Sound Affects

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English essay – Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic”

with 28 comments

Analyse how Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic” represents and explores conflicting notions of modern British identity. As well as ethnic and racial tensions, you might look at questions of generational difference, gender, religion, empire, class. Use textual evidence from the story to justify your interpretation, and pay attention to literary strategies such as structure, diction (language choice) characterisation and narrative structure.

 

 

Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic” is a story of two competing and irreconcilable ideals: Parvez’s, in his dream of providing for his family and putting his son through college, and Ali’s, in the passion and zeal of a fiercely anti-Western strain of Islam. Both men have similarly incompatible notions of Britain and ‘Britishness’: for Parvez, Britain is both the dream of the perfect life and the constant need to satisfy that dream. For Ali, Britain is a “bottomless pit”[1] of corruption and sin, guilty of oppressing Muslims around the world. In his narrative, Kureishi explores issues of identity and empire and artfully creates a fractured relationship that allows for consideration and analysis of these themes on both an individual and a societal level.

 

The most obvious clash in the story is that of identity, and indeed the conflict is centered on competing notions of Ali’s identity. Parvez sees his son as the fulfillment of his ‘British dream’, excelling at cricket, swimming and football, achieving straight As in school, studying accounting at college and on track to “get a good job…marry the right girl and start a family”[2]. The conflict arises when Ali begins to turn away from his father’s dream, breaking up with his “English girlfriend” and throwing away his possessions, stating that “there are more important things to be done.”[3] However, it is not just Parvez’s ‘British dream’ that creates conflict, but also his conception of what ‘Britishness’ is: Parvez orders his wife to cook bacon and pork sausages, forbidden by Islam, saying “this is England. We have to fit in!” Ali, conversely, sees Britain and the West as immoral, oppressive, corrupt and “a sink of hypocrites, adulterers, homosexuals, drug takers and prostitutes.” Ali’s identity is not British, nor does he really see himself as his father’s son. Instead, Ali seems to define himself in opposition to his father’s ideal: other than the “Western materialists” with which his father is “implicated”, against drinking, gambling and socializing with women, and as persecuted and oppressed by a country he has never left.

It is both useful and interesting to note how Kureishi frames the various aspects of this. Parvez is immediately introduced to us as a father, but is also identified as a taxi driver, and as one of many Punjabis working at the same cab company. The order in which Kureishi reveals the aspects of Parvez’s life are in order of their significance to the narrative. Parvez the father is the protagonist of the piece, it is his friends in the taxi world that advise him on his course of actions (much of which takes place in the cab itself), and finally it is Parvez’s Punjabi heritage which not only leads Ali to Islam, but also creates the conflict between father and son in Parvez’s failure to strictly adhere to the religion of his homeland. It is worth noting that, until Ali is discovered to be praying, there is no mention of Islam at all – until this point, this story follows a familiar father and son relationship. By leaving any mention of Islam until the audience is introduced with the characters, Kureishi is aiming to establish his characters as familiar and relatable before introducing the less familiar and more alien in Islam.

 

Although published in 1994, “My Son the Fanatic” provides an interesting analogy when considered in relation to the events of July 7, 2005. Parvez’s violence towards his son at the conclusion of the story is analogous of the violence of the terrorist attacks on the London Underground, and is testimony to the potentially disastrous consequences of society’s failure to understand the beliefs and attitudes of other people.[4] The bombings on the London Underground were orchestrated by four British men of Pakistani parentage (like Ali in the story), all were unknown to intelligence agencies, and were involved in cricket clubs, football clubs, local council and local primary schools. The similarities between these four men and Ali are too great to ignore, and while we do not know much about their philosophy and ideology, it is not a stretch to imagine it being similar to Ali’s.

Ali is full of rage at the perceived sinfulness of Western culture, and speaks of the “millions and millions of people” that share his beliefs. In the story Parvez is struck dumb and makes no further attempt to understand these beliefs, or even to discuss or debate them. His reaction is, instead, to consider evicting his son from the family home, and ultimately his inability to understand leads him to resort to violence. Although not directly representative of the behaviour of Western governments towards Muslim fundamentalists and extremists, the twentieth century is full of occasions of gross intolerance and a failure to enter into any sort of dialogue concerning the perceived injustices inflicted on the Middle East by European and American nations. Ali feels so strongly about these injustices that the entire concept of his British identity becomes abhorrent to him, and he rejects every single aspect of it. Although it would be a mistake to read this story as Kureishi’s comment on Western-Islam relations, the eerie similarities between Ali and the London bombers reveal that Ali’s situation is not a fictional one, and that there are indeed instances of similar home-grown radicalization.

