colonizers by the colonized which caused uncertainty and identity crisis.

3.3 Identity

How is one's own identity created? How to deal with different perceptions of the own identity? Hall claims that identity

goes on changing and part of what is changing is not the nucleus of the 'real you' inside, it is history that's changing. History changes your conception of yourself. Thus, another critical thing about identity is that it is partly the relationship between you and the Other. Only when there is an Other you can know who you are. To discover that fact is to discover and unlock the whole enormous history of nationalism and racism[.]And there is no identity that is without the dialogic relationship to the Other. The Other is not outside, but also inside the Self, the identity. So identity is a process, identity is split. Identity is not a fixed point but an ambivalent point. Identity is also the relationship of the Other to oneself (Hall 1996: 345)

Again, the binary system, as described above, is mentioned. According to that, there is not only 'one' identity. It takes more than only one factor to define it and is composed of two different perspectives. On the one hand, there is the perception of others, meaning how others perceive one's personality, and on the other hand there is the self-perception. It is important to always have in mind that other people's opinions always have an impact on someone's own social behaviour (cf. Seta et al. 2006: 361). Building and creating an identity is a permanent process that can never be fully accomplished. Both the self-perceived and the image other people perceive from oneself change and develop in the course of time. Hence, it is never constant and always shaped by subjective perceptions. "The question of the subject and subjectivity directly affects colonized people's perceptions of their identities and their capacities to resist the conditions of their domination, their 'subjection'" (Ashcroft et al. 2013: 247)


Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Issue of Hybridity in "The Buddha of Suburbia"
An Investigation of Karim Amir
University of Cologne  (Englisches Seminar I)
Stories of Migration
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Post-Colonial Studies, Hybridity, The Buddha of Suburbia, Migration, Identity, Third Space, Gender, Sexuality, In-betweenness, belonging, home, immigration, racism
Quote paper
Daniel Jung (Author), 2019, The Issue of Hybridity in "The Buddha of Suburbia", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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