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Monday, September 22, 2014

CLRI September 2014

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Contemporary Literary Review India
September 2014
Book Length Poem Collection
Men of Honour
Song of Silence
Walking the Untrodden Path
A Pinch of Sun
Regular Poems Collection
In the Colony of my Mind
I Still Possess You
Now There is Nothing Left But the Journey
In Place of Stillness and Solitude
Colibri for a Girl
A Lot of Beauty
A Circle
The Show Goes on!
An Elegy of Anarchy
On Blindness
Brother Mayakovsky
Road of Dreams
If Someone Knows Please Tell Me!
A Walk
Here Lies a Heart Beneath the Stone
Globalization: National Identity and Cultural Hybridization in Late 20th Century and 21st Century Novels
Shyam Selvadurai: Homosexual Tendencies, Twilight Moments and a Liberated Acceptance
Book Review
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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Shyam Selvadurai: Homosexual Tendencies, Twilight Moments and a Liberated Acceptance by Narola Dangti & Prof. (Dr.) N.D.R. Chandra

Shyam Selvadurai: Homosexual Tendencies, Twilight Moments and a Liberated Acceptance by Narola Dangti & Prof. (Dr.) N.D.R. Chandra

The category of sex is often invoked as an issue of cultural and material difference. As Foucault states it a ‘regulatory ideal’ or a regulatory practice because of the simple fact that bodies are governed by the power to produce, differentiate and construct. Sexuality has become a major consideration in political life. Communities and nations have debated and struggled to address the issues of sexual expression and behaviour. The article talks about the issues of being different and the feeling of being considered a social Pariah as a homosexual in a political and cultural set- up. The article also highlights the risks that the characters of Shyam Selvadurai take and live as they come to terms with their homosexuality in the most traditional and repressive circle. It also brings to light the author’s own issues of being gay as a Sri-Lankan and the pain he had to take to negotiate his sexuality in terms of projecting, defending and weaving it into his identity and into the identity that his country represented.

Key Words:
Queer theory, Homosexuality, Hijras, Transgressive, Cross-dressing, Ponnaya, Effeminate Homosexuals, Deviant, Tendencies, Gay, Inverts.

Shyam Selvadurai: Homosexual Tendencies, Twilight Moments and a Liberated Acceptance
Queer theory is the academic discourse that has largely replaced what used to be called gay/lesbian studies. The term was first coined by Teresa De Lauretis for a working conference on theorising gay and lesbian sexualities that was held at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in February 1990. The theory, as such encompasses a whole range of understanding issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. Queer theory is largely based on the works of Michel Foucault, the French Philosopher. Besides Foucault, the works of Derrida, Lacan and Freud have contributed as important theoretical references. Beginning in the nineteenth century, sexuality gradually assumed a new status as an object of scientific and popular knowledge. The last two hundred years or so have seen what the critic and historian Michel Foucault once described as a ‘discursive explosion’ (Foucault 1998: 38) around the question of sex, by which he did not simply mean that it came to be talked about more widely or more often or more explicitly, relaxing the grip of repressive conventions or taboos but also calling for a genealogical analysis of sexuality as it has been lived and understood in Western culture over the last couple of centuries.

The breadth of output in literary and cultural criticism which has investigated the specificities and constructions of human sexualities is vast and it is a corpus which continues to grow and explore some aspect or representation of sex, sexuality or sexual desire. As such, ‘sexuality is much more than a facet of human nature, the seat of pleasure and desire. It has become a principle of explanation, whose effects can be discerned, in different ways, in virtually any stage and predicament of human life, shaping our capacity to act and setting the limits to what we can think and do’ (Glover & Kaplan 2007: 12). Thus, the growing willingness to put sex into question, even to search for the truth about sexual behaviour, gradually opened up new ways in which the entire field of sexual possibilities and sexual identities could be imagined, permanently transforming people’s most intimate sense of their sexual selves. This article thus aims in studying anomalies of sexual instincts with special emphasis on queering homosexuality in the novels of Shyam Selvadurai.

The novels of Selvadurai give a brilliant portrait of the anxieties aroused by gender non-conformity, especially in patriarchal societies. Apart from the issue of being different, the protagonists in Selvadurai’s novels experiences the discomforts and the risks associated with being a non-conformist in a country with persistently traditional and conformist norms about sexuality. The article elaborately studies the gradual and the ultimate passage that the protagonist takes to come out and to accept their sexual identity with corresponding references to the author’s own passage to becoming gay openly and the discomforts he felt of being gay in a country he considered home ‘Sri Lanka’. In the author’s own words, he explains his decision to be openly gay, ‘I remembered how it was for me feeling there was no one out there who was a role model of any sort. When I decided to be out in public, I was really thinking of that version of me in Sri Lanka who would read my book and feel relieved to not be alone. If I decided not to be out, I would be sending a message to that young person that I was still afraid and ashamed’ (Hunn 2005: 2). Selvadurai’s novels have the background of the struggle of the spirit against oppression – of class, gender and sexual orientation capturing the nuances of the Sri Lankan society steeped in ethnic riots, political tensions and cultural and social and sexual rigidity. He clearly has a deep engagement with his country of birth and its troubled history, but he is also aware of how impossible it would be for him to live there due to the country’s anti- homophobic attitude towards homosexual relationships. All the three novels chafe through the themes of traditional restrictions, rigidity and the disturbing blend of the Tamil-Sinhalese-British conflicts with that of heterosexuality and homosexuality against the strictures of family, marriage and patriarchy. As the Sri Lankan critic Prakrti has noted, Selvadurai’s particular gift is to understand how such factors as ethnic tensions and the legacy of British colonial rule are interweaved with the dominant ideologies of sexuality and gender. Selvadurai’s novels are a constant reminder of the price that a non-conformist has to pay rebelling against conformity – emotionally and socially.

Tendencies: The Unnamed Third Place
The polarisation of sex and gender into what theorists’ term a ‘binary system’ has largely eradicated legitimate third or fourth gender roles. Those who do not behave in ways considered appropriate for their biological sex are regarded as transgendered, for they have crossed over the socially constructed boundaries of gender – appropriate behaviour. In India, a gender variant category, hijra, remains intact despite the efforts of British colonials to eradicate what they called ‘a breach of public decency’ (Penrose 2001: 4). Influenced by western discourse hijras were viewed as inverts and deviants or gender variants or variant gendered. The concept of a third gender can be identified as a neuter bereft of either a masculine or a feminine nature. Arjie, the protagonist in Funny Boy is ‘funny’. He likes to wear saris and play with girls – and he hates sports. For Arjie, the sari being wrapped around his body and the veil pinned on his head, the rouge put on his cheeks, lipsticks on his lips, kohl around his eyes was a transfiguration of his self, ‘an ascent into another more brilliant, more beautiful self’ (Selvadurai1994: 5).When Arjie is caught dressed in a sari, his grandmother decides manual labour will teach him to be more masculine. This is the first time Arjie is embarrassed about his ‘funniness’, though he does not understand why. This resistance comes not only from the grandmother but also from the father because Arjie’s third nature stands out against the notion of societal tolerance. His unwillingness to associate himself with a gender in his ‘more beautiful self’ shows his recognition that he is ‘caught between the boys’ and the girls’ worlds, not belonging or wanted in either’ (ibid.: 39). As a child and young adult, Arjie displays ‘certain tendencies’ (ibid.: 162), as his father calls them, that defy accepted norms of the ways men and women are expected to behave earning him the adjective of ‘funny’ a word whose significance he does not fully understand but that he can sense nonetheless has a shameful connotation. Arjie negotiates his sexuality amidst family and political tensions becoming gradually aware of the repercussions of his ‘tendencies’ yet, struggling to occupy a space outside of normal gender and sexual categorisations.

Third gender roles and cross dressing in traditional societies entails a system of multiple genders that can exists only outside dichotomous gender systems, which polarise sex, gender and sexuality into categories of male and female. Thus, in a binary gender system, androgyny becomes the only available alternative. ‘Third and fourth genders, on the other hand, help us to perceive all that is left over when the world has been divided into male and female’ (Roscoe 1998: 210). Gender stereotypes imposed by his family explicitly demarcate the separate worlds of boy and girl, leaving Arjie caught between the boys’ and girls’ worlds, not belonging and wanted in either. Within these early episodes Arjie’s sexuality is negotiated solely within the confines of gender, male and female. His exclusion from both the boys and girls suggests that Arjie himself inhabits some third space in between these two, but that third space is merely described as funny and never named. Just as the space Arjie occupies between male and female is not clearly defined, so too are the words employed to describe this space vague and shifting.

