The collapse of the American Dream. A comparison between Sindiwe Magona's "Mother to Mother" (1998) and Mohsin Hamid's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2007)

Term Paper, 2020

43 Pages


Table of Contents:

I. Introductory notes (Matthias Dickert)

II. Intercultural Learning – a short introduction (Matthias Dickert)

III. Fiction of memory - literary background and chosen examples (Matthias Dickert)

IV. The concept and destruction of the American Dream - Comparison of the novels The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Mother to Mother (Amira Büttner)

V. Outlook (Matthias Dickert)

Roland war:

- ein souveräner und intellektueller Fachbereichsleiter am Grimmelshausen Gymnasium Gelnhausen
- ein Shakespeare Liebhaber
- ein Mann, der zu seinem Wort stand
- ein Mensch, der sich um Schwächere kümmerte
- ein interkultureller Pädagoge
- ein überzeugter Katholik

Roland ist:

- ein Mensch, der fehlt

I. Introductory notes

This essay is - strictly speaking - a product of the Corona virus which so dramatically changed the world and which also showed us how vulnerable and fragile human life is, something which both novels discussed here also want to portray.

Since teaching was stopped by the above mentioned virus at the beginning of early spring 2020 schools had to quit teaching here in Germany as well as all over the world.

To keep the students of my Grundkurs working my aim was to connect both novels which we dealt with in class. In Ql the topic of our course had the title Ideals and Realities (America) and in Q2 it was The Encounter of Cultures (South Africa). Here both novels, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Mother to Mother made a perfect match since they are not only linked by the topic of the American Dream but also as far as structure and elements of style are concerned.

The aims of intercultural learning which were important for this project dispose of a high number of elements important for a functioning communication. Reading and writing turned out to be central and could be spotted in the following worksteps.

My students first had to work with different types of texts to get background information on the subject. One central element consisted in reading these various texts. Some of them had different backgrounds such as a historical or religious one. Writing became another important issue since the texts handed in disposed of formal and non-formal characteristics whose different forms had to be considered. Text production as such had to be changed according to literary or non-literary sources. Working with several media and types of texts was necessary for summing up complex fictional and non-fictional texts in order to understand and structure them. To analyse, interpret and work with this material according to the tasks given to the students was a logical result from this.

In connection to the above mentioned courses dealt with in class (Ideals and Realities and The Encounter of Cultures) the aspect of the American Dream was focussed upon catchphrases such as ‘Manifestation of Individualism’ and ‘The American Dream as a Manifestation of Individualism’ as well as the notion of the American way of life which both novels reflect as well.

Before the students started their work they were all given a handout. This contained the topics which had to be discussed and how to work with the internet and material used (quotes, methods of structuring texts etc.).

The aim was a doublefold one. My students had to work independently in form of an academic essay which was meant to be a first introduction into scientific work and they had to mainly do this with online material at hand.

My special thanks therefore first go to the students of my course who handed in excellent papers from which one was chosen my majority vote in class. I also do say 'Thank you' to the headmistress of our school, Frau Oberstudiendirektorin Ruf, who supported our project from the beginning knowing about the importance of narrowing the gap between school and university with projects like these.

II. Intercultural Learning – a short introduction

The background of both novels analysed here must not be taken as a means to give a precise description of the developments and genesis of the concept of intercultural learning.

It yet has to be pointed out right away that this term is used on a wide ranged scale and it must, therefore, be defined in an exact way whenever and wherever it is used. It is undoubted, however, that intercultural learning in times of globalization and migration has obtained a key position in human sciences and contemporary forms of teaching.

Language learning, in general, is not only restricted to communication with different people it is also connected to what can be called the other part of this other person. A key element of this other part is the knowledge of a foreign culture even if this can only be done in parts. Literary critics thus have to look at the development of language learning which in an ideal case moves from an objective to a more process-orientated learning. The (again ideal) result from this is a partially and temporarily taking-over of a protagonist's perspective. It is, therefore, exactly this (I would call it) playing with perspectives which helps to understand intercultural learning and its aims in general.

