Where is home? Where are roots? The politics of multiculturalism in Anita and Me and White Teeth/Yuva neresi? Kokler nerede? Anita ve Ben ile inci Gibi Disler adli romanlarda cokkulturluluk politikalari.
Meera Syal's semi-autobiographical first novel Anita and Me revolves around a girl of Punjabi descent who has grown up in Tollington, a fictional village in the Midlands, after her parents' migration to the United Kingdom in the Seventies. The book represents and problematizes the issues of belonging and displacement by taking the notion of home as its focal point. The main character and narrator is Meena Kumar who is nine years old when the novel opens. This is an apt choice made by Syal in the sense that the process of her growth can be conveniently paralleled not only with the change in her perception of herself and the others, but also with the changing dynamics of the society during the time the novel is set. As Meena grows older, she learns more about her own family and starts to pay attention to the seemingly innocent details concerning the approaches of the people in her community towards herself and her family. Consequently, she loses the firm ground beneath her feet only to gain better places to stand and move on. It is necessary to trace the trajectory of this shift in order to view Syal's portrayal of the English identity which is based on the idea that it is no longer possible to talk about a fixed home where one can return, since the repercussions of the colonial past and new disguises of colonialism oblige the individuals to move in when there is demand and move out when the system is threatened. Yet, Syal also demonstrates that it is equally possible to subvert this mechanism and come to terms with the absence of fixity by converting it into a presence through a different, more inclusive mindset. At this point, what is more valuable and consoling can be regarded as the process of home-making compared to the fruitless and often hurtful search for a fixed locale.
Since home composes the most significant axis of both Syal's and Smith's novels, the connotations of the word and the relevance of them to the specific context of migration should be investigated first. It is too vast a concept to be pinpointed by a single definition and its nominal value varies according to the sociopolitical conjuncture of race, class and gender as in the case of the phrase "home-country". Still, it can be claimed that the immediate connotations would be shelter, security and a sense of belonging. However, as pointed out by critics such as Rosemary George and Avtar Brah, even this basic definition is complicated. The first complication, as stated above, is the idea that home is almost always fixed and stable; in other words, a rooted place to which a migrant may return. Brah is critical of this stance and distinguishes between "a homing desire" and "the desire for a homeland" on the grounds that "not all diasporas sustain an ideology of 'return'" (16). The ideology of return necessitates the existence of origins. Yet, when the utopian and the mythic associations of home are taken into consideration, the concept can easily be reformulated not as an actual place, but as a site of desire. "In this sense it is a place of no return, even if it is possible to visit the geographical territory that is seen as the place of 'origin'" (Brah 192). In a similar line of thinking, George suggests that home can also be delineated as "the imagined location that can be more readily fixed in a mental landscape than in actual geography" (11). As for the second complication concerning the conceptual scope of home, the strong sense of difference established by the inclusion/exclusion paradigm manifests itself since the term inherently implies a division between the ones who belong and the others who do not. Home demarcates the two parties and thus "the basic organizing principle around which the notion of 'home' is built is a pattern of select inclusions and exclusions" (George 2). This pattern is utilized and consolidated by discriminatory politics and the sense of belonging through which a coherent image of the self is constructed can easily be dismantled due to the tension between home and "the unhomely" in Homi Bhabha's terms (1997, 445). It is at this point that resistance to stereotypes, categorizations and limitations is developed by re-conceptualizing the former positions, re-evaluating one's own stance and most significantly by "inscribing a homing desire while simultaneously critiquing discourses of fixed origins" (Brah 193).