Privacy and secrecy are stressed as important factors in certain sexual relations. If sexuality is to be categorised by acts, there exists certain socially accepted institutions that often harbour the hidden third natured sexual behaviour. Marriage is seen as one such institution which acts as a safe transitory alternative that helps to generate a facade of heterosexuality. Cinnamon Gardens is a tragedy of manners that centres around the life of a gay man living in a dead marriage in a repressed, conformist, colonial society Cinnamon Gardens talks about Balendran and his homosexuality both in Sri Lanka and in England, and the importance of his father ‘The Mudaliyar’ who represents the power that is organised and deployed throughout the choices that Balendran makes in life. In his days as a student in London Bala had carried on a relationship with a man called Richard Howland but had to abandon his lover and return to Colombo to marry his cousin under pressure from his domineering father. The return of Richard Howland to Ceylon as a member of the Donoughmore Commission sets Balendran at odds with the very social and familial strictures that have confined repressed and sustained him in his place as a normal man. Balendran had actually never been able to forget Richard. In his own words he says, ‘As for the type of love Richard and he had had, he accepted that it was part of his nature’ (Selvadurai1998: 38). His marriage to Sonia was to break the pressure from his father and society and in the words of Selvadurai; Balendran can be seen as a person with enormous courage to live the life he lives. In conforming to social expectations by entering into a sexually unfulfilling marriage, Balendran reveals himself as a decent but a weak individual, racked by the guilt he feels for neglecting his wife and for having betrayed his feelings for Richard.

‘As one by one we give up, we get freer and freer of pain’, he said, citing to himself that verse from theTirukkural on renunciation. How often he had repeated it during that first year of his marriage, to comfort himself for the anguish he had felt, the suffocation, lying next to his wife, Sonia, at night, unable to sleep. His suffering had been intensified by knowing that she despaired along with him, felt his alienation, almost hatred towards her, without knowing its cause (Selvadurai 1998: 38-39).

A number of factors and agencies are involved in curbing any tendency that stand outside the male/female category. In highly patriarchal societies with sharp gender differentiation, the development of a gender variant category is totally unacceptable. For Balendran his father’s hands on his shoulders were like clasps on the mantle of societal approbation that drew around him and controlled him. He sees himself as the gentle, humane, dutiful, ministering son and the gallant spouse to his wife, yet he feels that he is a failure because at the end of the day he has not been true to himself. Of even graver, consequences, however, is the fact that for the past twenty years Balendran has submerged his own homosexual desires underneath a façade of respectable familial propriety. Selvadurai explores in Cinnamon Gardens the attendant clashes between sexuality, colonialism and classicism inherent in the caste system, religious divisions, racial and sexual prejudice of Ceylonese societywhen the homosexuality of a man of polite society was considered a regrettably irreversible disposition. The novel exposes the stifling conformity that is the price of acceptance in the wealthy precincts of Cinnamon Gardens.

As the narrative unfolds and deepens the liberal sympathetic Balendran’s world much repressed by his father reveals secrets that are an outcome of conflict The novel unveils Balendran’s secret sexual escapades with Ranjan, a private in the army even after his marriage to Sonia confirming the truth that Bala is a repressed homosexual, confined and steered to becoming a heterosexual by his father. The unnamed third place in Balendran case is treated as a deviance or eccentricity or a sexual variance which is anti-social or psychopathological, requiring cure or correction. A deviance which can be sanctified by tradition and formalised by recognised rituals like marriage. The Ceylonese society that rejects a third gender forces Bala to adopt a gender that is normal by repressing all tendencies that is innate and natural to him. The fact that the personal is political and any transgressive act can mess up the identity politics of an individual is a truth to which Bala sticks to maintain the tenet of his sexual identity. The epigraph of the novel, a passage from George Eliot’s Middlemarch – ‘… for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest is unvisited tombs’ stages the world of Cinnamon Gardens that have stories of unhistoric acts and unvisited tombs.

Selvadurai’s third novel Swimming in the Monsoon Sea has Amrith a gay teenager in the early 1980’s who portrays the same tendencies that Arjie experiences in Funny Boy but with a more intense, complicated and moving passage to an assertion of that identity.
But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to live.

From Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
The epigraph of the novel from James Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room is an acute representation of the world of Amrith, in and out of family, friends, relatives and loved ones. The word ‘invent’ in the epigraph is an assertion of what one is given in a natural state, a transcend to insist that life comes in divisions and that it is an unavoidable fact with which everyone must in some way come to terms (1985: 101-05). Amrith in the novel visibly experiences an identifiable third nature in and out of his social worlds that is structured by his school, family and friends. The third unnamed creation allows Amrith to tie a cohesive thread with his own past and his future. Amrith looks forward for rehearsing and participating in the school play. He desperately wants to be in the school production of Othello – and manages to win the part of Desdemona (a part he covets, after winning an award for his acting as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet). He had won the cup for the Best Female Portrayal from a Boys School. Female roles are roles which other boys in the school limit themselves from performing but for Amrith it is role that gives him satisfaction of an unknown inner tendency. The role of Desdemona is a cross -dressing that allows Amrith to comfortably fit into a gender variance in his mind which would have otherwise caused unnecessary stir. It is a role that reveals Amrith’s hidden sexuality.

The character of Lucien Lindamulage in the novel is relational to the third gender that is posited against the character of Amrith who still is new to this variance. ‘He was a little grey-haired gnome of a man, with large ears and nose and thick glasses. He always applied white powder to his face, and this gave his dark complexion a greyish sheen’ (Selvadurai 2005: 59). Lucien was the talk of the town and Amrith had often heard his uncle tell his aunt that he should leave his secretaries at home when they went on business outstation. As he says; ‘There was something scandalous about Lucien Lindamulage that Amrith did not understand. It had to do with his constant round of young male secretaries’ (ibid.: 59). Despite Lucien’s odd manner and scandal surrounding him, Amrith really liked the old architect. ‘Unlike most men, Amrith felt that he could simply be himself around Lucien Lindamulage’ (ibid.: 59). This is the first tendency of inversion that we see in the novel as Amrith progresses further to explain ‘how he had once heard boys in school mention about Lucien Lindamulage’s secretaries and refer to the old man as ‘ponnaya’ – a word whose precise meaning Amrith did not understand, though he knew it disparaged the masculinity of another man, reducing him to the level of a woman’ (ibid.: 60).

The third nature in this sense is an opposition of the norm as the male takes on the appearance of a female or turns more passive. Amrith later shows such tendencies as his cousin Niresh arrives from Canada. Niresh is handsome, worldly and cool and the two boys hit it off immediately. Amrith’s ordered life undergoes an unexpected turn. Amrith begins to see that Niresh was keen to impress him and win his affection and that from the beginning Niresh was trying to build a relationship between them. ‘Amrith had never been courted in this way by anybody, and it was especially flattering because Niresh was two years older than him’ (Selvadurai 2005: 83).

Selvadurai in the novel chronicles the growth, development, rejection, repression and exploration of a fourteen year old’s homosexual tendencies. The unnamed third place that Amrith, Niresh and Lucien belong to and the tendency that alienates them from the rest is treated as transitory and dangerous in nature. The characters of Selvadurai keeps this place unnamed and unspoken many times. They are described as beings of an alternative gender, the ‘effeminate homosexuals’. A nature which is immediately preceded by vivid appearance of virile sexual behaviour abhorred and shunned. Selvadurai blends Amrith’s knowledge of this awareness with a beautiful animal imagery that enhances the affirmation that in being different he is not alone and that there is nothing wrong in it.

When they were in the aviary, Amrith watched Kuveni busily pecking away at the mango he had brought. ..It struck Amrith that Kuveni had never resorted to feather-plucking or any other signs of anxiety and depression. She seemed perfectly content to be alone. Perfectly content to remain silent. And he realised that he had grown to like her silence. He was not sure, at all, that he wanted another mynah (Selvadurai 2005: 206).

Twilight Moments: Embarrassed Funniness
Discourses in the past with regards to sexual identities were less defined and almost absent. Oblique gestures, sexual desires, relationships and practices were half understood and half expressed or veiled in silence as unconventional sexual behaviour since it did not produce any identity. Looking at the period before modern sexual identities, any deviant sexual act or behaviour was uneasily tolerated and though hidden was subject to discipline. ‘The term twilight can be used as a metaphor to explore those sexual practices and desires that is prohibited by law or custom but that which people pursue either in secret or as an open secret. Twilight can be those silent moments when a boy looks at another boy and longs for desires that are queer, when a man has secret sexual escapades with another man in secret and when a boy creeps into the bed of another boy and caresses his friend. These people’s desires did not create a fixed identity: they indulged in these forbidden moments and then returned to their ordinary lives, just as twilight fades into darkest night and night is succeeded by the dawn. Just as one can see only vague shapes in the dim light of dusk, twilight words, sexual desires and practices were only half –understood and half expressed hidden in the respectable darkness of the night. The metaphor of twilight offers a way of thinking the forms of moral and social discipline that limit deviant and queer acts by punishing, expelling or by obscuring or even subjecting to medical treatment but that which still exists in veiled and hidden forms’ (Clark 2005: 140).

