This essay shall look into the dynamics of representation and the bases of structure of comprehension of the ‘East’ in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003). The paper argues that while the characters are alienated from the Orient in their stereotypical rendering through a majorly Occidental lens, the negotiation of the same with the Occident is a rather realistic and variegated experience, and calls for an examination of marginal subjectivities of the immigrant experience as a global phenomenon. I would initiate my argument by making use of Edward Said’s discourse on Orientalism, which discusses the binaries of the Orient and Occident, the formation of these binaries and its sources of legitimation. I would then employ Frantz Fanon’s concept of how colonized subjects with ‘black skin, white masks’ have interiorized the differences, such that the native either has the choice to continue living under the notion of inferiority of his culture or to discard his culture for the colonizer’s culture as seen in the character of ‘Chanu’. Monica Ali by reinstating stereotypes about the East and misrepresenting the culture of Bengali-Islamic Bangladesh appears to have put on a similar ‘white mask’ over her ‘black skin’. The inadequacy of the Western model in addressing the ‘multicultural feminisms’ of the East, especially in its rendering of the conditions of Muslim women will be adequately explored through recent critiques of Spivak and Mohanty. Despite the ambivalence in representations, the essay in the end shall look at the idea of “home” and “unhoming”, as formulated by Homi Bhabha, notions that the diasporic narrative generates and which suggest the complexities of “home-making” as a move away from essentialist conceptualizations of the idea of identity and ‘nation’.
Orientalism refers to the artistic depiction of the East by their Western counterparts, where the East or the Orient is depicted as the ‘Other’. The binary of the East and the West is a social construct that helps the West to define the self as ‘rational’, ‘virtuous’, ‘mature’ and ‘normal’ as against the East which is simultaneously depicted as ‘irrational’, ‘depraved’, ‘child-like’ and ‘different’. Said makes use of Foucault’s concept of ‘discourse’ which states that knowledge and power work together in tandem to create conditions of control and subjugation. The West’s claim to knowledge of the East gives it the authority to define and thus, dominate over the East.
Monica Ali is a second generation Bangladeshi immigrant, whose novel Brick Lane describes the experiences of a Bangladeshi immigrant woman from the poverty-ridden hamlets of Bangladesh as an illiterate and destitute village girl to an experienced and independent immigrant woman supporting her family in London. Ali who confesses to have virtually no experience of her native country and who claims to have written the novel entirely on the basis of her imagination and research on Bangladeshis, through her...