“The Buddha of Suburbia” by Hanif Kureishi Essay
Updated: Mar 30th, 2020
The age of the British Empire has doubtlessly left a memorable trace in the world history, shaping the lives of millions of people and defining the evolution of both the domestic and the foreign policy of the state. Consequently, with the collapse of the empire, a range of political, economic and social challenges emerged, causing the residents of the former empire to not only be reduced to the state of ultimate poverty, but also experience a permanent identity crisis.
In his novel, Kureishi considers the dubious racial issues and the economic conflicts of the post-imperial state with references to the on-coming Thatcherism era. Though the choice that Kureishi has made in terms of the genre of his novel, i.e., a Bildungsromane, can be considered best for introducing the reader to a path of an individual rather than the portrayal of an era, the depiction of the post-imperial British society and a life within it becomes especially graphic when viewing it through the lens of an immigrant; as a result, such attempts of the British citizens as racial profiling, including the creation of the National Front, are discussed and evaluated in the novel.
By describing the exact historical events along with the imaginary lives of his characters and, thus, creating a complex plotline, Kureishi provides a range of witty social commentaries on the endeavors of the British citizens to retain the glory of the has-been Republic. Kureishi does not simply draws the line between the “right” and “wrong” – quite on the contrary, the author obviously avoids judging the actions of the British people, making it evident that the creation of the National Front was merely a tragic mistake, a bitter experience that was not supposed to occur ever again in the history of Great Britain.
Nevertheless, Kureishi does not hesitate in stressing the flaws of the British post-imperial society, proving rather successfully that the discrimination movements of the “new age” were the response towards the plummeting reputation of the United Kingdom. The world that Kureishi creates is nearly Orwellian in its attempt at displaying the social, political, and economic problems of the era. Kureishi’s characters are rarely happy or satisfied, the world that surrounds them is unpleasantly gloomy and dark, and the atmosphere of the narration is extremely depressing; thus, Kureishi renders the problems that the British society was facing at the time, primarily, the identity problem.
While Kureishi focuses on the evolution of the main character and his experience, the author also pays much attention to such problem of post-imperial Britain as the loss of national identity. The author makes it obvious that the British people could neither pave their way to a happier future, or to come up with the concept of one. The entire novel is shot through with the feeling of despair; the residents of the former Empire seem to be constantly questioning not only their own identity, but also the prospects of the state’s economic, political and financial development. Speaking of which, the description of the impoverished city and the people starving with no possibility for earning some money makes the world that Kureishi talks about even more depressing.
Much to his credit, Kureishi addresses the questionable social changes, such as the emergence of discriminatory moods in the post-imperial British society, with regard to the political changes that occurred in the country at the time. The author works his commentaries on the policy of Thatcherism into the narration in a very clever manner by integrating the lead character’s impressions and the subplots of the novel with the key concepts of the Thatcherism era.
It is quite remarkable that the gloomy mood of the narration and the hints of the economic problems, which the reign of Thatcher would lead the United Kingdom to, are merely forecasts; the story itself takes place right before Thatcher was elected the Prime Minister of the state. However, the influence of some of the most unfortunate political reforms of the Thatcherism epoch can be traced easily in the novel. The economic degradation of the British society is described in a very thorough manner by Kureishi, with the obvious implications of the further economic recess.
Kureishi’s manner of addressing the “new immigration” issue concerns not only a unique manner of writing the lead character, but also a peculiar change of settings. As the events of the novel unwrap, the reader finds themselves in the midst of suburbs, quiet and peaceful, where few major events occur. Thus, Kureishi lets the atmosphere of imperial Britain – or, to be more exact, the reminiscences thereof – to sink in.
The author leads the reader through the key events that occurred to the British Empire. While, in the context of the narration, the latter can be viewed as the background for the lead character to evolve in, minor hints and stylistic innuendoes show that there is more to the choice of locations made by Kureishi than meets the eye. As the author starts describing the state of impoverishment and despair, which Britain found itself in after the empire collapsed, he transfers the reader and the main character into the realm of the city.
Such an approach allows for evaluating the losses that Britain and its residents took, as well as the drastic changes in the relationships between the “new immigration” and the residents of Britain. Despite being a bit too on the nose, this choice allows Kureishi to make it obvious how drastic the changes to the British society were. It is in the “City” section of the book that the essence of the “new immigration” is defined, and the problems associated with racial profiling are discussed in the open.
Moreover, the contrast with the industrial (the “City” sections) and the suburban (the “Suburbs” sections) lifestyles as one of the main conflicts of post-imperial Britain sets the tone for the entire novel, therefore, allowing the reader to dive into the atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty that great Britain was in at the time.
Though Kureishi’s novel is based on the personal experience of a fictional character, the author manages to get the idea if a nearly post-apocalyptic state of dismay and devastation that Britain was after the collapse of its empire. Apart from creating a very distinct impression of the post-imperial state, the challenges that Britain was to face and the problems that it had to overcome, Kureishi touched upon a range of conflicts related to the “new immigration” and the controversy that surrounded it. Rendering essential social, economic and political issues through the lens of an Indian teenager, Kureishi has created the story that incorporates the elements of a personal journey and a political novel.
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