Sei sulla pagina 1di 60




Relatore: Prof.ssa Nicoletta VALLORANI

Elaborato finale di:
Matricola 765523

A.A. 2013/2014






1.1. Cultural studies is not one thing


1.2. The Empire writes back to the Centre


1.3. Migration is a one way trip, there is no home to go back to p.14



2.1. Home and sense of place


2.2. The third space as a site of struggle and isolation


2.3. and as a site of liberation and emancipation.




3.1. The Final Passage, by Caryl Phillips


3.2. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith


3.3. Brick Lane, by Monica Ali









Lelaborato ha come oggetto lanalisi della figura del migrante

variamente rappresentata nella letteratura postcoloniale.
Il motivo per cui ho scelto questo tema innanzitutto la mia personale
esperienza di piccola migrante e, secondariamente, limportanza che il
fenomeno della migrazione ha acquisito attualmente a livello mondiale,
soprattutto in un contesto come quello della globalizzazione che ha
enormemente assottigliato i confini nazionali.
La tesi suddivisa in tre capitoli, ciascuno dei quali composto da tre
Nel primo capitolo viene inizialmente ripercorsa la storia della
nozione di cultura e delle sue diverse accezioni nel corso degli anni, fino ad
arrivare alla nascita dei Cultural Studies in Inghilterra e dunque alla
fondazione del Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies nel 1964.
Vengono inoltre analizzate le caratteristiche della letteratura postcoloniale e
delle condizioni del soggetto migrante, con particolare riferimento al
concetto di ibridazione e al cosiddetto terzo spazio nel quale i migranti
si trovano a vivere, a met tra la propria nazione di origine e la nazione
ospitante, e nel quale devono quindi ricercare e costruire una nuova identit.
Il secondo capitolo destinato allesame di tre racconti tratti dalla
raccolta East, West di Salman Rushdie: Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies,
At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers e The Courter. Lanalisi volta
principalmente a sottolineare il rapporto del migrante con il concetto di casa

e a presentare il terzo spazio non solo come luogo di isolamento e

difficolt, ma anche come fonte di potenziale riscatto ed emancipazione.
Nel terzo capitolo, infine, vengono presi in esame tre romanzi i cui
personaggi sono migranti di prima e/o di seconda generazione: The Final
Passage di Caryl Phillips, White Teeth di Zadie Smith e Brick Lane di
Monica Ali. Il primo tratta della migrazione del secondo dopoguerra, la
quale portava numerose persone a spostarsi dai Caraibi in Inghilterra in
cerca di un futuro migliore. Il secondo un vivace dipinto della vita in una
Londra contemporanea e multiculturale, tratteggiato attraverso le esperienze
di due amici, uno inglese e laltro bengalese, e delle loro rispettive famiglie.
Il terzo ha come protagonista una giovane donna bengalese costretta a
trasferirsi a Londra alla fine degli anni Novanta, a causa di un matrimonio
In ciascun romanzo i protagonisti devono fronteggiare il senso di non
appartenenza, la nostalgia di casa la difficoltosa sfida delladattamento, alla
ricerca di una nuova identit e di un proprio posto nel mondo.



1.1. Cultural Studies is not one thing1

It is difficult to define Cultural Studies as a unified and coherent
discipline, since their domain is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that
blurs all the boundaries with other subjects. Indeed, they convey different
methods and various approaches from other academic domains.
Cultural Studies are concerned with an exploration of culture.2
Over the decades, the meaning of the term has often been the object of
debate. In fact, Raymond Williams defines culture as one of the two or
three most complicated words in the English language.3
The history of Cultural Studies can be traced back by following the
numerous approaches to the matter and the different concepts of culture that
have evolved over time.
Williams delineated its etymology as coming from Latin and
expressing the idea of a process, the tending of something, basically crops
or animals.4 The concept has then grown to include the process of human
From the Victorian Age until the first half of the XX century, culture
was mostly associated with high culture and civilization and, therefore, it
ignored or even despised popular masses.
In his essay Culture and Anarchy (1869), Matthew Arnold associated
culture with moral perfection and social good, opposed to the anarchy of

