Identity, belonging and masculinity as presented in The White Teeth and My Beautiful Launderette in relation to the post colonialism Proposal
Updated: Jul 21st, 2020
In several parts of the world, immigrants have in most cases been perceived to be in competition with indigenous communities over one thing or the other. This has at times created a feeling of not being wanted among the communities within which they are living. However, the situation has conspicuously changed over time especially with the advent of globalization, civilization and adoption of accommodative systems of governance and in particular political democratization of societies.
Naturally, both the immigrants and the host communities have their own feelings and ideologies with regards to all these issues and in order to restore parity between these two groups, there have been attempts of tracing, retaining and even replanting ones roots. It catches one’s attention that across all cultures, there seems to be an urge to closely guard what they define as their cultures and practices, at times going to great lengths to trace their roots of origin.1
In Smith’s book The White Teeth, for example, the idea of being assimilated into a new community does not seem to go down very well with Samad and Clara and consequently, they find it difficult to smoothly get adopted into the British culture which leads to their sense of lack of roots or a background. No matter how much they try, they are unable to firmly replant and even cement their roots in a new territory.2
In this context, they seem to be in search of an identity they can proudly associate with meaning, in a way, trying to cultivate a sense of belonging. This foundation, thus, provides us with a basic scope of why this proposal is important in interrogating the themes presented in the works of Smith and Kureishi.
Arguments on the Themes
There is ultimate an agreement that Smith and Kureishi’s works present debatable subjects both individually and collectively in relation to the differences in cultures or even to the lengths of sexuality and masculinity. At the same time, there exists a set of theories and arguments in relation to these subjects as presented through the available literature like Bhabha’s, The Other Question, Stereotype, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism and even in Halla’s Cultural Identity and Diaspora.
These debates, perhaps, assist us to accelerate discussion in post colonialism, more than any other period before, as a result of the awakening of the masses and the need to anchor oneself to a given background. Investigating the presentations in these works, therefore, becomes important in trying to question why the spirit of belongingness and identity arises in human beings
Identity and Belonging
The White Teeth presents the immigrants as a group of people who have come all from their respective background with hopes and expectations.3 However, to some extent, they are presented as a people who are oblivious of the challenges that face them in their new found land.
More importantly, they do not seem to have contemplated the idea of their roots and this realization hits the first generation of immigrants when the pressure to assimilate to British while preserving their cultures confronts them. At this point, many of them are in a dilemma and it becomes difficult for them to find a place in their new surroundings.
All these issues can be related in several ways to many other occurrences of post colonialism. Repeatedly, the issue of physical differences arises in where the similarities and differences of individuals greatly seem to determine their association.4
Expectedly, this raises the issue of discrimination which more often informs debate in many circles, and as Bhabha notes in The Other Question, it can be attributed to the theories of stereotypical thinking where things are looked at from the eyes of the way they have always been known to be, and what has always been in place. In other words it is a presentation of change within the context of accommodating varying differences
There is an almost insatiable reference of the background of the immigrants at various points in the book. At one point there is mention of their background in one way or the other. A good example here is the point when Archibald is offered vouchers to somehow ensure that Clara doesn’t attend the next company event.
This move was purely based on Clara’s background whereby, her being black allegedly made people uncomfortable in the last company event. This reference to Clara’s background further underlines why the idea of racism was, perhaps, prevalent and could still have some traces although negligibly.
It is notable that Kureishi’s work, My Beautiful Launderette made significant impact in British and Asian cultures of the nighttimes and the eighties by portraying life in a black Britain.5 These works contributed in producing space for the articulation of both British matters as well as the Diaspora affairs.
In fact, these works provided a platform for the British artistic and literary class to focus on multiculturalism, transnationalism, devolution and the association of blacks and Asians with the presumed indigenous British society, in post colonial times. By making such a provocation, one initiates an important debate which focuses on the affairs that could have been easily sidelined.6
We must not depart from the fact that both the immigrants’ and the locals or hosts are bound as people of different races and backgrounds, by the procession of a set of white teeth regardless of their backgrounds as outlined in Smith’s work.
This may perhaps be a basis to explain why in the postcolonial governments and politics, issues of skin colour or by extension racial discrimination, have a cut a dominant position. The point here is that there is widely no great difference and there can be, as has been for a long time, mutual coexistence.
Heritage and Legacy
In trying to create ground for belonging, Smith uses the themes of heritage and legacy to try and connect the characters Samad and Magid. On one hand Magid is seemingly obsessed with the urge to have his sons to fulfill grandfather’s legacy of devotion to the people of Bengali. This serves as a clear demonstration of a need to have attributes that relate to ones roots that naturally arises.7
Hall looks at this ideology from the perspective that one cannot quite definitely speak of identity or belonging, without acknowledging its other side. In this context the other side could be the urge to relate to a certain culture or community.8
The idea of curving out or retaining an identity seems to be dominantly influenced by the cultures within which this new identity is being formed. The knowledge of their background informs what they do at present and how they go on with their lives currently.