Going back to Anita and Me, the novel opens with the migration of Meena's family from India to Britain, as Meena narrates how they live together with an immigrant Polish family in a shabby boarding house room during early years of struggle and disillusion. In this way, she points the reader toward the rest of the novel. This would probably be a novel about the typical hardships of immigration represented via typical characters. However, a few lines later, she says:
Of course, this is the alternative history I trot out in job interview situations or, once or twice, to impress middle-class white boys who come sniffing round, excited by the thought of wearing a colonial maiden as a trinket on their arm [...] I'm not really a liar, I just learned very early on that those of us deprived of history sometimes need to turn to mythology to feel complete, to belong. (9-10)
The lines above are significant in the sense that they not only subvert the stereotypical representation of the "other", the "non-Westerner" by indicating that each experience is subjective and unique, but also point out the mythic connotations of home. Meena's birthplace is not India and at first, she is ignorant about the background of her parents. She has never been there, either, and there are moments in the story when she fabricates stories to fill in this gap. However, as a little girl, she does not seem to have any problems with belonging. She is growing up in Tollington, Wolverhampton, and it is her home with her family and friends the dearest one being purely white Anita. She is even bothered by the Indian look of their gardens when she compares it to the English gardens of their neighbors. The meetings that are held in their Indian gardens with the participation of others who are not originally English do not mean much to Meena as she internalizes her English identity and asks for fishfingers instead of "sabzi" for dinner (54). At the beginning, she seems to totally embrace her Englishness in a similar manner to Irie in Smith's White Teeth. As for Meena's parents, there is naturally a different level of existence and perception of identity. On the one hand, they also seem to be integrated into the English way of life having good jobs and being respected by people around them. Her mother Daljit constantly endeavors to harmonize the characteristics of her Indian identity with the requirements of an English one: "It was her duty to show them that we could wear discreet gold jewelry, dress in tasteful silks and speak English without an accent" (26). It is understandable that she acts in accordance with the society she belongs while simultaneously trying to preserve her difference in a positive manner without being exclusive. After all, "home is also the lived experience of a locality" (Brah 192). However, her consideration of this harmonization process as a duty appears to be problematic. It looks as if she feels the necessity to prove something to white people. At one instance in which Meena does something wrong towards their white neighbors, Daljit says "don't give a chance to say we're worse than they already think we are. You prove you are better. Always" (45). This statement is significant for it points out the existence of stereotypes, which consolidates the discourse that expels the others due to their difference and relegates them to the inferior position of an outsider. In such a challenging environment, the ones that are made to feel ostracized hold on to the relics of their initial culture. "Homing, then, depends on the reclaiming and reprocessing of habits, objects, names, and histories that have been uprooted-in migration, displacement or colonization. Inherent to the project of home building here and now, is the gathering of 'intimations' of home" (Ahmed et al. 9). At this point, as Meena also observes, "intimations of home" such as food, songs and language gain a special significance. Thus, "[Indian] 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" (61). Similarly, when Meena hears songs in Punjabi from her parents and relatives, the language is "evocative of a country I had never visited but which sounded like the only home I had ever known. The songs made me realize that there was a corner of me that would be forever not England" (112). The Kumar family, their Indian relatives and acquaintances who speak the most intimate details or sing the saddest stories in Punjabi manifest that they are engaged in home building processes here and now, as home does not and cannot refer to a fixed place to return for them. While they are continuously changing in their local homes, the imagined past home which is supposed to promise a happy return also changes far away from them. Instead, their lives are characterized by a constant move since they want to receive better education and find better jobs. This is what makes Daljit say "It's home, it really is, but we can't stay here forever, Meena" (295) at the end of the novel. For this reason, bulky suitcases sit on top of her bedroom wardrobes similarly to the wardrobes of Uncles and Aunties. When Meena hears her father and the Uncles getting very angry about "that Powell bastard" and their conversation saying "If he wants to send us back, let him come and damn well try!", she runs to her mother to ask whether the suitcases are ready in case they have to escape back to India at short notice (267). Daljit feels sorry to hear such a question from her daughter since she has already understood that there is no turning back to the same India they have left and there is no English home they can take for granted, either.