Arjie in Funny Boy is bewildered by his incipient sexual awakening when he sees Jegan. Jegan is introduced in the novel as a twenty-five year old qualified accountant who has worked as a relief worker for the Gandhiyam movement, a movement helping displaced Tamils who were affected by the communal riots. Jegan is an honest and straight forward person who has come to Arjie’s family looking for a job and begins to work with Appa (Arjie’s father) at his hotel. Arjie strikes up a friendship with Jegan and becomes aware of his pull towards him. His funniness that was always hidden, unspoken or veiled and one that caused embarrassment begins to show first as twilight gestures, nascent and young but becomes persistent and strong later.

I had got a closer look at him. What had struck me was the strength of his body. The muscles of his arms and neck, which would have been visible on a fairer person, were hidden by the darkness of his skin. It was only when I was close to him that I noticed them. Now I admired how well built he was, the way his thighs pressed against his trousers (Selvadurai 1994: 156-157).

The hidden darkness of Jegan’s skin is a metaphor of Arjie’s sexual tendencies that are hidden. It begins to show signs as spurts of light as he views it closely. Jegan notices that Arjie is looking at him and as an assurance Jegan glances back at him and smiles, as if to say that it was alright. His smile makes Arjie feel shy but also happy. Selvadurai slowly highlights the moments of Arjie’s life when he had felt and experienced sexual desires much beyond the norm. How he had looked at men; the way they were built, the grace with which they carried themselves, the strength of their gestures and movements. Sometimes Arjie even dreamed about them and longed to become physically attractive and graceful like them. When Arjie’s father tells Jegan ‘That boy worries me’ … From the time he was small he has shown certain tendencies … he used to play with dolls, always reading … Anyway, the main point is that I’m glad you’re taking an interest in him. Maybe you’ll help him outgrow this phase … I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him’ (Selvadurai 1994: 162). Jegan was the first one to ever defend him and for this Arjie grows even more devoted to him. Eventually, Arjie understands his father and uncle’s conception of ‘funny’ when his friendship with Jegan escalates. He finally realises that his attraction for Jegan filled him with unaccountable joy. ‘The twilight metaphor can help to fill a conceptual gap; a gap that makes it difficult to describe sexual relationships, desires and practices that were neither celebrated – like marriage – nor utterly forbidden, deviant, or abject- like incest or sodomy’ (Clark 2005: 141). Arjie later strikes up an intense friendship with a fellow renegade student, Shehan who is rumoured to be gay. In this instance, Arjie defines ‘funny’ as a deviation from the norm that both he and Shehan experience. The romance between Arjie and Shehan blooms each progressively more violent in their repercussions. As their intimacy for each other grows, Arjie begins to explore his sexual self even deeper. He is bewildered when Shehan kisses him on his lips and finds himself thinking that there was a wanting in him to carry something through. He does not know what, but the fact that the kiss was somehow connected to what they had in common which Shehan had known all along. Later, Arjie and Shehan have their first sexual encounter together in his parents’ garage during a game of hide and seek. Afterwards, Arjie feels ashamed of himself and believes he has failed his family and their trust. Though Arjie is disgusted at his own desire, Shehan is upset and says ‘At least I know what I want and I’m not ashamed of it’ (ibid.: 258). This awakens Arjie’s sense of himself as Shehan points out. Arjie goes through a stage of tossing and turning, torn between his desire for Shehan and disgust for that desire. He is confused of which world he belongs to, the twilight world where he is in love with Shehan and where he is Arjie the homosexual or to his father’s world where his love is an embarrassed funny feeling and where he has to be Arjie the heterosexual. ‘The concept of twilight moments can help us refine the distinction between acts and identities that has been influential in the history of sexuality. Foucault’s distinction between acts and identities remain crucial to the history of sexuality because he exposed the modern invention of the notion that sexual identities, desires, and acts were consistent, he enabled us to unpack sexual acts from sexual identities’ (Clark 2005: 142).

Balendran in Cinnamon Gardens lives such twilight moments confused between sexual acts and sexual identities with Richard before marriage and with Ranjan after marriage. His relationship with Richard is an aborted twilight escapade that ended because of the Mudaliyar. Moreover it happened in London as a student and Bala was brought to Ceylon to seal that moment as a past that would never see the dawn. But when Bala meets Richard for the first time after twenty years Balendran felt a sudden pang of sadness, for there in Richard’s face, like the physical distance between them across the foyer, were the missing years of their lives …Their gaze met and, in that instant, Richard saw that Balendran’s eyes were unguarded. His own defensiveness fell away. As they held each other’s hands, there passed between them the understanding of their history together, of the life that had been theirs. It settled on them like fine dust (Selvadurai 1998: 106).

The moment returns again and this time it is even stronger and Bala struggles not as a young student, but more so as the son of the Mudaliyar and as a husband and a father. The twilight now comes back more defined, an act that refuses to fade with the setting of the night. This uneasy reunion with Richard throws Balendran into turmoil and re-ignites tension within himself. The awkward yet intimate meeting between Bala and Richard takes place as Richard invites Bala to have tea with him in his room. Bala ponders about himself and the difficulties he had struggled to navigate in his life as a homosexual and as a husband. The twilight metaphor helps us to get beyond the assumption that sexual desires and behaviours that did not follow prescriptive ideals inevitably destabilised the conventional order. At times the opposite was true; twilight moments could be complicit in maintaining dominant power structures. The concept of twilight moments also takes into account the gender dynamics or sexual regulation. While such incidents may be concealed because of the fear of public notice, the incidents usually considered twilight moments did not permanently stigmatise the perpetrators. Bala comes to know about his fathers’ own twilight weakness with a servant and feels a deep abhorrence for his father for having seduced a servant. Yet is unable to actually and totally hate his father for this hypocrisy as this was a fleeting, momentary transient state just like his ones with Richard and Ranjan, which remains a twilight secret As the narrative unfolds and deepens the liberal sympathetic Balendran’s world, reveals secrets that are an outcome of conflicted passions and splintered feelings The novel unveils Balendran’s secret sexual escapades with Ranjan, a private in the army even after his marriage to Sonia.

Balendran liked to take his time with Ranjan, to prolong his bliss as long as possible. For, once it was over, he knew he would be visited by a terrible anguish. Then, walking quickly away from the station, he would curse himself for his imprudence, for putting everything at risk, his marriage, his family name (Selvadurai 1998: 82).

These secret twilight escapades with Ranjan are a constant reminder of the fact that his sexual desires are limited by moral panics designed by his father. ‘Gayle Rubin has argued for the existence of “sexual minorities” who create their own rules and discourses and take refuge from the dominant culture. Rubin has also used the metaphor of walls to illustrate how societies distinguish between “sexual order and chaos”. This is a helpful metaphor, but it does not account for those who reside in the acceptable category but perform acts in the between zone and those who refuse a sub-cultural identity’ (Clark 2005: 148). The feelings of alienation experienced by Balendran are painful, as he twilights back and forth in and out of his self.

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea is a novel where twilight moments in Amrith’s life comes more as a luminal state between childhood and adulthood. A stage where Amrith initiates transgressive desires by having queer feelings for his cousin and by expressing it in his own sexual language. Twilight moments in Amrith’s case can be described as a stepping out of his conventional identity to perform an occasional act, such as, seeping into the role of a female character with ease or being comfortable and simply himself with a gay man like Lucien Lindamulage when otherwise he is uncomfortable with men. In Amrith’s all boys’ school, Amrith had never had a male friend. So when his uncle asks Amrith ‘isn’t there any boy from your drama society you’d like to have come and spend the day?’ (Selvadurai 2005: 22). Amrith fells very nervous and comes to realise that though he was respected for his acting talent, none of the boys had ever made overtures of friendship towards him. The seniors in the school always treated him with respect and often asked his opinion on matters relating to art and literature. Amrith also realises that they never made fun of his silence and shyness and instead greeted him warmly. It was as if, they already knew about him, his shyness and silence and even his dramatic skills were the twilight zones that they could see but was unseen to him. His growing friendship with Niresh is one such transitory moment that is shaded and camouflaged. Amrith’s twilight moments are made fun of by his school friends and his classmates who gossip and use shaming as a form of twilight discipline to make fun of Amrith’s queerness. While returning home after the rehearsal, Amrith for the first time feels strangely uncomfortable at the thought of his teacher’s and friends’ amusement over his growing friendship with Niresh.

