How Does Moniza Alvi Explore The Concept Of Identity In “An Unknown Girl”?

2301 words - 10 pages

“An Unknown Girl” by Moniza Alvi is a free verse poem about the author’s experience getting her hand hennaed in an Indian bazaar. Throughout the poem, Alvi makes use of structure techniques like end-stopped lines, occasional rhymes, language, imagery, and changes in tone to explore different aspects of the concept of identity.
Moniza Alvi uses the format of the poem to illustrate how the speaker’s identity is split between East and West. The poem itself is centered in the middle of the page. From what the reader knows of Moniza Alvi, they can deduce that the centering of the poem is symbolic of her own division between the Pakistani and Eastern aspects of her identity, and its more ...view middle of the document...

Alvi also employs the use of end-stopped lines in key moments of the poem to highlight key aspects of identity. At the height of the poem, when Moniza Alvi is feeling deeply connected to her culture, she claims she has “new brown veins.” This is the first end-stopped line we encounter in the entire poem, and Alvi uses it to accentuate her connection to this newfound aspect of her identity. The “brown” she if referring to is the henna that someone is making on her hand of a peacock. The henna, as well as the peacock, is symbolic of India, and the Indian cultural identity, as henna is something associated with India, and the peacock is the Indian national bird. The fact she has “new brown veins” shows the magnitude of how the speaker has been impacted by her hennaing experience, as the brown, of the henna and the peacock, is inside her, meaning that the Indian cultural identity is within her. Not only is it within her, but it has become her “veins”; it is necessary for her to live, as we need our veins to carry the blood to our body. This illustrates to the reader how significant the speaker’s experience was, as not only has it affected her, but has become crucial to her survival.
The other utilization of the next end-stopped line occurs at the lowest point of the novel, when the tone shifts from comfort and happiness to sadness and longing. The speaker describes how the henna “will fade in a week.” The henna continues to be symbolic of India, and the Indian cultural identity, which the speaker does not want to lose. The use of the end-stopped line accentuates her sadness that she will eventually lose this new aspect of her own identity, as when something fades, it is a sadder event than when something is gone altogether, as it lasts longer and lengthens the sad experience of losing something. The reader can connect the sadness of, for example, a family member ‘fading’, as they know it would be much more depressing than if a family member died quickly, as the experience is dragged on longer. This expressed to the reader the sadness the speaker feels about the fact she will not have this experience of encountering her identity forever. The speaker goes on to add she will be “longing for the unknown girl.” In this case, the “unknown girl” represents the new identity she encountered, the cultural identity of India, which she will miss and ‘long’ for, further adding to the longing aspect of the tone. The speaker will miss the newfound identity she encountered in the bazaar, as evidenced by the sad, longing tone created in this section.
Furthermore, Alvi uses the manner in which the poem was written to convey to the reader how significant this experience of encountering a forgotten aspect of her identity, as well as a new cultural identity, was for the speaker, and how the she desires to hold on to it. The poem is written with mostly enjambed lines, in one stanza, with no official rhyme or rhythm to it. This format reminds the reader of a story, or a...

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