Monica Ali: Brick Lane Dr. Stephen Ogden English 101W
Heteroglossic Novel • With Brick Lane Monica Ali has created a dialogistic text par excellence. • A variety of character voices representing alternative conceptions of and different responses to a complicated and important human situation. • in this case, Immigration • The central quotation from the book—”it’s more complicated than that”—can almost be seen as a motto for a dialogistic approach to literature. • By extension, an attitude to Life at large: • simple-minded polemical attitudes on any side are Absolutist and closed-minded
Born 1967 in Dhaka Bangladesh. Lives in south London with her white husband, a management consultant, and their two children, aged four and two. Her mother, Joyce, met Hatem, a Bangladeshi student, at a dance in Manchester, in the north of England in the mid-Sixties. The couple moved to Dhaka & married, had two children, until the mother escaped back for England when Monica was three, during the Civil War (“Concert for Bangla Desh.”) Father was able to re-join them a year later Not fully happy in England—mother’s parents were not overjoyed with the inter-racial marriage, & Lancashire shared the 1970s drabness, depression & fruitlessness which eventually inspired the twin reactions of Thatcher & Punk. Parents always had a pining for returning to Dhaka Monica Ali’s mother has the racially-reverse experience of Nanzeen. Heteroglossic Novel: Authour’s biographical Situation
Monica Ali interview: It is not that Nazneen is a poor Bangladeshi forced to live as an alien in east London, but that such alienation is a common human predicament. Ali herself remembers almost nothing of Bangladesh. The stories of village life are based on the tales told to her by her father. Both she and her brother Robin rebelliously refused to speak Bengali at home in Bolton. As a result, she has forgotten the language. “Perhaps, the answer is I can write about it because I do not truly belong. Growing up with an English mother and a Bengali father means never being an insider. Standing neither behind a closed door, nor in the thick of things, but rather in the shadow of the doorway, is a good place from which to observe. Good training, I feel, for life as a writer.” On Art and Dialogism
Britain post-1945 has developed an extremely large-scale no-white population from the Commonwealth. Now extremely racially diverse. Despite that, white-on-non-white violence—especially at the level of riot—is relatively very rare. White-on-white riot-level violence has been predominant (football hooliganism): Loss of purpose for young white males with decline of Empire depreciation of martial values by society Some important episodes of non-white on non-white—or non-white on white—large-scale violence. Ali cites 2001 Oldham Riots (Manchester) See (in this case) Wikipedia Non-white immigration was the deliberate policy of both government and large industrial capitalism. The North post 1945: the home and engine of the Industrial revolution, and the economy was fundamentally large manufacturing — primarily industrial mills, those, primarily textile. World recession post-1945 for trade markets, but the government & industrialists tried to maintain production. Severe lack of male workers as a result of millions of deaths in WWI & WWII Thus, import cheap labour—massive pool of potential workers in Pakistan. Immigration Background
Ali also has to deal with fact of Islamic terrorism in Britain—including the mass-scale London Bombings of 2005 (55 people were killed in a series of bomb blasts in the heart of London, and several hundred were injured.) Not just simple racial or political binaries. More. Non-white immigration was the deliberate policy of both government and large industrial capitalism. The North post 1945: the home and engine of the Industrial revolution, and the economy was fundamentally large manufacturing—primarily industrial mills, those, primarily textile. World recession post-1945 for trade markets, but the government & industrialists tried to maintain production. Severe lack of male workers as a result of millions of deaths defending democracy against fascism. Thus, import cheap labour—massive pool of potential workers in Pakistan. This situation matches that in America today vis a vis Mexico: there, it is now the negative birth-rate of urban whites which fuels a market for cheap manual labour. The government & the capitalists all want the cheap labourers and actively promote immigration—grassroots are against it. Immigration Background
Ali’s political stance • Ali was criticised after her book was published by • Bangladeshi immigrants in England • some left-wing white urban elites (Germaine Greer) for (essentially) not doing what Ali explicitly has refused to do (389) • —i.e. become an ideological “flag-waver,” which, she says, is detrimental to • Art • Immigrant community for which special exemption is claimed. • Ali writes within a very deliberate British social setting (including Bangla Desh as result of the Raj): • i.e. Britain is not the United States, and has a completely separate racial history and social configuration.