Amrith’s twilight moments and his queer identity are merged with his feelings of jealously for Niresh. Sexual desire which is often an emotional and uncontrollable force is facilitated through the order of society bringing to light the blurs created in the dark. Amrith’s desires for Niresh that blurred the borders of gender are moments that were formed in the twilight boundaries of his sexual self. Amrith does not realise the developments of this moments until his sisters point it out. During a quarrel with Selvi Amrith tells her to stay away from Niresh as Niresh is his cousin who has come only for three weeks. Selvi points out ‘Don’t be so jealous, looking him up and down with disdain. You don’t own Niresh’ (ibid.: 123). Amrith gradually becomes aware of his own homosexuality and his jealously for Niresh. Suddenly like an unexpected monsoon, his whole life suddenly becomes storm-tossed. 

Shakespeare’s Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, plays in the backdrop of the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.

The gossip surrounding the life of Lucien Lindamulage in the novel is one twilight episode that foreshadows Amrith’s own awakening of his sexual self. The grey haired man who frequented Amrith’s house on matters related to architecture and construction. Amrith was fond of the architect and in an odd way he felt could simply be himself with him. Lucien was the talk of the town and Amrith had often heard his uncle telling his aunt that he must leave his male secretaries when he went outstation. Amrith does not understand the seriousness of the issue but felt that it was an embarrassing open secret of his friend. Selvadurai paints Lucien’s sexual escapades as the twilight truths that are hidden from social light. The term ponnaya is the closest that Amrith can relate to when he sees Lucien’s secretary waiting for him in the courtyard – a young man in his mid-twenties with olive skin, glossy black hair and full lips. ‘Martha Hodes argues and posits a distinction between toleration – “a measure of forbearance for that which is not approved” – and “tolerance” – “a liberal spirit toward those of a different mind”. But toleration is still too ambiguous and positive a word; “forbearance” does not convey the sense of shame and secrecy that goes with “twilight” or the necessity of veiling and concealing the disapproved behaviour’ (cited in Clark 2005: 145). Lucien lives a life sheltered by the fact that his secrets will be treated as bizarre sexual acts one that enjoys tolerance and acceptance as twilight anomalies, yet for Amrith the sense of shame and secrecy behind this anomalies still exists as a form of disapproved behaviour.
The concept of twilight moments seems most useful in exposing secret desires, fantasies and practices to the harsh glare of daylight. The concept of twilight moments can thus help us reconcile rigid prescriptions about sexual morality, gender roles and class and racial boundaries with the frequency with which people engage in sexual relations that transgress these boundaries. The twilight experience was a moment for people who wished to explore unusual desires, veiled by a lack of understanding or words; after all the twilight is a zone where moralities and words and transgressive ruptures are not constant.

To Thine Own Self Be True: A Liberated Acceptance
‘To thine own self be true’ is perhaps one of the most frequently-quoted lines from Hamlet. Selvadurai’s characters consist of gay individuals finding a queer identity or a gay identity in an ever challenging heterosexual world. Characters paving their way through challenges to place themselves in a more positive, liberated accepted state of mind and body. Under Selvadurai’s skilful hand, we discover just how clichéd the line can be ‘to thine own self be true’ or in other words, to which self be true?’ Shyam Selvadurai explores the effects of ethnic naming, which has its roots in de-colonialization. As cultures were becoming freed from colonialism, they established independent nations, and these nations developed discourses that legitimized themselves. Nationalistic, or us, identities are often legitimized by being constructed as normal. But, in order to have a normal - us, there must be an abnormal - them. According to Anne McClintock, the discourse of nationalism is also masculine, and within this discourse, a kind of normalcy is developed in conjunction with and in opposition to discourses of deviance. The national identity is legitimized because it is the normal identity and it opposes degenerate identities (McClintock 1995: 46). In contrast, Selvadurai‘s characters do not fit easily within either sexual or ethnic boundaries; as such, Selvadurai highlights the possibility of a new - in between space of national identity, which provides hope for the end of constricting boundaries. Weaving together the ethnic and sexual identities of his characters, Selvadurai provides hope that a new politics of reciprocal recognition through touch can liberate those who are oppressed. Exploding the myth of heteronormative colonial power, Selvadurai creates a new kind of identity for his characters. Arjie in Funny Boy is bewildered by his incipient sexual awakening, mortified by the bloody Tamil-Sinhalese conflicts that threaten to tear apart his homeland, Arjie painfully grows toward manhood and an understanding of his own ‘different’ identity. Arjie begins exploring his sexual awakening and his ‘tendencies’ amidst political turmoil and growing violence of the late 1970s and early 1980s Colombo. Arjie’s father is a conservative Tamil business man who thinks highly of tradition. He believes that Arjie’s ‘funniness’ is a nurtured trait and a phase that will outgrow. His father decides to change Arjie’s school and send him to the Victoria Academy which ‘will force [him] to become a man’ (Selvadurai 1994:205). It makes Arjie wonder and he asks his brother ‘what for?’ and he answers ‘He doesn’t want you turning out funny or anything like that’ (ibid.: 205). Instead to his father’s disappointment, Arjie rebels against the sadistic principal and the social and political constraints the school tries to place upon him, and strikes up an intense friendship with a fellow renegade student. During his stay in the school and in the days that followed Arjie finds himself coming to terms with being a homosexual and realises that he does not hold the same disgust that his own father has for individuals who are ‘funny’. Arjie as a rebel and as a lover comes to assert his true self which liberates him and gives him a sense of pride in being gay.

A saying from the Tirukkural, verse 68 ‘A wise son gives joy not only to his father, But to all the world’ serves to project the relationship between the Mudaliyar and his sons. The Mudaliyar Navaratnam, a patriarch of an old and important family represents the law that Bala and his brother Arulanandan follow. The eldest son Arulanandan had stabbed his father in the arm because of the Mudaliyar’s resistance to his affair with a low-caste woman who worked as a servant at Brighton. Arulanandan was forced to leave with the woman to India twenty-eight years ago. Balendran is the obedient son, a gay man who has nonetheless dutifully married the wife chosen by his father and fathered a son. He feels that he is a failure since he had not been true to himself and thinks of his brother who had the courage to pursue his love for a servant girl, though at the cost of his father’s displeasure and disinheritance, a more honest individual. Selvadurai explores in Cinnamon Gardens the attendant clashes between sexuality, colonialism and classicism inherent in the caste system, religious divisions, racial and sexual prejudice of Ceylonese society. The real question is ‘To which self be true’. This is one question that Bala struggles with being in love with his wife and at the same time struggling with his sexual nature. The return of Richard Howland to Ceylon as a member of the Donoughmore Commission, a high level delegation from London sets Balendran at odds with the very social and familial strictures that have repressed and sustained him in his place as a normal man. The struggle of the spirit against oppression – gender and sexual orientation is at the heart of a person’s liberated acceptance. An uneasy reunion with Richard throws Balendran into turmoil and re-ignites tension within himself. Liberation of the mind is more important than the liberation of any other kind and Bala realises this slowly at first and more fervently later. As he decides to reignite his relationship with Richard Bala thinks of the risks he has to take to liberate himself and Richard. He takes a bold step to go and meet Richard and surprises him by inviting him to explore Colombo at night. Selvadurai sets up the Donoughmore Commission not just to introduce the freedom of adult franchise but also to symbolically introduce freedom in between Balendran and Richard as a price of rebelling against conformity. In his own words he speaks about the invisible bond he shares with Balendran, a married gay man in his 40s battling to live in a repressed, conformist colonial society. Cinnamon Gardens is thus, about personal courage and liberation. Sexual freedom requires an oppositional practice that is, transgressing socially respectable categories of sexuality and refusing to draw a line on what counts as politically or culturally correct sexuality. The feelings of alienation experienced by Balendran, is painful and his challenge oriented ethic of sexual liberalism ultimately leads him to the next stage in his life. Balendran’s sexual freedom becomes an ideology and a form of identity to assert an ever growing need for reshaping sexuality.

Perhaps it is enough to have one person to whom nothing is a secret, to whom one can lay open the inner workings of one’s heart …To ask for your friendship is, then, for me, an immense gesture of bravery. I make it now (Selvadurai 1998: 385).

Amrith’s awakening and his search for a liberated identity is more of an adolescent seeking to express his difference amidst a traditional high class family and a homophobic society. Selvadurai explores and projects the feelings of a young adult growing into homosexuality and the constant tension that Amrith experiences in the sea of his life. With passions he is shy about, but passions that completely captivate his heart and soul, Amrith feels he is drowning in the monsoon sea with Niresh. Selvadurai beautifully projects the growth of Amrith, a teenager revolting against the feelings of love, family and his own self. The novel chronicles the growth, development, rejection, repression and exploration of a fourteen year old’s homosexual tendencies. Amrith’s progress in a world where he is still answering doubts about his parents, family and his background, the entrance of Niresh and the subsequent feelings of love and infatuation gets bundled up with his feelings as a growing adult.

