It can certainly be a struggle to move across the world from one culture to another. The footnotes of this story say that Parvez is from northwestern India who has taken his son to postcolonial England. Such a dramatic change in life can really test the bonds of family and loved ones, and this story showed me how far people will go to live in their own narratives. The narrator, Parvez, claims that he and his son have a solid relationship, but there are a lot of red flags going up and hinted at throughout the story. Mostly, the father’s expectations stand out, especially when he thinks, “Was it asking too much for Ali to get a good job now, marry the right girl and start a family?” (Kureishi). Obviously, Parvez has his own personal vision of his son’s future, and when his son starts straying from the path he had mentally paved for him, he immediately becomes judgmental. Parvez’s first reaction was to gossip with his friends and ask anyone other than his son about what was going on, which could have eliminated a lot of confusion and hurt. While I struggled to find ethnicity statistics of the United Kingdom around the time of publication for this piece (1992), according to a study called Ethnicity and Second Generation Immigrants, “Indians were – according to the 2001 UK Census - the largest ethnic minority group making up about 22.7 percent of the minority ethnic population and 1.8 percent of the total UK population” (Dustmann, etc). While this is a 2001 number, this would mean that the number around 1992 would be even smaller, which would have made it extremely difficult for a minority to find their place in a white-dominated society. Even Ali mentions to his father that he is too invested in Western culture, and wants to practice his Islam religious roots without expectations over his head. At the end of the story when Ali’s father attacked him, he only said, “So who’s the fanatic now?” (Kureishi), showing that it is entirely possible that minorities travelling to the UK felt pressured by the society around them to conform to white culture, and were paranoid of not fitting in, leaving their home cultures in the dust, which is something Ali wanted to avoid instead of succumbing to societal expectations like his father.
Check out the study: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctpb21/Cpapers/Ethn_2gen_revision_C1.pdf
When I was two stanzas into this poem, I was reminded of the events of the Salem Witch Trials, where women were hung and burned at the stake for accusations of being a witch. However, once I finished the poem, I had a completely different understanding of the message of it. It is a cry for justice, for help, for the barbaric torture women receive from men for “unladylike” actions: adultery. Even though the body from the bog was thousands of years old, the speaker of the poem could still make out exactly how she was punished. The speaker calls the body a “little adultress” (line 23), which to me speaks of her innocence. It was entirely possible that the girl knew nothing of the tribe’s unwritten law against adultery and became their “poor scapegoat” (28). She was simply punished to create an example, a show of hypocrisy among the tribe’s “betraying sisters” (38). For me, this poem shows the standard that women are held up to since the construction of social laws and norms, how they are shown to stay and sit pretty with the man they were pressured or forced into being with, and how rare true love was… even if it existed at all in ancient times. The killing of adulterers, especially instances of husband killing the wife or the other man, has been in practice for centuries. According to Krista Kesselring’s article “The Short History of the Infidelity Defense in England,” men could easily escape the death penalty of murder by claiming self-defense and other instances, while women could not escape capital punishment. Kesselring explains in her article that over the centuries in England, the blame of the murder is often always on the adulterer, and chalked up as crimes of passion, which happened more and more frequently in the nineteenth century leading up to the twentieth. According to Kesselring, “What we see in the nineteenth century is a greater sense of the harm done to a cuckolded man, and a shifting of the blame from the male lover to the adulterous wife.” I think “Punishment” is a spotlight on the cruelty towards women that attempt to escape their entrapment with their husbands, and all of the underlying, deeper issues that cause the adultery in the first place. The unfairness of standards and unspoken and unwritten laws towards women has always been an issue, and I do hope that it does not always remain so.
Check out Kesselring’s article: https://legalhistorymiscellany.com/2016/08/08/infidelity-defence/
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is an exploration of self-worth, identity and reflection wrapped up in an eye-widening novella. It reflects on imperialistic England’s lust for their colonization to spread across the globe. Stories like these always shine a painful spotlight onto the extreme emotional disconnect between cultures, as the whites of imperialistic England believed that those that they colonized were just savages that needed to be “tamed,” which was basically Kurtz’s mission in Africa, even though his high on power and survival in a strange land had driven him to madness. Although they are almost a century apart, Heart of Darkness reminded me a lot of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which is a story about a family of Christians journeying to Africa to convert the natives to their religion. The connection between these two stories show that the idea of “converting,” “taming,” or even “conquering” the African cultures has been centralized in Western culture for a very long time, which is somewhat frightening, and even somewhat parallels with today’s events. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, African colonialization seemed to be a heated race between the English and the French for Africa’s rich resources of ivory and precious metals. I also found it interesting that the main character of Heart of Darkness commonly referred to the African natives as “shapes” when he saw them, which showed me that he likely didn’t even consider the natives people, or as an equal to himself, which further reflects on the imperialistic mindset. Kurtz’s demise in the novella speaks volumes to me about metaphors, and that the “conquering” of Africa is a fruitless, futile action that will never truly succeed, since the Westerners that attempt this seem to lose their minds or be consumed by the jungle. This idea shows the superiority complex that the imperialists went through, believing the action of “taming” some natives to be an easy feat, and were proven to be exceptionally wrong.
The Encyclopedia Britannica:
If you enjoyed Heart of Darkness, check out Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible:
This piece from James Joyce was probably the most vulgar thing I have ever read, but that also allowed me to get some serious emotion from it. It is one long stream of consciousness from a female narrator that seems to come deep from a place of internal anger and discomfort in a world governed by men. The narrator seems to be talking about a mix of sexual activities in her interactions with men, either harassment or odd kinks, and she also experiences fantasies of domination over men. I thought I kept seeing the repetition of adultery as a theme in the chapter, either by the narrator with the married men she describes, or the men she describes with other women. Due to this, I began to question the very nature of marriage in early 1900s culture. According the British Parliament on their website: “Before 1914 divorce was rare; it was considered a scandal, confined by expense to the rich, and by legal restrictions requiring proof of adultery or violence to the truly desperate. In the first decade of the 20th century, there was just one divorce for every 450 marriages.” Which (if my math is right), means that less than one percent of couples in the early 1900s in the UK got a divorce. Compared to a statistic from the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics, in which the UK had a 10.9% divorce rate among opposite sex couples. While this increase in numbers likely has to do with less restrictive divorce laws conceived over the century, it has me wondering what the actual divorce rate would have been during the time Joyce wrote Ulysses if the subject of divorce was not so taboo and gated only to the rich. The narrator from Joyce’s story experiences a rollercoaster of emotions during her internal monologue, likely frustration she feels and experiences due to the unfair treatment of men and women in relationships and other affairs which is clearly shown when she thinks “men again all over they can pick and choose what they please a married woman or a fast widow or a girl for their different tastes” (Joyce). I also find it interesting that since this story is written by a man, men also realized the struggles of inequality that women faced, and even Joyce wanted to shed more light on it in his own creative way.