The presentation, juxtaposition and reflection of different points of views are thus of vital importance for any process in intercultural learning, esp. when they are linked with specific historical, social or political information.

The steps here taken enable readers to reflect and judge upon their position, to compare perspectives and to develop their own which includes another point of view as well.

Part of this perspective automatically becomes the personal cultural and historic background, in short, a person's total context, which is somewhat mixed with elements from other sides. The aim of this mix is an understanding, acceptance and tolerance of different cultural backgrounds, something which in German is known as 'Interkulturelle Kompetenz'.

Possible aims for modern language learning at schools are:

1. To part with the ethnocentric position, a term deeply rooted in colonial thinking
2. A solid basis for tolerance
3. An acceptance of ethnicity linked to the ability to change rigid patterns
4. A knowledge of generally known parameters, such as gender, class or religion, which cause differences between cultures

The abilities used by the students in this project were not only manifold but can also be seen as good preparation for the skills needed for the upcoming finals in 2021 the Abitur.

For the aspect of Sprachmittlung information needed could be summed up and used in adequate communicative strategies in order to convey relevant information for the reader. The tools used were manifold and ranged from the use of dictionaries, books or the internet. This included paraphrasing and other techniques while working with texts.

The ability to practise Schreiben was also exercised in various ways. Structuring texts or elements like focussing on key information became as important as parts of scientific work and aspects of organizing acadamic work as such.

lnterkulturelle Kompetenz, a key idea of the whole project, contained above all an increase of knowledge on historical, political, cultural, economic and religious background information on America and South Africa. The focus here did not only lie on the collection of specific knowledge as such. This - let me call it personal selection process based on the individual interest of each student - did not only enlarge the amount of knowledge as such but turned out to be a key motivating factor since each student could work according to his / her personal interest - a huge motivating element for learning processes in general.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Intercultural learning in literature has undergone a vast change in American and African writing. At first the common aim of the American side was seen in the presentation of an overall view of American culture as such yet since the late 1990s a more detailed and project orientated method set in which brought ethnic, religious and social minorities or subcultures like Afro American, Native American and Gay or Feminist Studies into the focus of attention.

The stressing of ‘difference’ became the opposite of a former notion of ‘commonality’. The result was some sort of multiple presentation which resulted in social and ideological views of a pluralistic kind. Critics like Bercovitch (1986) were trendsetters for the contemporary tendency of intercultural learning when he stated "…to be critical about American ideology is to see through it, to expose its historical functions, necessarily from an intrinsic, and often from a hostile perspective" (ibid.: 105). It is especially the literary context where social and cultural facts are presented in their complex and contradictionary background. Texts produce models of reality or they reflect them. They therefore create a complex relationship where the reader / learner is thrown into and where he / she can and must compare his / her own personal situation with the one presented to him / her. Here texts embody problems found in ethnic or subcultural minorities, ecological matters, gender problems or political issues and they are therefore ideal to work with.

Intercultural learning in this sense turns out to be a communicative process. The beginning is a subjective dealing with the text while reading it, then follows an intertextual and intermedial dialogue. This leads to a meta level where worldviews gained are connected and critically reflected.

It is obvious that the role of the teacher in this process is to be a mediator and not one of authority since a win - win situation of both sides is the aim.

African literature - like Australian or Canadian literature - has long played a neglected part of contemporary English speaking literature since the influence of American and British literature had been too massive. However, things have changed and African literature has long left its role as part of ‘Postcolonial Studies’ to become an independent part of contemporary English literature.