Ali: “Economy of Outrage” • Adoption of the language of economics matches the cultural focus in England—its recovery (1979-2000) from the economic destruction of WWI & WWII. • Economy = ordering (including exchange) of items of value. • Ali’s sets herself against the “Economy of Outrage” • a culture where the currency is in moral outrage. • immigration is the “material” in this “marketplace” • all participants want to increase the “value” of the currency • —i.e. increase the outrage over immigration pro- and con-
Brick Lane on Immigration • Monica Ali’s novel gives voices to an immigrant community—the Bengali • The white population has no interiority in the novel • Ali’s text has a vigorous dialogue over immigration among the immigrant characters • Women: Mrs. Islam, Razia, Mrs. Azad • Men: Dr. Aziz • Chanu is a dialogue within himself • Children: Razia’s & Nanzeen’s children—intense adoption of British culture • But children vulnerable to religious radicalisation—Karim (377) • Nazneen is the POV for the reader—hears the dialogue and in the end acts.
Nazneen’s character development • At one reading, Brick Lane is a ‘novel of ascent’ for Nazneen. • a simple peasant girl with no power—no socially-consonant opportunity to exercise free-will—grows to independence and self-affirmation. • Yet Monica Ali shows the complexity—the costs of this. • Nazneen commits adultery—betrayal—against a faithful and kind man. 361. • Becomes an indulgence for Karim • Passively causes a family separation: children from father.
Immigrant Voices on assimilation • Immigration alternatives. • Demanding immigrants assimilate—learn to read and speak English, don’t wear burkhas, adopt English culture, etc.—is oppression? • a current progressive political position • the alternative in the text is ghettoisation—immigrants live in closed communities with limited opportunity for growth • The novel does seem to have a (muted) pro-England conclusion—the opportunity for individual growth and expression. • 339: “I will decide what to do. I will say what happens to me. I will be the one.” • The word “one” here is highly significant • Allah is The One for Muslims • Muslim caliphate is ‘World under One law (Sharia Law) • One is affirmation of anti-marriage. • Hint of sense of immigrant assimilation? • Voices present in favour of cultural adoption: • Narrator-protagonist 50. • Razia 359 • Mrs. Azad 87-9 • Chanu, as balance—308.
Narrational voice complicates easy divisions & assignations (324) Polyphony of voices among Muslim immigrants themselves: ch. 18 (344)--a dramatic triumph. Islam allegorised in “Mrs. Islam” – 370-1. ‘”Mussulman against Mussulman”—non-white on non-white violence. 397-8 Karim here uses the British vernacular term for ‘Muslim.’ Ultimately, the heteroglossia gives an excellent response to Plato’s demand of Art: By showing the range of ideas and consequences in dialogue—in all their complexity, “Art faithfully represents and uniquely stimulates understanding of human society as it truly is.” Heteroglossia on Race / Religion
Religious Ideas • FATE : L. fatum, lit. ‘that which has been spoken’. • Western Rationalism—David Hume (1711-1776) considered by Chanu, p.29. • Dialectic of engagement: • Atheism: religion is an a posteriori construction • a human construction to explain or justify or palliate certain facts of existence. • Accepting that, Determinism is the necessary atheist position • Determinism: all events—including thoughts—are purely physical and thus determined by previous physical events (‘cause-&-effect’) • There is no Free Will. • Everything I do is outside my control and can’t be changed • In effect, Life is determined for me in advance: one’s FATE. • “Fate” then is how people try to understand and live with this cold proposition—i.e. Religion as a means of personalising—humanising—hard questions or realities. • Why does Ali introduce—’determine’—the book around Fate?