Meena needs time in order to acknowledge this point and see the picture from a wider perspective. Her growth and the change in her standpoint are unraveled in line with Syal's representation of racism in British society. In fact, it is only a matter of increase in dose on the grounds that manifestations of implicit racism have always been there. Through the end of the novel, they turn into overt verbal and physical attacks on non-white people with Asian descent. From the very beginning, except for the embracing neighbors Mrs. And Mr. Worrall, people in the neighborhood adopt either a condescending or an indifferent approach towards others who are not originally English. They do not even make an effort to learn their names. Meena narrates one instance: "'How you doing, Topsy?' Mr. Topsy had christened me thus as he claimed he could not pronounce my name, and I returned the favour by refusing to ever learn his" (16). The colonial mentality that disregards the subjectivity of the other or strives to convert it into its own terms is represented by Mr. Ormerod who is involved in missionary activities for the Wesleyan Methodist church. After he invites Meena's father to a speech and asks for donation, Meena thinks: "You could see it in his face, he'd make the connection, Africa was abroad, we were from abroad, how could we refuse to come along and embrace Jesus for the sake of our cousins?" (21) The colonial mentality reveals itself in the tendency to generalize and categorize all the others in the same way without paying attention to their distinct histories. Furthermore, the familiar cliche of the colonial discourse is also present in Mr. Ormerod's approach: "I mean Mrs. Lacey", he explains one of the neighbors, "it's not just about giving them stuff, is it? It's about giving them culture as well, civilization. A good way of living, like what we have" (172). When Meena's father relates Mr. Olmerod's words to his wife, she feels a similar disturbance to the one she has upon hearing that Anita's mother calls her dog "Nigger"--simply due to the color as she explains-. She is extremely disturbed by the undertones of racism and oppression in the dialogue. Her husband is less concerned than she is on the grounds that he thinks they are accepted and embraced by the society and nobody has harmed them. At this point, he shares a common ground with Meena. Nevertheless, as Daljit states: "Just because it doesn't happen to us, does not mean it is not happening! They leave us alone because they don't think we are really Indian. 'Oh, you are so English, Mrs. K!" Like it is a buggering compliment!" (172). Their being "so" English insinuates that although they are almost English, they cannot be English per se; if that label still refers to an origin. This is highly reminiscent of Homi Bhabha's notion of colonial mimicry which he formulates as "the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite. Which is to say, that the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference" (1984, 126). While this difference is underlined by a seemingly opposite "you're just like us!" emphasis at times, it can also appear as the stereotypical configurations or exotic representations of the other. As Meena strikingly observes, "according to the newspapers and television, we simply did not exist. If a brown or black face ever did appear on TV, it stopped us all in our tracks. [...] But these occasional minor celebrities never struck me as real; they were someone else's version of Indian, far too exaggerated and exotic to be believable" (165).
At this point, it is necessary to take a closer look at Meena's friendship with Anita due to the meaning she attributes to her. "I wanted to belong", Meena says, "My life was outside the home, with Anita, my passport to acceptance" (148). She wants to break through the paradigm of home which is, as stated before, based on inclusions and exclusions. However, hers is not a conscious and constructive gesture yet, since she simply strives to be stripped of her Indian heritage so as to define herself as English. This can be construed not as a transgressive act which aims to go beyond predetermined categories and discriminating labels but as an operation of the very same mechanism that excludes one mode of existence for the sake of other. She refuses to wear saris and does not want to spend time with the daughters of the Indian Uncles and Aunts. She steals her mother's powder compact and "begged Anita to make me up like Babs, the blonde pouty one, from Pan's People" (144). At the beginning, there seems to be no indication of race in their friendship as what brings them together is the silly mischief of childhood. Yet, Meena is almost the same, but not quite; the inevitable excess and difference Bhabha mentions manifests itself bitterly in one occasion which can be regarded as the turning point or the epiphanic moment in the story. At that point, she perceives the significance of that occasion and its sense of the uncanny:
Mama seemed to imply that there was some link between Mr. Ormerod's earnest ramblings and the activities of those unnamed boys, that was merely the consequence of the other. I could not understand this then, I simply divided the world into strangers and friends and reckoned if I stayed amongst those I knew, I would be safe. But since joining Anita's gang, I had become more suspicious of how the familiar could turn into the unknown, and what happened at the Fete revealed how many strangers live amongst us. (173)
During the Fete, Sam who is an acquaintance of Meena and the head of the bullies severely criticizes the former activities of the charity organized by Mr. Olmerod and bursts out: "Yow don't do anything but talk 'Uncle'. And give everything away to some darkies we've never met. We don't give a toss for anybody else. This is our patch. Not some wogs' handout" (193). This is the most direct and explicit remark that divulges the extreme point that racism has reached in the neighborhood. As for Meena, Sam's words have started a new phase in her life by shaking the firm ground beneath her feet. Sam clearly draws the line between the ones at home and the "wogs" that should be expelled from home. Meena can now see that she is no longer at home being thrust to the realm of the "unhomely" in Bhabha's words. It is even more shocking for her that it is done by Sam with whom she has decent communication.