Focussing on the liberation of sexual pleasure, as the organising principle of identity formation, Selvadurai moves towards a more pluralistic sexual ethics – an ethics of sex positivity and sexual diversity through the characters of Amrith and Lucien Lindamulage. He brings in the politics of social liberation and merges it with that of personal liberation by positing disparaged sexual identities and styles. The chapter titled ‘Cassio’ in the novel is a total assimilation of Amrith’s life as a character in the play ‘Othello’ and in his own life. As the other boys make fun of the role and the impending homosexual scene in the play between Iago and Cassio, Amrith becomes furious and livid. Yet, the assignment of the role is symbolic in the novel as it serves to project Amrith’s tendencies and the sexual self that was hidden without an identity. From this point on, Selvadurai sets the acceptance of secrets, tendencies and family feuds positively. Amrith decides to set the barrier straight. The revelation of secrets, bonding and intimacies shared between Amrith and Niresh strengthens and constructs sexual styles that transgress the matrix of cultural and political constructions. Amrith’s identity as a deviant sexual being before, outside and beyond power is a cultural impossibility and a politically impracticable task of rethinking subversive possibilities for sexuality and identity within the terms of culture and norms of the society.

The last chapter ‘Roses and Silence’ is a chapter of acceptance. The chapter deals with the departure of Niresh to Canada and Amrith’s acknowledgement of his self. He quietly misses the absence of Niresh in the house and in the room. He does not know what to do and how to start his days without Niresh. Selvadurai gradually allows Amrith to come to terms with his sexual self. The visit of Lucien Lindamulage shutters Amrith totally, as all the pieces of the puzzle of his life fits into place. Amrith’s knowledge of his own self and his search for acceptance leads him to his mother’s grave. He sits on his haunches and looks at his mother’s name on the tombstone for a long time. He then looks around if anyone is looking and finally speaks out.

‘I am …,’ but he could not continue, for he did not know a decent word to describe himself. And he refused to use ‘ponnaya’. Finally, he leaned closer and whispered, ‘I am … different.’ (Selvadurai 2005: 205).

Selvadurai unobtrusively points out that one needn’t be gay, or extra-ordinarily different in any way to feel this same sense of alienation, and that in fact is a common aspect of the human condition. Selvadurai expertly paints characters as whole human beings, with all of the nobility as well as the faults that are inherently human. He reminds us of just how alike we all are, once we get past religion, or skin colour, or sexual preference. Thus, Selvadurai addresses the difficulty of being different in a funny way which does not conform to accepted gender and sexual norms. He brilliantly portrays the anxieties aroused by gender non-conformity especially in the Sri Lankan patriarchal society. Selvadurai elaborately presents the gradual and the ultimate passage that the protagonists in the novels - Arjie, Balendran and Amrith – take to come out and accept their homosexual identity. Thus, under Selvadurai’s skilful hand, we discover just how clichéd the line can be ‘to thine own self be true.’

  1. Baldwin, James The Price of the Ticket: Collected Non-fiction 1948 – 1985 New York: St Martin’s Press 1985.
  2. Clark, Anna “Twilight Moments” Journal of the History of Sexuality Vol 14, No 1/2, January/April, pp 139-160 The University of Texas Press 2005.
  3. De Lauretis, Teresa “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities”, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3(2), pp iii-xviii, 1991.
  4. Foucault, Mitchell The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality: 1 New Delhi: Penguin Books 1998
  5. Glover, David & Cora Kaplan Genders: The New Critical Idiom London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group 2007.
  6. Hunn, Deborah “Selvadurai, Shyam (1965-)” glbtq: An Encyclopaedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Culture pp 1-3, 2005,,2.html retrieved on 11/03/2011.
  7. Penrose, Walter “Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticism and Women of a ‘Third Nature’ in the South Asian Past” Journal of the History of Sexuality Vol 10, No1, January, pp 3-39 University of Texas Press 2001.
  8. Roscoe, Will Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America New York: St Martin’s Griffin.
  9. Selvadurai, Shyam Funny Boy New York: Harcourt Brace & Company 1994 --Cinnamon Gardens: A Novel New Delhi: Penguin Books 1998.
    --Swimming in the Monsoon Sea New Delhi: Penguin Books 2005.

Narola Dangti is Assistant Professor, Sazolie College, Kohima & Research Scholar, Department of English, Nagaland University.

Prof. (Dr.) N.D.R. Chandra is Vice Chancellor, Bastar University, Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh.

Globalization: National Identity and Cultural Hybridization in Late 20th Century and 21st Century Novels by Dr. Afaf Jamil Khogeer

Globalization: National Identity and Cultural Hybridization in Late 20th Century and 21st Century Novels by Dr. Afaf (Effat) Jamil Khogeer

Globalization has been defined as the process whereby events that happen in one part of the world impact other places. The inborn trait of a national identity has shifted considerably during the latter decades of the twentieth century, now irrevocably transformed in the new millennium. An individual’s national identity has become less relevant than his/her cultural or ethnic identity. In my manuscript, selected works from the global literary canon are presented, which highlight the cultural, national, and technological aspects of globalization: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee, Graceland by Chris Abani, and Neuromancer by William Gibson. These novels consist of stories about people who are part of the global society in which national identities have been affected and cultural hybridization has emerged.

Globalization has been defined as the process whereby “events happening in one place importantly impact upon many other places, often remote in time and space” (Urry 39). In this paper, selected works from the global literary canon are presented, which highlight the cultural, national, and technological aspects of globalization: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee, Graceland by Chris Abani, and Neuromancer by William Gibson. These novels consist of stories about people who are part of the global society in which national identities have been affected and cultural hybridization has emerged. As cultural theorist and sociologist, Stuart Hall, explains, we “all write and speak from a particular place and time, from a history and a culture which is specific. What we say is always in context, positioned” (Hall 234).

Cultural Hybridization
The predominant theme in the novels presented in this paper is cultural hybridization, a consequence of globalization. Cultural hybridization is a product of globalization created,
From the paradigm of polarization and the paradigm of homogenization, and derives meaning only in relation to them….It resolves the tension between purity and emanation, between the local and the global, in the dialectic according to which the local is in the global and the global is in the local” (Pieterse 57).
The traditional definition of culture is no longer applicable in the twenty-first century global community. Professor of Anthropology, Gordon Mathews, posits that the new millennium’s definition of culture is the “information and identities available from the global supermarket” (1). In this era of globalization, many countries resemble each other, they are becoming similar and “Americanizing,” evidenced by having the same McDonalds, KFC’s, the same malls and department stores, the same entertainment industry with MTV and Disney, and the same movies and music. As Pulitzer Prize winning author, Thomas Friedman, says, “Touring the world will become like going to the zoo and seeing the same animal in every cage – a stuffed animal” (229).

Cultural hybridization is the intertwining of Asian, African, American, and European cultures. The increased global flow of people (migration), commodities, information (increased by technology), and capital has resulted in a form of creolization, the crossing-over in a chaotic pattern of hybrid formations. For example, in the streets of Japan, one can visit a traditional tea house alongside a McDonald’s restaurant. Logos of multinational corporations flood the billboards on the streets and allies of South America. Non-western teenagers are rushing to the malls and stores to buy American designer brand clothing, such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. An Indian girl wearing a sari and carrying a Louis Vuitton purse can be seen walking down the street, talking on her cell phone to her friend who lives in Australia. The hybridization of music is also a part of the globalization phenomenon. For example, Latin based singers such as Ricky Martin and Shakira are now crossing over to English speaking markets and are mixing English and Latin lyrics.

Immigration and Assimilation-- The House on Mango Street and Jasmine
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee chronicle the lives of two immigrant women, who strive to engage in the global community. As depicted in these novels, both legal and illegal immigrants generally hail from socioeconomically challenged, underdeveloped nations in which violence, poverty, and political instability are commonplace. The division between legal and illegal immigrants encourages racism and xenophobia. This discrimination makes it difficult for immigrates to interact normally with the host society. They have problems finding a social space for themselves, and finding support to aid them with obtaining social equality.

The House on Mango Street
The House on Mango Street by Mexican-American writer, Sandra Cisneros, is the story of Esperanza a young girl growing up in the Latino section of Chicago. As Professor of Hispanic Studies, Julian Olivares, notes, it is, “(1) ideological perspective of the downtrodden but, primarily, the condition of the Hispanic women; (2) the process of a girl's growing up; and (3) the formation of the writer who contrives to have a special house of her own” (Olivares 1606).