 

Islamic fanaticism, so often seen as ‘other’, was given a British passport in July 2005. Although not intended as such upon its publication almost fifteen years ago, Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic” can now be viewed as a remarkably prescient and indeed prophetic examination of home-grown radicalism and extremism. Kureishi’s is a story that deals with the incredibly complex notions of individual and national identity, ethnicity and race, among many others, through the relationship between a father and his son.


Bibliography

 

1.     Hanif Kureishi, “My Son the Fanatic” in Joseph Black (ed), The Broadview Anthology of British Literature Volume 6: The Twentieth Century and Beyond (Broadview Press: Orchard Park ), 2006

2.     Jarek Stelmaszuk, “Islamic Extremism and the Western World: The Growing Rift” in The Harper AnthologyXVIII (William Rainey Harper College: Palatine, Illinois), 2006


[1] Hanif Kureishi, “My Son the Fanatic” in Joseph Black (ed), The Broadview Anthology of British Literature Volume 6: The Twentieth Century and Beyond (Broadview Press: Orchard Park ), 2006, p.1017.

[2] Ibid., p.1013

[3] Ibid., p.1013

[4] Jarek Stelmaszuk, “Islamic Extremism and the Western World: The Growing Rift” in The Harper AnthologyXVIII (William Rainey Harper College: Palatine, Illinois), 2006, p.113-118.

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Written by soundaffects

April 15th, 2008 at 10:57 am

Posted in English, uni work

Tagged with , , , ,

28 Responses

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  1. yo kwl website cn u add a essay on the son’s veto by thomas hardy n compare it 2 my son the fanatic on parent and child relationship….
    thankxx dude
    sam

    sam fletcher

    May 27th, 2009 at 9:44 pm

  2. Truly frightening reading.. But I feel very strongly that the ‘Ali’s” in this country who feel so anti-western should exercise their right to make their feelings known and LEAVE. JUST GO. Go back to the place where you don’t have to socialise with women – THEIR HOME COUNTRY!! Easy! Why remain here when it is so offensive? The ‘Ali’s’ in England offend ME – as do the women who walk around in Burkas (and they frighten my children). Get with the programme – when in Rome you do what the Romans do – and you don’t walk around the streets dressed like something out of a Star Wars movie with only your eyes showing.. WE DON’T DRESS LIKE THAT IN ENGLAND (NEVER HAVE) SO FIT IN OR GO BACK TO A COUNTRY YOU CAN RESPECT AND FEEL HAPPY IN. YOURS.

    Jo Bishop

    July 17th, 2009 at 9:32 am

    • Look, it’s a difficult situation, obviously. But a lot of the reason people move to Western societies is because of the greater freedoms that they allow, but many disagree with quite a few of those freedoms. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see Western society as an incredibly sexualised one, and one where you can buy violence in supermarkets. It’s not enough to say “this is how we roll, deal with it”. You have to be able to, at the very least, acknowledge their concerns. I think a lot of the hatred that exists between “The West” and “The Muslim World” lies in people failing to see the other’s perspective.

      And saying that women who wear the burqa look like Star Wars characters probably doesn’t help much, either.

      Thanks for reading.
      Hugh.

      soundaffects

      August 16th, 2009 at 12:03 am

      • Yes you’re right, in England you can buy violence in supermarkets. If they would go back to their homecountry they may have the violence right on the street. What i’m trying to say is that whatever immigrants complain about in Britain, they are still in a better situation than in their homecountry. So of course they stay here in Britain. But if immigrants don’t have the intention to at least accept the fact that things go different here, they have to leave! I’m sorry that’s just fair.
        Immigration is always an act with two parties: Immigrants and citizens from the hostcountry and both have to work on the integration and the acceptance of the others.

        Michael

        March 5th, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    • I am a muslim and I was born in Britain. So were my parents. So if you’re telling me to go back to my own country THIS IS MY COUNTRY!
      you need to learn what a multicultural society is and then you need to teach this to your kids.
      waht about balaclavas and when people dress up for halloween. i’m sure you msut have done this before.
      For many years people ahve been dressing according to their cultures and this will continue and racist people like you need to accept that

      princess

      May 29th, 2010 at 1:39 am

      • Sorry!

        Jo Bishop

        May 29th, 2010 at 1:42 am

      • i m agree with ur perspective. Actually i was confused to find the conclusion of this short story.now i m able to define it.so i m thankful to u.

        Muhammad Bilal Rasheed Aarbi

        November 30th, 2011 at 3:15 am

  3. good site and interting essay – i think both parvez and ali – from my perpsective – seem to have lost them selves in search of a ‘home’.

    im currently working on a paper, and as a muslim, who has been born and bred in bitain i will be looking at hanif kureishi’s the black alnum, my son the fanatic, aswell as focusing on satanic verses and the muslim response to the novel- but was wondering whether u knew of any other books that explored similiar ideas? about conflicting issues between islam and the ‘west’ – or which touch upon ideas of so called ‘radial’ islam.

    with regrds

    hediel

    hediel astiqal

    September 10th, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    • Hi there Hediel,

      the best one I can think of is a book called ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Moisin Hamid. It’s an American book, but deals with exactly the same questions of assimilation etc that Rushdie, Kureishi et al do so well.