This can be demonstrated by integrating Hall’s argument or theory that there are primarily two types of identity where one is that which offers a sense of unity and commonality-what he calls identity as being, and another that presents an identification process, what he refers to as identity as becoming –which he looks at as a process of identification, which tends to reveal discontinuity in our identity formation.9
These theories underline the one important aspect: that of wanting to belong or to be associated with a society that has a certain clearly defined way of doing particular things. In other words there is the sense of retreating to the background.
Masculinity and Sexuality
This discussion is significant and relevant to any debate on post colonial literature or any other form of media since it is after this period that most nations settled and looked back at the various formations of their human cluster. It is at this period still that there arose in depth interrogation into issues like sexuality.
My beautiful Laundrette depicts this at some point where sexuality is looked at as purely natural in the sense that women and men are deemed to have distinct characteristics which remain for long unchanged and are to some extent unchangeable throughout history and irrespective of cultures.10 However, there is another point of view and argument on this topic which points to the artificiality of sexual and gender identities.
At this point, there arises what is seen as ‘the constructed character of sexuality’ that is argued to have been tilted to negate the claim that sexuality has a natural and a distinctive shape and movement. In relation to this whole matter though there seems to be an underlying factor that hold the view that sexual and11 gender identities vary across cultures and there might therefore be no harm intended when one tries to trace the root on any of these subjects.
In trying to create or claim belonging to certain cultures, it will be found that the issue of masculinity pops its head and in this aspect is clearly captured in these two works as well as in the theories that look into the matters of human background or belonging.
The Theories and their Relationship to the Subject
Bhabha uses the theory of stereotype to argue that the colonial way of looking at the whole issue of change of cultures and the urge to belong and be associated with some culture is basically looked at from the eye of trying to maintain things as they have always been. This, he argues, happens as both the colonizer and the colonized take it to be the point of defense and the desire for originality.12
This desire though is faced with the differences in colour, race and culture and this forms what the bulk of this debate. These stereotypical foundations are supported by what he calls fetishism which basically works to cement the need or the ideas of the stereotype.
Hall looks at the integration of all these backgrounds and the search of identity and belonging to what he terms as ‘hybridinization’. His argument for this theory is that across a whole range of cultural forms, there exists a form of system where the dynamics that hold all these issues together is somehow able to associate important elements of the diversities from the master codes of the dominant culture and articulate them or disseminate them to bring about a certain meaning.13
This in essence may mean that these two diversified cultures although initially had significant connection might at the point where and when they mix, share some common identities and they may as well stop being looked at as individual entities. This kind of merging has seen the rise of concocted languages like the Jamaican English. This is a clear indication of this proposal as a way of looking into the relationship of some cultural practices in view of their background and their contribution to literature in post colonial times.
From the above documentations and arguments, it can be said that a lot of information has so far been brought to light with regards to masculinity, sexuality, heritage, legacy, identity and even belonging. However, there are still many issues that are yet to be utterly solved—especially regarding the unsolved differences that emerged from the colonial era and the post-colonial era as well—which necessitates the need for research. It is upon this need that the prospected study is proposed herein.
CHILD, P., Post-Colonial theory and English literature. (Edinburg: Edinburgh University Press, 1999).
HALL, S., “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in Mongia, Padmini (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A reader. (London: Arnold, 1996).
HOMI, B. K., The other question stereotype discrimination and the discourse of Colonialism in the location of culture. (New York: Routledge, 1983).
KUREISHI, H., My beautiful Laundrette. Milan: Baldini Castoldi Dalai, 1996)
SAID, E., Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).
SMITH, Z., White Teeth (London: Penguin Books, 2001).
1 Edward, Said., Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).
2 Zadie, Smith., White Teeth. (London: Penguin Books, 2001).
3 Zadie, Smith., White Teeth. (London: Penguin Books, 2001).
4 Stuart Hall., “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in Mongia, Padmini (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A reader. (London: Arnold, 1996).
5 Hanif, Kureishi., My beautiful Laundrette. Milan: Baldini Castoldi Dalai, 1996).
6 Edward, Said., Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).
7 Zadie, Smith., White Teeth. (London: Penguin Books, 2001).
8 Stuart Hall., “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in Mongia, Padmini (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A reader. (London: Arnold, 1996).
9 Stuart Hall., “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in Mongia, Padmini (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A reader. (London: Arnold, 1996).
10 Hanif, Kureishi., My beautiful Laundrette. Milan: Baldini Castoldi Dalai, 1996).
11 Peter Child., Post-Colonial theory and English literature. (Edinburg: Edinburgh University Press, 1999).
12 Bhaba, Homi K., The other question of stereotype, discrimination and the discourse of
Colonialism in the location of culture. (New York: Routledge, 1983).
13 Stuart Hall., “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in Mongia, Padmini (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A reader. (London: Arnold, 1996).
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