In his lecture entitled "The World and the Home", Bhabha postulates "the paradigmatic postcolonial experience" which he encapsulates in the notion of the "unhomely" (1997, 445). He starts by stating that today's fiction is marked by the unhomely and elaborates on the notion:
To be unhomed is not to be homeless, nor can the unhomely be easily accommodated in that familiar division of the social life into private and public spheres. The unhomely moment creeps up on you as stealthily as your own shadow, and suddenly you find yourself, with Henry James's Isabel Archer, taking the measure of your dwelling in a state of 'incredulous terror'. And it is at this point that the world first shrinks for Isabel and then expands enormously. (445)
It is possible to claim that Meena finds herself in a situation similar to that of Isabel Archer, albeit in a different subject position. She says "Nothing was safe anymore; even my own mama had talked in an unknown poet's voice which made me think that at any moment, the walls of my home could buckle and shake, and crumble slowly downwards into the earth" (196). However, it should also be noted that the epiphanic moment which reveals the fragility of Meena's home paves the way for the expansion of home "enormously" as Bhabha suggests. Both the literal and the metaphorical expansion of home take place when Meena's grandmother Nanima comes for a visit. Meena defines the experience as a collision of her two worlds. In this phase of her life, Nanima opens for her a new world about which she has only a faint idea but whose depths she has heretofore refused to explore. After a while, she starts to feel that she has discovered a secret about herself as she learns the painful details about the histories of her grandmother and mother which were damaged first by the colonial rule, then by the Partition. For the first time she desperately wants to visit India and "claim some of its magic" as hers. "It was all falling into place now", she states, "why I felt this continual desire to be someone else in some other place far from Tollington" (211). This statement appears to embody a position which is at odds with her initial standpoint on the grounds that it signifies taking refuge in a distant homeland as opposed to embracing English culture. Under the influence of this mythical and magical image of home, she wants to ask her parents "why, after so many years of hating the 'goras' [white people], had they packed up their cases and followed them back here" (212). Meena's resentment against the racial discourse represented by some like Mr. Ormerod and Sam blurs her vision and prevents her from evaluating the situation realistically.
Roger Bromley defines Anita and Me as "an initiation narrative, a rite of passage and transition from the rural idyll of an eternal summer perspective to the dark and conflicted experience of a racialised and sexualised world" (144). This is a pertinent definition in the sense that Meena is deeply affected by what has happened at the Fete and all the images that take part in her formation of a unified home and identity have been turned upside down by the words of Sam. Her immediate reaction to this initiation is represented as her desire to go back home with Nanima. Furthermore, the relations between the white English and the others are exacerbated by the cases of physical attacks against the non-white. Even Anita whose connection with Meena appears not to be marked with racial bias sees no problem in telling her that they have gone "Paki bashing" with Sam. In this atmosphere, especially after seeing that her so-called best friend internalizes the very same racism from which she might personally suffer, Meena arrives at a point that leads her to choose a different path from Anita's rather than insisting on walking with her. As for her final confrontation with Sam, she adopts a similar detached attitude. When Sam tells her that the words he has uttered at the Fete are not directed towards her per se, she replies him with a crystal clear consciousness: "I am the others, Sam. You did mean me" (314). Along with the Fete episode, this composes the most emblematic moment which depicts the break in Meena's totality of home. She is now "unhomely", "not being home" which is "a matter of realizing that home was an illusion of coherence and safety based on the exclusion of specific histories of oppression and resistance, the repression of differences even within oneself" (Martin and Mohanty 296).