It is exactly here where novels, plays or poems written by African authors took Africa away from the (European coined position) of a periphery into the focus of attention where they fit intercultural learning processes. Stilz (1987) saw this when he stated:

"Without a doubt literature actually provides the liveliest, most imaginative and most complex connection between lan­guage and reality. (. .. ) No empirical me­thod has yet provided us with a more subtle, more impressive, truer picture of man than literary fiction. ( ... ) If we want to approach intercultural studies in our schools in terms of a well-understood humanism, then we would do well to search for a convey the image of foreign peo­ples in literature with the help of literary texts." (ibid: 103;104; 105)

However, African literature is still a widely used term, culturally, politically and as far as its literary output is concerned. It is a rich kind of literature which is marked by not being free from colonialism, dictatorships or - in the case of South Africa - apartheid. It is against this background where the critical reader can already spot a large number of topics embedded in Mother to Mother and which have opened many doors for intercultural learning processes already for decades ( see Davies / Senior 1983 ) The talk is about many processes of decolonialisation (economically, politically, culturally), identity making (including resistance identity) and a critical discussion of current postcolonial societies (development of towns, role of women, fight against poverty, environment pollution etc.).

The introduction into South Africa which the (Western) reader gains follows the classical intention of intercultural learning in literature which lies in gaining insight into a new or different society and a critical reflection of the one he / she belongs to.

As already mentioned an essay like this cannot totally reflect, discuss nor deliver a differentiated concept of the concept 'Intercultural learning'. One reason for this lies in the fact that any notion of intercultural learning is used in a multiple way in connection to foreign language learning. One key aim of contemporary language learning lies in learning to communicate with people from other nations. This is normally done in a mutual personal way which results in interaction. There is, however, also the element of non-personal encounters within any form of literature. Novels - like all other types of literature as well - reveal a foreign culture, its ideals or its attitudes to the reader. It is here where he / she learns how to understand why characters behave like this in a specific situation or what message the author wants to convey in reactions of a main or minor character. To give two examples from the novels involved the reader constantly is confronted with the question why a mob of black teenagers killed Amy Biehl a white American who was on their side. Or why did Changez, sitting in Manila watching the planes crash into the Twin Towers on 9/11, smile when he saw this?

One result from this is some form of crossroad of the foreign language and the personal perspective. Here learning processes often take place between learner /reader and author/character with the aim of an interaction, reflection processes and mutual understanding.

Both novels, Mother to Mother and The Reluctant Fundamentalist can therefore be seen as two examples how literature (here in the shape of two novels) support intercultural learning.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist deals with a young and successful Pakistani named Changez who comes to America shortly before 9/11 trying to realize his personal American Dream which finally collapses, personally in the death of his girlfriend Erica and economically while quitting his job and leaving (capitalistic) America.

Mother to Mother on the other hand is concerned with revealing the circumstances of the brutal murder of Amy Biehl in the South African suburb of Guguletu in 1997.

Both novels deliver a variety of perspectives of the idea of an American Dream and they show how people deal with and react to it.

Interesting is the fact that both novels describe this dream from a non-American perspective which brings in an objective level for the reader. Strictly speaking both books paraphrase the copying (Changez) and exporting (Amy) of the American Dream, culturally, morally, religiously and economically along their negative consequences.

Students (as learners of a foreign language) here get the chance to position themselves, to compare, to judge and to develop a personal perspective from this all. It is exactly here where another and central aim of intercultural learning becomes obvious. It lies in the option to discover background information which helps to understand, rate and critically judge a foreign with the personal, historic and cultural background of reader and learner.


Ansprenger, Franz. 1992. Politische Geschichte­ Afrikas im 20.Jahrhundert. München: Beck.

Bercovitch, Sacvan. 1986. America as Canon and Context: Literary History in a Time of dissensus . In: American Literature 18: 99 - 108.

Braun, Ida Youselfi, Hamid Reza. 2011. lnterkulturalität. Eine interdisziplinäre Einführung, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Burmeister, Petra. 2011. ˮKooperatives Lernen in Projekten“. In Take Off 1: 48

Davis, Geoffrey u. Senior, Mich (eds.), South Africa: The Privileged and the Dispossessed. Texts for English and American Studies, 12. Students' Book: Paderborn, 1983. Teachers' Book: Paderborn, 1985.