Esperanza, is still a big part of the “we” that is her family and their fate is intertwined with hers. She slowly begins to understand that to have her own identity, she must become the “I” that will bring her out of poverty. So many hopes and dreams were invested in her idealization of the ideal American home, the home she saw in the sitcoms on television. Esperanza’s house “serves a twofold symbolic function: it is a symbol of the socio-economic condition in which Esperanza finds herself and its alienating effect on her, and …as a symbol of human consciousness” (Eysturoy 93). Her dream is symbolized by her dream of a new house, "They always told us one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn't have to move each year" (Cisneros 337). It gradually becomes evident that this new house is very much symbolic for a social liberation as well.

Esperanza is aware that Mango Street is a place the “other” people fear because it is dangerous, “Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we're dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake” (Cisneros 29). Although she lives in a tight-knit community of Latinos, Esperanza identifies herself as an outsider like the trees that do not belong among all the bricks and buildings in the barrio. She asserts that, “When I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach” (Cisneros 71). Esperanza is separate from her crumbling world; but she must seek the strength to grow, as the trees do.

While Esperanza dreams of leaving her neighborhood, she also aspires to be a writer. It is this dream that actually becomes the symbol of her actual exodus from Mango Street, for she will ultimately leave only on in her artistic imagination. She writes about leaving,
One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. One day I will go away....They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out. (Cisneros 342)
Esperanza tells many stories that reveal her views on life, how she sees herself, and how poverty affects her life. She must reach outside of her surroundings, let go of the ground and fulfill the dreams that are a part of the stories she tells:
I like to tell stories. I tell them inside my head. . . . I make a story for my life, for each step my brown shoe takes. I say, "And so she trudged up the wooden stairs, her sad brown shoes taking her to the house she never liked." I like to tell stories. I am going to tell you a story about a girl who didn't want to belong. (Cisneros 101)
Through her creative stories, superimposed over the harsh realities of her situation, she journeys to a place where her thoughts matters. Among the characters she writes about are women who have been forced to make choices that caused them to have stifled, restricted lives. She chooses not to be one of these women, who are at first wild and resistant and later sad and helpless:
My great-grandmother. I would've liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn't marry until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That's the way he did it. And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window all her life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. (Cisneros 12)
While Esperanzo begins to free herself through her writing, she maintains a commitment to her roots on Mango Street. In other words, she wants to escape poverty but wants to keep her roots. Thus, she escapes poverty through her artistic talent, but remains fixed geographically. She knows very well, that, "You can't forget who you are." (Cisneros, p.105) As Julian Oliveras notes, “on the higher plane of art, then, Esperanza transcends her condition, finding another house which is the space of literature” (Oliveras 1607).

Esperanza is eventually forced to accept her fate. She will not be leaving the Latino neighborhood and moving to the house of her family’s dreams. Ultimately, this is what The House on Mango Street is about: achieving liberation through art, rather than through geographical excursion. Esperanza overcomes her condition by creating literature, rather than moving to a new house. In this way, she is able to distance herself from her family and community. And yet, she holds on to her heritage. By affirming her own artistic expression, she is able to blend both of her dreams.

Jasmine by Indian-born American writer, Bharati Mukherjee, is the story of a present-day, seventeen-year-old Indian woman whose life begins in the Punjab. The main character, Jasmine, traverses to from her India to four different locations: Florida, New York, Iowa, and California. Like Esperanza, Jasmine is a victim of poverty and wants to escape for a better life in America. After the death of her husband, Prakash, she begins her journey in Tampa, Florida where her deceased husband Prakash planned on attending college, “I had not given even a day’s survival in America a single thought. This was the place I had chosen to die, on the first day if possible. I would land, find Tampa, walking there if necessary, find the college grounds and check it against the brochure photo” (Mukherjee 120).

When Jasmine arrives in the United States, she is determined to make herself fit in as an American. While in Florida, she meets Lillian Gordon. Lillian tells Jasmine that she can live with her sister, Wylie, and Wylie’s husband, Taylor, in New York. Jasmine eventually moves in with Taylor and Wylie and right away Jasmine has feelings toward Taylor, “I fell in love with his world, its ease, its careless confidence and graceful self-absorption. I wanted to become the person they thought they saw: humorous, intelligent, refined, affectionate. Not illegal, not murderer, not widowed…destitute, fearful” (Mukherjee 171). Jasmine’s job with the family is to be the caregiver for the young daughter, Duff. She has trouble adjusting to this American family and leaving her Indian customs at bay. For example, it is hard for Jasmine to accept the fact that she is to sleep in a different room, which is simply not how it is done in India, according to her. It is with this family that Jasmine is most American, but at the same time, still part of her own culture.

Jasmine wants to be accepted as normal in America, however, being an illegal immigrant forces her into very difficult situations. One day Jasmine and Taylor are sitting at a park in New York. Jasmine is startled when she sees, or thinks she sees, the man who killed her former husband, Prakash. She screams and Taylor offers to call the police. Jasmine is forced to keep the police out of the situation because she is an illegal alien. “Don’t you see that’s impossible? I’m illegal here, he knows that. I can’t come out and challenge him. I’m very exposed, I’m alone all day, I’m out in the park” (Mukherjee 189). She is now forced to make another desperate decision. She decides that it is time to move on to Iowa, where there are less people.

In Iowa, Jasmine meets a banker named Bud, “People assume we’re married. He’s a small town banker, he’s not allowed to do impulsive things. I’m less than half his age, and very foreign. We’re the kind who marry” (Mukherjee 7). Jasmine does not give any reasonable explanation for why they should be married. She gives reasons out of desperation more than out of love. Jasmine will do anything it takes to start a family in the United States. She is determined to assimilate.

Jasmine initially believes that she and her mother-in-law, Mother Ripplemeyer, would have much in common, as a result of the latter having lived through the depression. But Mother Ripplemeyer was uncomfortable hearing about the poverty in India, after all, she was now a part of the American culture, and has gotten over the strife she experienced during the depression. She felt that Jasmine should forget about her life in India and make an effort to assimilate into American culture. Jasmine is disheartened to know that a bond has not been forged as a result of their shared experiences of going through hard times:
Mother Ripplemeyer tells me her Depression stories. In the beginning, I thought we could trade some world-class poverty stories, but mine make her uncomfortable. Not that she’s hostile. It’s like looking at the name in my passport and seeing “Jyo---“ at the beginning and deciding that her mouth is not destined to make those sounds. (Mukherjee 16)
Jasmine is content to pretend to be someone else who does not identify with the water famines in Hasnapur where the women fought savagely over the last muddy bucketful of water in a dried up well. Instead, she is content to listen to her mother-in-law rattle on about the rather whitewashed experiences of the depression. Like Esperanza, Jasmine is an outsider, her only cohorts are those people who love her because she is easy to be around, as long as she does not discuss those issues about herself that make her different (Mukherjee 16-17).

The most poignant character in the novel is the refugee named Du who Jasmine and her husband, Bud, adopt from Korea. Du is also an outsider and has a story of displacement and poverty that can rival Jasmine’s, but he chooses to create a new life centered around the advances of the modern world, embracing American TV as if it is a lifeline. He wants to overcome the emotional and physical upheavals that characterized his experiences in the Saigon refugee camps. He wants to assimilate into American culture, and, thus avoids any conversations with Jasmine on the subject of war or strife. His refusal to engage in this type of conversation leaves Jasmine perplexed, “I’ve told him my stories of India, the years between India and Iowa, hoping he’d share something with me. When they’re over he usually says, “That’s wild. Can I go now?” (Mukherjee 18).

Jasmine knows that in order to assimilate, she must adopt a new identity, which is prompted by the death of her husband, Bud. He was killed in a terrorist attack that she believes was meant for her. She now has make a new life for herself without relying on others. The validity of her past is not lost, just subverted, just as in the life of Esperanza, who recognizes the vagaries of her past life and yearns to recreate it.

Unlike the families in The House on Mango Street and Jasmine, most members of the global population will never cross their own national borders, living and dying in close proximity to their place of birth. Mechanisms of government control, most prominently migration policies, are among the greatest forces affecting migration. Nation-states generally organize their immigration system around the distinguishing between citizens and foreigners, with an underlying and institutionalized resistance to foreigners who want to settle and socially integrate.

The Influence of Western Popular Culture-Graceland
Graceland by Nigerian author, Chris Abani, portrays the ubiquitous influence of the United States’ popular culture on members of the international community. Abani switches between flashbacks and the present in his compelling narrative about sixteen-year-old Elvis impersonator, Elvis Oke, who lives in Maroko, a ghetto section of Lagos, Nigeria. Elvis’ story is like that of others whose search for identity entails a struggle between their traditional cultures and the burgeoning popular culture of the global society.