What is to be done next under the pressure of such an uncanny feeling? Meena wants to go to India as her safe haven. Yet, Meera Syal prevents her character from going to India by including a delay caused by her prolonged hospitalization in the story. Thus, Meena reaches her final point, a denunciation of home in its all too-problematic manifestations and burdensome definitions, and an endeavor to go beyond them. Meena who is "too mouthy, clumsy and scabby to be a real Indian girl, too Indian to be a real Tollington wench" defies all stereotypes and categorizations since "living in the grey area between all categories felt increasingly like home" (150). At the beginning, she might not be aware of the advantages of her ambivalent position; however, throughout the end she realizes that losing the former-fixed ground of home makes her gain new planes and move forward unlike Anita and Sam who are stuck and always doomed to be stuck in their restricted and tainted modes of existence: "The place in which I belonged was wherever I stood and there was nothing stopping me simply moving forward and claiming each resting place as home" (303). She transforms her difference, which had been ingrained in her as an indicator of inferiority and otherness, into a positive asset and strives to create an identity which can be "the living proof that the exotic and the different can add to and enrich even the sleepiest backwater" (319).
According to Stuart Hall, we are all "ethnically located and our ethnic identities are crucial to our subjective sense of who we are. But this is also a recognition that this is not an ethnicity which is doomed to survive, as Englishness was, only by marginalizing, dispossessing, displacing and forgetting other ethnicities. This precisely is the politics of ethnicity predicated on difference and diversity" (Hall 1996, 163). With Anita and Me, Meera Syal aims to champion a similar understanding of ethnicity by formulating a more productive discourse in which home should be considered not as a final destination but as a process. Zadie Smith adopts a similar perspective in White Teeth by portraying characters that are trapped in the maze of both their origins and their newly constructed English identities. Having a Jamaican mother and an English father, she herself is the embodiment of the interaction between two different cultures and her work presents various aspects and the consequences of cultural exchange. The England she depicts, like that of Syal, is again a site of interactions among simultaneous histories and simultaneous yearning for roots and rootlessness. This yearning is what will be scrutinized in the remaining part of the paper. The emphasis on the development of the character of Irie Jones in White Teeth will parallel the focus on Meena's change in perspective in Anita and Me. It is possible to trace the similarities between these characters and see how they come to terms with the problematic aspects of their identities by embracing diversity, fluidity and movement.
Zadie Smith opens her novel with the famous words of Shakespeare: "What is past is prologue" (1). If past is only a prologue, the real story must begin in the present and White Teeth focuses on the present while at the same time containing accounts of the past of the characters. The story which extends from the Seventies to the Nineties is based on the friendship of Archibald Jones and Samad Iqbal who have been together since World War II. Their friendship is presented as a paradigm of cultural variety and multi-ethnicity in England. Archie, of English stock, is married to a half-Jamaican, half-English Clara Bowden. Samad and his wife are both Bengali Muslim, but she emphasizes her descent from another tribe, the Begums. Samad and Archie spend most of their time in a pub called O'Connell's Poolroom. This pub is an apt symbol of plurality and hybridity: an Irish poolroom with no pool tables run by Arabs. The reproductions of "George Stubbs's racehorse paintings" and "the framed fragments of some foreign, Eastern script" are situated on the walls next to each other (153). Likewise, an Irish flag and a map of the Arab Emirates are knotted together and hung from wall to wall. In such an environment, Archie, who is not confused by multiculturalism at all resembles those paintings and fragments of the Eastern scripts. Roots, race and color do not make any difference to him. The one who is really uncomfortable with the way he lives is Samad Iqbal. He works as a waiter in his cousin's restaurant and he cannot cope with the fact that he is a waiter despite having a major in biology. He does not have the chance to work in a laboratory, he thinks, due to his dysfunctional hand which was shot by a Sikh in wartime and he eventually turns towards his roots, tradition and religion for shelter. However, these notions which are his only connection with his past do not have the same connotations for the other characters in the novel, especially the later generation that includes the children of the Jones and the Iqbal family.