Derboven, Wibke / Kumbruck, Christel. 2009. Interkulturelles Training. Heidelberg: Springer.

Götz, Klaus. 2006. lnterkulturelles Lernen / Interkulturelles Training. Mering: Hamp.

Hallett, Wolfgang / Kramer U. (eds.). 2015. Literaturkompetenzen Englisch. Modellierung- Curriculum - Unterrichtsbeispiele. Seelze: Klett.

Lülsebrinck, Hans-Jürgen. 2008. Interaktion, Fremdwahrnehmung, Kulturtransfer. Stuttgart: Metzler.

Riemenschneider, Dieter."Lehr- und Lernziele der Neuen Englischsprachigen Literaturen". In: Platz, Norbert H. (Hrsg.), Mediating Cultures - Probleme des Kulturtransfers: Perspektiven für Forschung und Lehre. Essen: Die Blaue Eule, 1991, S. 204 (Yearbook of the Association for the Study of the New Literatu­res in English, Band 1).

Schulze-Engler, Frank. ˮImmodest Proposals: Zur Diskussion um die Integration der Neuen Eng­lischsprachigen Literaturen in die Anglistik“, in: Norbert H. Platz (Hrsg.), Mediating Cultures - Pro ­ bleme des Kulturtransfers: Perspektiven für For­schung und Lehre: 154 - 164.

Stilz, Gerhard. 1987. ˮCommonwealth Literature at School - or: Can Intercultural Competence Be Taught?ˮ In: Literature in English: New Territories. Anglistik und Englischunterricht, Bd. 33.

Thürmann, Eike. 2013. ˮScaffolding. Unterstützung für das selbstgesteuerte Lernen im Englischunterricht“. In: Der Fremdsprachliche Unterricht 126: 2-8.

Weber, Susanne. 2005. Intercultural Learning as Identity Negotiation. Berlin: Peter Lang.

III. Fiction of memory - literary background and chosen examples

The last decades have been marked by an ongoing interest in the topic memory.1 At the very center is the present memory of a character. Basically speaking, memory is used for the inner and outer characterization and for an understanding of the plot. Its roots can be found in modern psychology. From here, its definition as a reconstruction of the past based on the present knowledge and actual mood of a person becomes obvious. Memory, at the same time, is one important if not the central pillar of identity formation and it exercises an enormous influence on human existance. Schachter (1996) on its function: "[ ... ] even though memory can be highly exclusive in some situation and dead wrong in others, it still forms the foundation for our most strongly held beliefs about ourselves." (ibid.: 7)

In contemporary literature, identity and memory attracted many authors and they found manifold use there. The term 'fiction of memory' can, according to Neumann (2005), "als übergreifender Gattungsbegriff zur Bezeichnung von Romanen verwendet werden, die die konstitutive Interdependenz von Erinnerungen und Identitäten - sei es in der individuellen oder der kollektiven Dimension- inszenieren" (ibid.: 8).

Novels that stress fictions of memory in order to work on the social interest in memory include a vast variety of forms and functions and can be divided into two forms, the Erin­nerungsroman (novel of remembrance) and the Gedächtnisroman (novel of memory). The Erinnerungsroman focuses on the process of remembering, Gedächtnisromane deal with the product of remembering (ibid.: 208-210). A striking element of both types is the first person narrative which confronts the reader with a single point of view, thus lacking a certain objectivity. This, however, is helped by the importance of character analysis. The basic question, what has to be considered right or wrong, is attached to the question of identity because selecting the truth turns out to be one key element of identity formation.