Elvis lives in a culture that abounds with cultural hybridization, for example, he listens to highlife and reggae music, and watches American movies. Throughout the novel, Abani makes references to Elvis’ choices in literature, music and movies that illustrate cultural hybridization. Elvis’ immersion in popular culture contrasts with the backdrop of a dismal urban existence. Though he is immersed in his own Igbo culture, Elvis hopes to one day live a better life in America – the place where dreams come true. After all, America is the place where Graceland is located, which is the “King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley’s mansion.

At the beginning of Graceland, Abani reveals that Elvis had fallen asleep reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Like many of the works later referenced, Invisible Man deals with social alienation, which Elvis struggles with throughout the story. Elvis navigates through adolescence in a ghetto without parental support. However, he does have aspirations; his main goal is to become a famous dancer. Elvis stands out in Lagos because of his job as an Elvis impersonator. Although he is an entertainer, his strong, personal sense of morality and justice is his greatest attribute. He is not willing to accept the horror of poverty and desperation that is the fabric of his urban existence. Clearly, “Elvis and the other characters in Abani’s novel constitute the violently evacuated waste products of today’s world economy” (Dawson 20–21). Despite his slum dwelling” environment, Elvis is determined to not be an outcast. He criticizes other fellow Nigerians because they have submitted to their deplorable living conditions: “That is the trouble with this country. Everything is accepted. No dial tones or telephones. No stamps in post offices. No electricity. No water. We just accept” (Abani 58).

Another notable work mentioned in Graceland is Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, which is referred to as Elvis’ “current inspirational tome” (Abani 7). It is easy to see why Elvis would find the letters inspirational, as they encourage the poet to whom Rilke wrote to stop looking for approval in others and focus his energy on understanding himself. As Elvis tries to make a living from an unconventional job, he must face ridicule and rejection from tourists, fellow Nigerians, and his own father. Yet this isolation and discouragement are not enough for Elvis to abandon his dreams. In a sense, Elvis may have been reading the letters for the guidance and support that was so absent in his life.

Elvis smiles when he reads the first line of the novel, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Elvis believed these words expressed his condition. Obviously, the worst of times reflects his present condition, but the reader may wonder what could possibly be good about Lagos. The contrast between beauty and horror is a constant in the book, and Elvis’ feelings are split in relation to the atrocities he witnesses. His disgust mirrors that of the western reader, while some of his other feelings are more similar to the general sense of apathy and acceptance that exists among his peers, his family and his neighbors.

The best of times that Elvis has is when he is reading books by American authors and going to American movies. Elvis likes movies that have conflict as the predominant theme--the antagonist is trying to defeat the protagonist, who struggles to defeat the antagonist. When Elvis goes to the cinema with his acquaintances, they watch American movies about “the eternal struggle between the good of John Wayne and the evil of the villain” (Abani 149). As the novel progresses, the connection between these movies and Elvis’ own life becomes clearer, as he attempts to be the hero in his own story; but the “bad guys” in Graceland are not as easy to defeat. Though Elvis does nothing when he witnesses a grave injustice taking place, it is hard to blame him when doing anything would almost guarantee his death. He frequently voices his disapproval and refuses to accept the horrible scenes that he witnesses, which are brave acts themselves, as standing apart from the crowd is always a brave act.

The most obvious western influence in the book is that of Elvis Presley, whom Elvis Oke is named after, and who he aspires to be. Dancing and singing as an Elvis impersonator and listening to his Elvis records take up the bulk of Elvis Oke’s time. However, Elvis struggles with living up to the very idea of Elvis Presley, not only when he is dancing and singing, but also when he tries to live up to the image associated with Presley. Elvis believes he can never be as good as Elvis Presley and fights this despair by clinging onto the belief that he will eventually escape to America and become famous. However, the reality of his life in Lagos is a constant reminder of how difficult, if not impossible, that future will be.

Fortunately for Elvis, his opportunity to escape Lagos finally comes when his mentor, Redemption, gives him a forged passport. The passport has Redemption’s name, so Elvis must assume a new identify as he transitions from his life of unfulfilled dreams to what he hopes will be the land of opportunity. While waiting in the airport for his flight to American, Elvis reads James Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man, which deals with racism in America. He can relate to the black man in the book who was lynched by a group of racist white men:
He knew that scar, that pain, that shame, that degradation that no metaphor could contain, inscribing it on his body. And yet beyond that, he was that scar, carved by hate and smallness and fear onto the world’s face. He and everyone like him, until the earth was aflame with scarred black men dying in trees of fire. (Abani 320)
One would think that Elvis would be feeling something closer to excitement and anticipation about his escape to America, and perhaps this passage indicates the conflict that still exists within him, relating to the reality of what exists in Lagos and how it relates to America, the West, and colonialism. It is significant that the first few works Elvis is shown reading in Graceland reflect his innocence and loneliness, as well as his desire to be free, while the book he reads when the novel ends is much more grim. Elvis has lost his innocence and now the adult Elvis must learn how to come to terms with his own pain and suffering. This final scene illuminates Elvis’ realization that escaping to America will not solve all of his problems, and that his pain will not be left behind. The book ends with his response to the airline clerk who calls his name, signifying his new identity, “Yes, this is Redemption” (Abani 321). In the global community, many people, like Elvis, are becoming migrants, moving rapidly through various cultural and national spaces.

The Internet/Cyberspace-Neuromancer
Internet communication directly impacts those living in a world whose traditional boundaries and patterns have been altogether changed. People worldwide are now riding in fast cars on the information highway that Jessica E. Baum calls the “Mad, Mad Internet,”
Scholars have posited that international trade has a spillover effect on international relations, transforming relationships among nations by promoting interdependence and consequently producing economic stability and peace in a globalizing world. (Baum 702)
The community arising from the worldwide web is a mental or intellectual one that has its power in the nature of the medium which unites people. For instance, the ordinary human struggles of people attempting to live in community is being overtaken, perhaps, by a human inclination towards ‘picking and choosing’ and finding agreeable new communities by way of cyber communities. No human being is an island, yet islands will be united invisibly, verbally and conceptually by way of machines.

In most contemporary literature, the Internet is mentioned as a vital part of the plot. Some of the “real life” issues that are addressed in stories about the Internet include the ways in which people’s privacy can be impinged upon by outside, hostile attacks. In addition, the novels reveal the grandiose notion that people can control the world through technology. The viral infection that obliterates computer memory acts as a powerful challenge to this assumption.

American-Canadian author, William Gibson, is one of the most prolific science fiction authors and major contributor to what is referred to as the cyberpunk genre. Gibson, who has been called the "noir prophet," created the term “cyberspace,” which refers to the realm that encompasses the Internet. Of course, discussing William Gibson means discussing, however briefly, the concept of “cyberpunk.” Although he did not create the term, Gibson became the most recognized writer of cyberpunk. The term was first used by Bruce Bethke in 1983 as a title for his short story. It describes “punk attitudes and high technology,” usually criminal driven teenagers, who use high technology to commit crimes on the Internet. The word “cyber” comes from cybernetics, the study of control processes and communication in biological, electronic, mechanical and artificial systems. The word “punk” describes an entire generation that found its roots in the Sex Pistol music and the general anarchistic attitude that many youths had embraced at the end of the seventies. The punk teenager is individualistic, anarchic, anti-social and rebellious. Cyberpunk basically describes an ultra-technological rebel movement, a revolt, but a revolt orchestrated by using high technology (Baum 698-730).

The 20th anniversary edition of Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, was released in 2004. Neuromancer won him international fame and recognition, as well as the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Philipp K. Dick Award. The action of the novel is set in 21st century Japan. (It was during the decade of the 1980s that Japan became the United States’ pivotal source for cutting edge technology). Amidst the backdrop of technology in Japanese society, Gibson writes about a decaying future society, where moral norms and rules seem to have been forgotten or neglected. Corruption abounds and technology is used for evil purposes. In fact, this is one of the novel’s declarations: technology is negative and only negative. Not only is it used for evil purposes, but it has dominated, not so much in a “Terminator” way, but by controlling the humans that have created and are using it.

The novel’s main character is Case, a former hacker specializing in breaking security systems, who is caught stealing from his own employees and banned from using the Internet. The plot consists of his meeting with Armitage, a powerful and mysterious figure who helps him regain access to the Internet and society and places him under the protection of Molly, a professional killer. Armitage is a kind of savior; the negative aura around Armitage, as well as its association (even patronage) with professional killers such as Molly, makes this a rather negative savior. As his work for Armitage progresses, Case successfully completes clandestine assignments and has the final revelation that he has been working for Neuromancer, an artificial form of intelligence. The necromancer is an evil wizard, that deals with dark forces and death. Very much like a necromancer, Case, through his hacker vocation, has evil intentions and is associated with chaos.