Throughout the novel, Samad Iqbal considers Western society to be totally corrupt. Refusing to reconcile his own identity with English culture, he has made up his mind to protect his twins, Magid and Millat from this corruption and decides to send them back home to Bangladesh for a decent education. However, owing to financial problems, he can afford to send only one of them; Magid who has always been the apple of his father's eye with his intelligence and manners. Nevertheless, that is not what Magid has in mind for his own future. He makes a great effort to adopt the Western ways even to the extent of changing his name among English friends before he returns to Bangladesh. Magid Mahfooz Murshed Mubtasim Iqbal becomes Mark Smith and "abba" turns into "mum" when his friends are around. He embraces Western education, but Samad sends him back despite all his objections. At this point, his mother Alsana's attitude is important for she represents the ambivalent nature of the East-West interaction. On the one hand, she wants her children to stay within the boundaries of their Bengali culture; disapproving of rebellious Millat's affairs with white girls. On the other hand, she does not consent to send Magid back to Bangladesh because she does not want to think about what might happen to him each and every day. While people in England "live on solid ground" and "underneath safe skies; people of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, formerly Bengal, live under the invisible finger of random disaster, of flood and cyclone, hurricane and mudslide" (176). In this respect, she is more sensible than Samad worrying about the present and the future whereas he is stuck in his past on the grounds that "tradition was culture, and culture led to roots, and these were good, these were untainted principles" (161) according to him. Alsana asks her husband pertinently when he is giving one of his pep talks about the importance of tradition: "What is a Bengali, husband, please?" and then moves on to another myth like the pure Bengal identity "[...] you go back and back and it's still easier to find the correct Hoover bag than to find one pure person, one pure faith, on the globe. Do you think anybody is English? Really English? It's a fairy tale!" (196). What Alberto Melucci says in his article on identity and difference is parallel to Alsana's opinions: He states that "[i]n the age of speed, we no longer have a home. We constantly have to build one, like the three little pigs in the fairy tale, or we have to carry it in our backs like snails" (62). His comments also resonate with those of George and Brah: if there is no such place called home, the only alternative seems to be to acknowledge the necessity of adaptation to and reconciliation with several destinations we arrive at in life. The other twin son of the Iqbal family, Millat attempts to do that but in a way which is entirely unacceptable for both his mother and his father. He stays in England unlike his brother Magid and is regarded as a "good for nothing" child by his father. He spends most of his time loitering around with "white" girls and smoking marijuana. He does not seem to have any objective in life, and that is why Samad is utterly worried about him. Being the leader of teenage gangs for years, he later finds himself in the fundamentalist organization called Keepers of Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (KEVIN). He considers himself as a "social chameleon" and "underneath it all, there remained an ever-present anger and hurt, the feeling of belonging nowhere that comes to people who belong everywhere" (225). He tries to cope with how he feels by voicing this anger and taking refuge in KEVIN. Thus, it is possible to claim that Millat fails to subvert the mechanism he feels entrapped in and to convert it into something positive. He turns towards fundamentalism like Sam Lowbridge in Anita and Me albeit his different subject position.
