Complex Communities in Monica Ali’s “Brick Lane” Essay
Updated: Apr 6th, 2021
Communities are complex. This complexity may emanate from religion, culture, and even differences in their state of development. Seen from the outside, minority communities may appear homogenous. However, experienced from within, they are invariably complex. This assertion makes sense upon considering the complexities of communities portrayed in Monica Ali’s book titled Brick Lane.
In her book, Brick Lane, Monica Ali portrays two contrasting communities. The book narrates the story of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi woman who is married to Chanu Ahmed. While Chanu has lived in London for about two decades, Nazneen is exposed to a completely new culture upon her arrival to London. She struggles to survive in the city. For instance, while Nazneen only knows two English words, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ (Bentley 84), Chanu is well educated.
He keeps talking about his professional plans coupled with promotions. To this extent, minority communities may appear harmonized from outside. However, from within, they exhibit complexities such as educational imbalance. One would anticipate well-educated Chanu to choose between marrying an intellectual person. Nevertheless, this expectation cannot be justified. Chanu married Nazneen, not out of his choice, but through an arranged marriage (Bentley 85). Although Nazneen is not comfortable with the marriage, she considers it a fate. Therefore, she has to get used to living with Chanu.
The theme of literacy is an important complexity that characterizes the Bengali and English communities. In the development of this theme, the novel is authored in English. However, from the conversations of the characters, it is acted in another language (Bengali). This situation presents the novel as a work of translation, suggesting that the reflected communities have language barriers. Indeed, the author clearly emphasizes that the central character, Nazneen, uses English as a foreign language. For example, when Dr. Azard’s daughter demands something, Nazneen hears the words ‘money’ and ‘pub’ (Wishart 66).
This case shows how English becomes ‘odd’ when people from a different language adopt it. It also suggests that the English and Bengali communities are divided based on the complexity of language. Indeed, Shahana who speaks English while at home anger Chanu. Karim and Nazneen communicate while alternating Bengali and English. This situation is a demonstration of a community that has not or has refused to assimilate into the English culture. Hasina writes her letters in broken and grammatically poor English. For example, in one of her letters, she writes, “Good good place and house too good also…” (Bentley 85). This writing demonstrates that her community is semi-literate.
Monica Ali portrays the two main characters as having strong ties to their Bangladeshi roots. This strategy suggests the complexity of a minority group that is not free to make decisions that can influence the lives of its people. This complexity is also evident in Monica Ali’s characterizations. While English communities are not submissive, Bengalis are highly subservient to their husbands. For example, when Chanu requests something, Nazneen responds, “If you say so” (Ali 19).
Her main chores entail running house affairs. She is also lonely. She says that in all her 18 years, she could hardly remember moments when she was alone, not until she got married and/or settled in London (Ali 24).
Unlike the English community, from Nazneen’s perception about fate, the two communities are divided in terms of life predicaments. Bengalis do not believe that one can get out of a situation. Rather, fate dictates and justifies the need to live even with difficulties. For example, even though Nazneen’s feelings towards Chanu are unclear on whether she is used to him or she has begun loving him (Ali 40), she contends that fighting against fate weakens one’s blood (Ali 15).
Ali, Monica. Brick Lane, New York, NY: Scribner, 2004. Print.
Bentley, Nick. Monica Ali, Brick Lane in Bentley, Nick, Contemporary British fiction, Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. Print.
Wishart, Lawrence. “Not reading Brick Lane.” New Formations: A journal of Culture, Theory and Politics 73.2 (2011): 64-90. Print.
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