Neuromancer contains several recurring themes which pertain to much that tends to be discussed about the networked imagination. The novel is futuristic, but it also offers its commentary on a world and human consciousness that are now being transformed quickly, due to the advent of cyberspace’s promise of rapid communication and in a amplified flow of information across diverse populations. Throughout the novel is the unitary theme of cyber communication and cyber culture producing a different kind of human being, along with different kinds of human potential. In essence, cyber reality is divorced from physical or material reality. It is not so much that the geographical world has have altered, but that our conceptions of it, and our places within it, has undergone a revolution that is registered most powerfully in the human imagination.

Gibson’s opening chapters introduce expressions that are a part of cyber communication, such as “navigational burn,” “high-resolution Cray monitor,” “matrix,” and “slow virus.” What Gibson illustrates by using these expressions is that those who are not familiar with the Internet and its intricacies will be excluded from the cyber community. For those who are already attached to the information highway or the marvels of the networked imagination, Gibson’s fairly Orwellian approach will be clear and familiar. As cultural critic, Howard Rheingold, has explained, a few hours per day of computerized communication, as was his experience, can quickly begin to transform one’s outlook. Rheingold states that people have an “emotional attachment to an apparently bloodless technological ritual.” This phenomenon is shared by millions of people who also belong to, “computer mediated social groups known as virtual communities” (Rheingold 64).

Gibson describes ordinary human events within the framework of this cyber society. At the opening of the third chapter, for example, “Home” is introduced as ‘the sprawl,’ in reference to what has become the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan axis, a swath of territory that was long ago enjoined by way of cyber communication. Its physical features or diversity need not exist, for its ‘essence’ has become the conceptual idea of Boston-Atlanta or BAMA. The region’s different histories, the experiences of its millions of inhabitants through time, and all that might have been local to one component of BAMA or another have become meaningless. On the cyber map, the area is identified by many hundreds of millions of megabytes each second, until blocks of Manhattan begin to come into view. The character, Case has awakened from a “dream of airports,” somewhere in Europe. By the chapter’s conclusion, the existence of the Matrix has been referred to, an unknown computer revolution that began in arcade games and in, “graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks” (Gibson 51). The tone is set for a novel that will continue to remind the reader of George Orwell’s 1984 in its effective suggestion of not just a culture, but a consciousness, that is shaped by unknown past progressions to form a seamless way of “seeing” shared by millions. Whenever people engage in the realm of cyberspace, they form communities that supersede the influence of public spaces or ordinary group communication.

Gibson writes about professions and occupations that are transformed by the cyber age. He uses quirky descriptions to illustrate how humans become machines and machines become humans. For instance, when one of the characters, Molly, visits a physician, she turns to a “medical team” in an old condominium building in Baltimore; her leg is treated in an office that bears the name of a dentist (Gibson 69). Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has explored the changes of identity that Gibson alludes to, which tend to result from cyber communication. What has gone before, in terms of convention or attachment to who one is and what one does is effectively disrupted by a new identity and consciousness that is united by cyberspace, more than everyday reality, ordinary social interaction, or what might be assumed about a group or kind of person, a profession, or other designation that defined people and their lives, in the past. Turkle comments that, “without any principle of coherence, the self spins off in all directions” (81). Not only has cyberspace encouraged diverse emotional, communal, geographical and conceptual views of life and the world but also it has promoted adoption of a replacement consciousness that rests and relies upon what is presented in cyber communication. When people are united by the medium of cyberspace, far more in many cases than by their everyday interaction with people, or their relationship to place and tradition, the result is apt to be a weakening of those descriptors and identifications of a person which do not connect to what is shared on the computer screen. Needless to say, the traditional roles, functions, jobs and professions of participants become as irrelevant as the geographical locations that once confined them.

The concluding chapters of Neuromancer depict the futuristic aspects of globalization in which cultural boundaries have disappear. Characters identify their national origins in a wide array of first names that have been collected at random. A character is named Lupus and, why not, given that no dictates of old apply, and cyber-related imagination has become the norm. In these last chapters, Gibson writes write sparsely, for the major work has been done. He has already told the story of the cyber revolution. In the final chapter, Gibson pulls together all that has been presented. When Case meets the waiter, Ratz, that he had known in the past, Ratz acknowledges him as “the artiste” and adds quickly that, “Night City is not a place one returns to” (Gibson 258). Wintermute is explained, at last, as the “hive mind” or decision-maker, the force that creates change in the outside world. Neuromancer, on the other hand, is the human personality, a technologically produced phenomenon that represents the people of the future.

Gibson reminds the reader of timeless human attributes and how they are either incorporated into cyberculture or discarded. Machinery is no longer serving humanity so much as it is shaping the nature of human organization and interaction. People are freed by cyber technology but at the price of their individuality. The prophecy seems to be that the future belongs to computers and high technology, and they will be controlling the global society.

The novels, The House on Mango Street, Jasmine, Graceland, and Neuromancer, provide depictions of how the homogenous society has been rendered largely nonexistent by globalization, with common values, national identity, citizenship, social integration, and technology in a constant state of flux during the latter part of the twentieth century and the twenty-first century. As the novels confirm, due to global hybridization and the telecommunications revolution, the world is shrinking. As the global economy grew, countries became more dependent upon each other. This interdependence has broken down borders and combined cultures, traditions, values, and norms, as portrayed in the novels. Edensor (2002) affirms that “the circulation of ideas and images in the media provides a vast storehouse of interlinked cultural forms, places, objects, people and practices which are associated across time and space” (187). Increasingly complex but with core components relatively unchanging, the national identity is made stronger through cultural elements. The sense of national belonging, in short, is no longer linked to official, political definitions of the nation-state. Efforts to maintain cultural purity are futile, as global conditions have generated cultural hybridization. Although fictional, the novels mirror the state of the global community in which there is no longer a clearly cut cultural framework for any nation.

Works Cited
  1. Abani, Chris. Graceland. New York: Picador, 2004.
  2. Baum, Jessica E. “It’s a Mad, Mad Internet: Globalization and the Challenges.” Federal Communications Law Journal 63.3 (2011): 698-730.
  3. Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage, 1991.
  4. Dawson, Ashley. “Surplus City.” Interventions 11.1 (2009):16-34.
  5. Edensor, Tim. “National Identity and the Politics of Memory.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 29 (1997): 175-194.
  6. Eysturoy, Annie O. Daughters of Self-Creation: The Contemporary Chicana Novel. 1st ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
  7. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963.
  8. Friedman, Thomas. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books, 2000.
  9. Gibson, William. Idoru. New York: Putnam, 1996. ---. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 2000.
    ---.Pattern Recognition. New York: Putnam, 2003.
  10. Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Identity and Diaspora." In Patrick Williams & Laura Chrisman, (Eds). Colonial Discourse & Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993.
  11. Mathews, Gordon. Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in Cultural Supermarket. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  12. Mukherjee, Bharati. Jasmine. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1989.
  13. Oliveras, Julian. "The House on Mango Street and the Poetics of Space." The Americas Review 15:3–4 (1987): 160–70.
  14. Pieterse, Nederveen J. Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.
  15. Rheingold, Howard. Introduction to the Virtual Community. In Victor J. Vitanza, (Ed). CyberReader. New York: Allyn &Bacon, 1998.
  16. Turkle, Sherry. Identity Crisis. In Victor J. Vitanza, (Ed). CyberReader. New York: Allyn &Bacon, 1998.
  17. Urry, John. Global Complexity. Cambridge UK: Polity Press, 2003.
  18. Weiss, Linda. The Myth of the Powerless State: Governing the Economy in a Global Era. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988. 

Dr. Afaf (Effat) Jamil Khogeer, is an Associate Professor of English Literature, Department of English, Umm Al-Qura University. She has B. A. and M.A. in English from Oregon State University, U.S.A. and the PhD. English Literature, Women’s Faculty of Arts, Major: Fiction; Women’s literature in 20th. Century Britain.
Her previous experiences include Chair, Department of English, Deputy Dean, Institute of Scientific Research, Member in Umm Al-Qura University Advisory Council, and a ‘Visiting Scholar' to some universities in Canada, U.S.A., and the U.K. She has published quite a number of articles in the fields of literary criticism, Translation, Women's Literature, the short story, the novel, Comparative studies on English, American, Saudi Arabian and Canadian literature. Her published works include: Integration of the Self: Women in the Fiction of Iris Murdoch and Margaret Drabble, "Translating Poetry: Is it a Creative Translation or a Translation of Creativity?", “A Deconstructive Reading of Muriel Spark’s novel, The Public Image”,  “A Bildungsroman Interpretation of M. A. Yamani’s novel, A Boy From Makkah,”, "Saudi Literature and Electronic Creativity", and "Translating Children's Literature and Its Impact on the Child's Intellectual and Educational Growth".

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