The most successful character of the novel in this respect seems to be Irie Jones. The childhood friends of Magid and Millat--and in love with the latter--Irie Jones is the daughter of Archie and Clara Jones. In her way of interpreting Western culture, what she initially understands from being a Westerner is simply looking like them, a mistake made by Meena as well. She is obsessed with straightening her hair because she is bothered by its Afro style and she thinks that it is the reason why Millat chooses white girls over her. She desperately wants "straight hair. Straight straight long black sleek flickable tossable shakable touchable finger-through-able windblowable hair. With bangs" (228). She wants to learn how it feels to be English and starts with changing her hair. The perfect opportunity to penetrate into this fascinating realm of Englishness comes with the time she spends with the Chalfen family after Irie, Millat and Joshua, the son of the Chalfens, are caught red-handed smoking marijuana at school. As a punishment, Joshua is required to help Irie and Millat with the courses they are weak in for two months in his house. Thus, Irie and Millat are introduced to "Chalfenism"; a term that the Chalfens coin to explain their family tradition which is based on science, rationality and "good genes". Joyce Chalfen, the mother of the family, is a horticulturalist who publishes articles about the importance of cross-pollination. It is obvious that Smith uses the idea of cross-pollination as a symbol to represent cultural variety. In an article Joyce has written for The New Flower Power she says: "The fact is, cross-pollination produces more varied offspring, which are better able to cope with a changed environment. It is said crosspollinating plants also tend to produce more and better-quality seeds" (258). At the beginning, Irie is too overwhelmed to see the artificiality that resides in the family. For the first time, she sees people who live in the present, just like the way she wants to live. "So there existed fathers who dealt in the present, who didn't drag ancient history around like a ball and chain. So there were men who were not neck-deep and sinking in the quagmire of the past" (271). She wants to merge with them. She wants their "Englishness. Their Chalfenishness. The purity of it" (273). However, ironic enough, The Chalfens are not purely English, being third generation immigrants, by way of Germany and Poland.
Still, Irie seems to be aware of the fact that there is no escape from roots as there is no going back to roots, either. The best thing one can do is to imagine, to construct a past and a homeland for one's self. Samad deals with this by holding on to traditions and old stories of heroism and Irie, by collecting bits and pieces from her grandmother's house such as birth certificates, army reports and news articles. She has never been to Jamaica; she just "laid claim to the past- her version of the past" (331). At this point, she is very similar to Meena in her search for a homeland via her grandmother. Both Syal and Smith utilize the image of the grandmother as a point of connection with the past. However, as noted before, "the homeland is not waiting there for the new ethnicities to rediscover it" (Hall 1997, 186). It does not remain the same, fixed in the past, as envisioned by the immigrants. The whole process is a tiresome and a fruitless one for Irie. She knows that she needs to find another way to get out of this maze and her solution is to focus on the present. If she regards the past only as a prologue, she can start writing her story in the present. Samad Iqbal fails to cope with the English way of life and modern times only because he fails to adopt such a viewpoint. Refusing any compromise, he disregards the fact that there can be "no simple 'return' to or 'recovery' of the ancestral past which is not re-experienced through the categories of the present" (Hall 1996, 163). Irie is the only character who endeavors to steer a middle course by protecting herself from both the pressure of ambivalence and the obsession for roots which can easily lead one to fundamentalism. Rather, she attempts to forge herself a new identity that is based on the productive aspects of rootlessness in a similar manner to Meena. She stops trying to look like a Westerner. It doesn't make any sense since she realizes that, as Bhabha says, "mimicry repeats rather than represents" (1984, 128). Thus, the colors of the Chalfen world start to fade away for Irie. Her biggest motivation to be there has been her love for Millat but now he is Joyce's object of desire. Furthermore, her impression that the family lives in the present rather than dragging their past memories has proven wrong. She could not realize this at first, but later it becomes apparent that they have also constructed their roots in Chalfenism ... Joyce is an ardent supporter of cross-pollination, but at the same time she asks Irie and Millat where they originally come from. As she explains why she is so attracted to Millat, she reveals her stereotyping way of thinking. "But you know", she says to Marcus, "just from the little I've seen, he doesn't seem at all like most Muslim children [...] They are usually so silent you know, terribly meek, but he's so full of ... spunk" (266). Her so-called liberalism is only a disguise of her ignorance and narrow-mindedness. In this respect, she is not much different from the explicitly narrow-minded and violent characters in Anita and Me.