      Good luck for your paper, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Although I’m only a uni student too, so I’m not sure how helpful I can be.

      Cheers,
      Hugh

      soundaffects

      September 10th, 2009 at 3:52 pm

      • lol i’ve actually got that on my shelf and thought i would look at that too, but cheers dude – if anything i’ll share my work in progress with u, as any insight / perspective is a good thing.

        take it easy

        hediel

        hediel

        September 12th, 2009 at 1:54 am

  4. It’s a Clash of Civilizations. At least to some extend as Huntington predicted it, just far more complex

    Lasse Roosevelt

    February 17th, 2010 at 12:39 pm

  5. Well i don’t think its a coincidence that the first immigrant who posts here makes spelling mistakes. You need to learn the language before you can accomplish anything in a different country than your own!
    I have to admit though that Ali in the story speaks English fluently but apparently he got stuck to some radical errh.. “wrong adjusted people”

    Michael

    March 5th, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    • Let he who is without sin, Michael. Your comment isn’t likely to feature in educational pamphlets concerning grammar or punctuation anytime soon.

      soundaffects

      March 6th, 2010 at 5:21 pm

      • Ok this was stupid, i admit. It was just the first thought that came to my mind when i was reading his comment. I’m sorry. He’s not the kind of person i should worry about not getting integrated.

        Michael

        March 8th, 2010 at 2:42 am

  6. Well, I truely share the word with you! If someone has no intention to integrate in a society like the British one, then this person should really consider the fact to probably choose another path, like for example staying in his home-country. Personally I think when an immigant arrives in a new country to start a new life, his attitude towards this new country automatically has to become respectful and. I mean, why the hell would they otherwise come to Britain? To spread their bad beliefs for that country although they´re living in it ? This integration and probably assimilation wouldn´t make much sense then.
    However, everyone has his own opinion on this!

    Cheers
    Morgan

    Morgan

    March 5th, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    • I think you have to respect the right of people to criticise their country, whether they were born there or emigrated later in life. If one of the hallmarks of our democratic society is the responsibility of every citizen to expect better of their elected representatives, and indeed work towards the improvement of the nation as a whole, then I don’t think it is fair to attack recent migrants for doing exactly that. Especially if it concerns the way that people of their particular religion/skin colour are treated.

      soundaffects

      March 6th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

  7. First at all I have to say I really enjoyed your essay. Good work =)

    I think one problem about this immigration subject is that in your everyday life only the bad examples are the ones you notice. There are a lot of people with migration background that integrate in a “healthy” way. They know good English (what for me is the first step towards integration and the possibility of communication), are educated but stick to their culture and religion without rejecting our Western attitude.

    What I can’t understand and not really accept are people like Kureishi’s “Ali” or these who live in Britain for decades barely talking any English, defeating everything that’s “Western”.

    Well, it’s a difficult topic but I’m sure it will keep bothering us for some time.
    regards

    sauerkrautsoup

    March 6th, 2010 at 8:15 pm

  8. I find that you are trying quite hard to see the whole conflict from Ali’s – or in general – the immigrant’s point of view.
    Don’t you think that both parties should compromise and try to understand each other? You are critisizing Parvez’ behaviour and his alleged lack of understanding (“In the story Parvez is struck dumb and makes no further attempt to understand these beliefs, or even to discuss or debate them.”) but don’t seem to question Ali’s position.

    But anyway, lately I’ve encountered a lot of natives that are much more (too?) understanding and/or lenient concerning immigrants than immigrants themselves. Which is something that I – as a foreigner myself – find partly funny and partly worrying, as one should be really careful with the Ali’s of the world, not only with the Parevezes or intolerant natives.

    A.M.

    March 9th, 2010 at 7:29 am

  9. Well i don’t think its a coincidence that the first immigrant who posts here makes spelling mistakes. You need to learn the language before you can accomplish anything in a different country than your own!

    firstly i am not an immigrant -nor is this country ‘a different country’ than my own. secondly, while i admit my spelling is in need ofmuch improvement – i make no apologies for making mistakes

    peace

    hediel astiqal

    March 14th, 2010 at 6:30 am

  10. well i read all comments here and i must clear the writer’s point of view.You people are taking the story being BRITAIN defending your own country.I think if this story was written by any PHILIP or HEMINGWAY,the comments would be very different.When you discuss literature,you ought not to be subjective ordering the immigrant people get out from our country if you donot like it.Hanif’s aim was not to pointout the vices of western civilization instead he showed the importance of roots of an immigrant man,clash of civilization and most of all generation gap.He didnot make fun of christianity but showed the mental approch of some specific muslims who misiterprete ISLAM,therefore defame it.
    Regards