Although fictions of memory take a key position in the present development of the novel, they have their starting point in biographies of the 19th century. Novels like Sterne's Tris­tram Shandy (1760) already include elements connected with fiction of memory that allow the author to jump in time and a stressing of memory (Seeber 1999: 189). It was Charles Dickens, however, who introduced the fictional biography in his novel The Personal History of David Copperfield (1849/1850). Seeber (1999) here concludes: "Die Suche des Ich nach Stabilität und Selbstvergewisserung in einer von Trennungsschocks geschüttelten Zeit erklärt darü­ber hinaus die auffällige Hinwendung zur Autobiographie." (ibid.: 256)

Dickens succeeded in a presentation of the personal I, which narrates and remembers at the same time. The result is a linking of past and present from the present as its basis. This connection is reached by the narrator, who judges the past from a stable present, a basis of many novels concentrating on memory.

The rigid separation between past and present is described in most modernist novels deal­ing with memory as a connection of both time levels. Memory is hereby understood as a permanent influence on the present by the past. Classical examples of this idea can be seen in Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway (1925) or Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 (1969).

At present, one can talk about another important development of the novel that focuses on the narrative use of the past while stressing the presentation of a personal life story as the center of narration. Nünning (1998) hereby talks about a "Rückkehr zum Erzählen" (ibid.: 160), which is accompanied by a narrative creation of meaning of the first person narrator himself. Further examples of this development are Pelelope Lively's The Road to Lichtenfeld (1977), The Remains of the Day (1989) by Kazuo Ishiguro and Michael Frayn's Spies: A Novel (2002).

Both novels analysed here follow this pattern, too, and concentrate on a soft psychological presen­tation of the most important phases in the life of their main character. They fully correspond to this new type of 'fiction of mem­ory,' because memory is the glue that holds the narration together. Both works thus be­long to the "quasi-autobiografische Ich-Romane" or "fiktionale Autobiografien" (Löschnigg. 2006: 3). With the help of the narrative structuring of memory Sindiwe Magona and Mohsin Hamid suc­ceed in partially breaking up time levels with the result that the reader is faced with a presentation of an identity on the levels then and today, which generally helps to get a pro­found character analysis and a critical reflection of the notion of the American Dream.


Löschnigg, Martin. 2006. Die englische fiktionale Autobiographie: Erzähltheoretische Grundlagen und historische Prägnanzformen von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier.

Neumann, Birgit. 2005. Erinnerung - ldentität - Narration: Gattungstypologie und Funktionen kanadischer Fic­tions of Memory. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter

Nora, Pierre. 1984-1992. Les Lieux de Memoire. Paris: Gallimard.

Nünning, Ansgar (ed). 1998. Unreliable Narration: Studien zur Theorie und Praxis unglaubwürdigen Erzählens in der englischsprachigen Literatur. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier.

Nünning, Ansgar. 2007. "Fiktionale Biographien und Metabiographien: Peter Ackroyd." In: Nümning, Vera (ed): Der zeitgenössische englische Roman. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag: 83-101.

Schachter, Daniel. 1996. Searching/or Memory. The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. New York: Basic.

Seeber, Hans Ulrich (ed). 1999 1993. Englische Literaturgeschichte. Stuttgart / Weimar: Metzler

Skibitzki, Aline. 2008. Religion as Sociological Phenomenon in "The Power of Identity" (2004) by Manuel Cas­tells. A Critical Evaluation. München: Grin.


1 This "lieux de memoire" (Nora 1984: 7) plays an important role in the contemporary writing of Canadian black and Muslim writers (Rupp 2010: 53; also see Away 1993 by Jane Urquhart And the Mountains Echoed 2013 by Khaled Hosseini).

Excerpt out of 43 pages


The collapse of the American Dream. A comparison between Sindiwe Magona's "Mother to Mother" (1998) and Mohsin Hamid's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2007)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
America, South Africa, American Dream, Intercultural Learning, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mother to Mother, Concept and Collapse of the American Dream
Quote paper
Dr. Matthias Dickert (Author)Amira Büttner (Author), 2020, The collapse of the American Dream. A comparison between Sindiwe Magona's "Mother to Mother" (1998) and Mohsin Hamid's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2007), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The collapse of the American Dream. A comparison between Sindiwe Magona's "Mother to Mother" (1998) and Mohsin Hamid's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2007)

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free