Throughout the novel, we witness the characters' idiosyncratic ways of dealing with their lives and problems. Archibald Jones chooses to be race and color-blind whereas his wife Clara remains silent. Samad Iqbal hopes to find his origins in Mangal Pande, and Alsana tries to act with the utmost practicality. Magid believes in science and the existence of truth just like the Chalfens while Millat and Joshua simply try to be under the protection of their groups despite their questionable motives. Of all the characters, Irie follows the most interesting way to put an end to the past-present conflict which she feels imprisoned in. Towards the end of the story, she makes love to both of the twin brothers twenty minutes apart and gets pregnant. First she goes to Millat and finally finds the opportunity to satisfy her sexual frustration with him. Then, almost without making any explanation, she leaves to find Magid. Smith creates the scene to solidify her character's state of mind. Irie does not want to learn who the father of her child is, and she does not care to know. "[Her] child can never be mapped exactly nor spoken with any certainty. Some secrets are permanent. In a vision, Irie has seen a time, a time not far from now, when roots won't matter anymore because they can't because they mustn't because they're too long and they're too tortuous and they're just buried too damn deep. She looks forward to it" (437). Having a child whose father is unknown would realize her dreams of living in the present without any fuss over an ambiguous past. According to her, the past does nothing but make people's lives more complicated. With this symbolic gesture, Smith carries her to the same state of mind with Meena in the sense that Irie also arrives at a point where she simply wants to enjoy "living in the grey area between all categories" (Syal 150) and this grey area becomes her new home.
The politics of ethnicity based on difference and diversity as suggested by Stuart Hall is advocated by both Syal and Smith as opposed to attitudes and representations which have an inclination towards marginalizing, dispossessing and displacing. Their imaginary landscapes denounce a rigid conception of English identity and make boundaries more permeable in order to include the simultaneous histories of migrant families. Although the authors focus on different aspects and time periods, there is a thematic continuum between the two novels in the sense that they aim to redraw the fictional map of Britain by blurring the line between one entity and the other and to transform it into a more embracing place. While Syal leaves aside the detrimental approaches that revolve around inclusions and exclusions in favor of the active process of homemaking, Smith questions the validity of roots in a multicultural world. Their novels contribute to the formulation of a more inclusive discourse that challenges stereotypes and unilateral representations of identity. This discourse goes beyond both the total denunciation of the host culture and the mere imitation of it by bringing to the foreground fluidity and movement.
Ahmed, Sara et al. Uprootings/Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration. UK: Berg, 2003.
Bhabha, Homi. "Of Mimicry and Men: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse". October, Discipleship: A Special Issue on Psychoanalysis. Spring 28 (1984): 125-33.
--."The World and the Home". Dangerous Liaisons. Anne McClintock, et al. eds. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997. 445-56.
Brah, Avtar. Cartographies of Diaspora. USA: Routledge, 1996.
Bromley, Roger: Narratives for a New Belonging. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2000.
George, Rosemary Marangoly. The Politics of Home. California: U of California P, 1999.
Hall, Stuart. "The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity". in Dangerous Liaisons. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti and Ella Shohat. eds. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997. 173-88.
--."The New Ethnicities". Ethnicity. John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith. eds.
New York: Oxford UP, 1996. 161-64. Martin, Biddy and Talpade Mohanty. "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got To Do With It?" Feminism: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Robyn R. Warhol et al. USA: Rutgers University Press, 1991. 293-310.
Melucci, Alberto. "Identity and Difference in a Globalized World" Debating Cultural Hybridity. Pinna Werbner and Tariq Modood. eds. New Jersey: Zed Books, 1997. 58-69.
Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. New York: Vintage Books, 2001 Syal,
Meena. Anita and Me. London: Flamingo, 1996.
(1) The Tempest, Act II, scene i
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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