    Farrah

    May 6th, 2010 at 1:15 am

  11. well i read all comments here and i must clear the writer’s point of view.You people are taking the story being BRITAIN defending your own country.I think if this story was written by any PHILIP or HEMINGWAY,the comments would be very different.When you discuss literature,you ought not to be subjective ordering the immigrant people get out from our country if you donot like it.Hanif’s aim was not to pointout the vices of western civilization instead he showed the importance of roots of an immigrant man,clash of civilization and most of all generation gap.He didnot make fun of christianity but showed the mental approach of some specific muslims who misinterpret ISLAM,therefore defame it.
    Regards

    Farrah

    May 7th, 2010 at 2:22 am

  12. I am a 14 year old muslim and was born in Britain, so was my mother. I wear the hijab (scarf) but not the niqab (veil). I find it quite offensive that some of you completely disregard muslims as humans. I know that none of you actually said this but you were implying it. I do not wish to cause an argument but if you have any queries about Islam, i will do my best to answer them. Am i not right in saying that Britain is a free country? We are allowed to dress how we wish. The islamic dress code is actually modest. Many muslims choose to wear it for themselves and not because they are forced to. When are people going to stop stereotyping muslims? Not all muslims are bad. Infact, the majority are lovely people who want a good life free from hatred. Please, do not always believe the media. So, some people were caught with drugs or bombs. This does not mean that all muslims are druggies or terrorists. There are some individuals who put Islam to shame but they are not following god’s command. Islam does not teach to kill, infact it teaches quite the opposite. Some people do not understand what these few words and terrible assumptions can do. I cry sometimes wondering what this world has come to.
    please do not take offence to anything i have said or if i have in ay way hurt your feelings.
    thank you
    your sister in islam. x

    peace

    May 26th, 2010 at 3:54 am

    • But i don’ what are you saying that my sister. All man are come from God. Think about the nature. They are all living in this world with freedom. Why man can not do that? My sister, i like your choice. why do you not like me? This is the problem, rest of the world hate Muslims.
      I think Mohammad divides the world in two parts.

      thank you
      your brother y

      Ali

      July 30th, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    • sister, how can one not be offended by you claiming that people disregard muslims as humans? that’s a radical thing to say and it reaffirms anyone who is prejudiced.
      the way i see it, ali has a strong identity issue and so might other islamists, maybe especially when they have grown up between two cultures. and instead of appreciating positive aspects from both sides they thoroughly turn against one of them.
      although i am christian and a strong believer i can understand people’s need for stricter rules to give them more orientation in life and to be able to tell right from wrong which i think the islam gives them.
      we need to see the positive sides in the foreign and find similarities rather than pointing to the differences and accusing each other…

      wunni

      March 27th, 2011 at 5:36 pm

  13. I have read everybody’scomments, and I think that both Parvez and Ali a complex towards britian, are extremists.
    for many people asking ” why on earth do these immagrants come to Britian and then criticise our ways of life ?” the answer is very simple , post colonialism, check out England’s hisotry of colonial years , they were oustiders, what have they done to the homeland, changed it, and subjucated the native people, whether it be India, or any other country. the reason pakistanianas and Indian went to England is a mixture of two things, they were needed when the industrial revolution was on and going cos they were cheap labour back then, and i don’t mean it as a racist comment, just a historical reference, and because they had grown to think of it as the mighty land, land of the oppourtinuities, these were the images they saw in their lands, Europeans went there and lived a very posh life , they thought it could be their rite of passage, to become more acknowledged when they go back to their home land, that they could help out, be something better, learn from English people.

    Change is evident, both immagrants and native inhabitants of a country should adapt, find the common ground and relate to each other, it shouldn’t matter if I do things differently, what’s important is that we still treat each other as humane as possible. If your religion is different, this doesn’t mean you r a person less able or less worthy…or then what separates us from Nazis, who just refused any race that was purely different, anything innovative, we become shut minded and the world ends in a clash… the idea of a pure race is utterly racist, same with a society which is monolithic, this is not how life had been since millions of years ,it was based on different civilizations interacting !

    life must be difficult for different nationalities in the UK, as it is difficult for UKians when they go to a middle eastern country for instance.I think we should be more specific on whether we are talking about immigrants in general or muslim immigrants in particular!

    Thanks for reading, and though a lot of people wouldn’t agree to what I say, we r all entitled to speaking our minds out loud .

    Maha

    June 11th, 2011 at 2:06 am

  14. sorry I mean that they are both fanatics, typing mistake !!

    Maha

    June 11th, 2011 at 2:08 am

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    Susan Dugal

    August 29th, 2012 at 11:35 pm

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    Woodrow

    October 27th, 2012 at 7:06 pm


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