Hall, Stuart, The Emergence of Cultural Studies and the Crisis of the Humanities, in October, Vol. 53, The
Humanities as Social Technology, Summer 1990
Barker, Chris, The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies, SAGE Publications, 2004, p. xix
Williams, Raymond, Keywords, Oxford University Press, 1983, p.87
Ibidem, p.87

the raw and uncultivated masses. 5 Later on, in the first half of the XX
century, F.R. and Queenie Leavis insisted on the importance of high or
literary culture 6 and emphasized the debilitating effects of modernity, in
particular the decline in literary taste due to the new business ethos 7 and
the processes of cultural massification.
Furthermore, over the XIX and up until the XX century, the so-called
culture and civilization tradition served as a mean to justify the
establishment of the colonial dominion, on account of a cultural comparison
that advantaged Great Britain.
During the XX century and particularly after the Second World War,
however, popular classes began to experiment healthier and wealthier ways
of living, thus acquiring self-consciousness. The deep transformations
triggered the argument between those who still supported a selective and
conservative perception of culture and those who, instead, strongly
encouraged a radical change.
Reporting the words of Stuart Hall:
For me, cultural studies really begins with the debate about the nature of social and
cultural change in postwar Britain. 8

The author traced the birth of Cultural Studies back to that specific
period in which Hoggarts Uses Of Literacy (1957), Williams Culture and
Society (1958) and E.P. Thompsons The Making of the English Working

Barker, Chris, The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies, SAGE Publications, 2004, p.44
Ibidem, p.44
Leavis, Q.D., From Shakespeare to the business ethos, in Pagetti, Carlo and Palusci, Oriana, The Shape of a Culture,
Carocci Editore, 2004, p. 97
Hall, Stuart, The Emergence of Cultural Studies and the Crisis of the Humanities, in October, Vol. 53, The
Humanities as Social Technology, Summer 1990

Class (1963) were published: these three books constituted the caesura out
of which among other things Cultural Studies emerged.9
The approach of these writers, customary labelled as culturalist,
claims that, by analysing the culture of a society, it is possible to reconstruct
the behaviour and the ideas shared by the men and women who produce and
consume the culture of that society. It stresses human agency, the active
and creative capacity of people to construct shared meaningful practices,
and the ordinariness of culture: in the words of Williams, culture is
ordinary, in every society and in every mind.10
In 1964, Hoggart founded the Centre for Contemporary Cultural
Studies (CCCS) at Birmingham University, consequently establishing them
as an academic field.
During that period, profound social changes were affecting Great
Britain: first of all, the large-scale immigration from the ex-colonies, which
had increased since the British Nationality Act of 1948 which guaranteed
freedom of entry from the Commonwealth and colonies and had generated
a multicultural context, and secondly the technological development in mass
communication, which in turn had led to globalization.
Hoggarts initiative responded to the need of finding new methods of
research that could interpret and deal with those extraordinary
transformations that Great Britain and western societies in general were

Hall, Stuart, Cultural Studies: two paradigms, in Media, Culture and Society, Vol.2, 1980
Williams, Raymond, Culture is ordinary, in Pagetti, Carlo and Palusci, Oriana, The Shape of a Culture, Carocci
Editore, 2004, p.130-131

Directed firstly by Hoggart himself and then, from 1968, by Stuart

Hall, the CCCS began its work in such a moment of British history when
capitalism developed introducing depersonalized and consumerist lifestyles
and subordinate classes began to gain political strength, and therefore
Cultural Studies have been intertwined with politics from the very
As a matter of fact, during the 60s other approaches to the analysis of
culture, Structuralism in particular, came to question culturalist assumptions.
The idea of the structuralist thinkers was that culture is produced through
the effect of deep structures that lie outside of peoples will and constrain
them. Meaning is not an outcome of the intentions of actors per se but of
the language itself,11 that is, the concept of human agency is rejected.
Nonetheless, during postmodernity, that is from the 1960s to the
1990s, the entire world was shook by profound disruptions including Cold
War, the growth of the suburbs as a cultural force and the emergence of the
civil rights movements which brought every traditional belief to be called
into question. The very notion of historical progress was challenged, as the
grand narratives of the past came into suspect. History, as a narrative form,
was now regarded as told from a determined perspective, erasing all the
minor points of view.
Postmodernism rejected the idea of the existence of a universal truth
and, as far as the assumptions postulated by structuralism are concerned, the
post-structuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida totally disclaimed any stable
structures of signification: meaning can never be fixed, words carry many

Barker, Chris, The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies, SAGE Publications, 2004, p.190

meanings, including the echoes or traces of other meanings from other

related words in other contexts.12
More than that, especially since the 1970s, Cultural Studies have
focused their investigation on the intersection of power and meaning.
Culture is a domain in which competing meanings and versions of the
world have fought for ascendancy. In particular, meaning and truth are
constituted within patterns of power and subject to processes of
contestation.13 Thus, such concepts as discourse, ideology and hegemony
has become crucial in the matter.
The notion of discourse, as developed by Michel Foucault, refers to
regulate ways of speaking about a subject through which objects and
practices acquire meaning 14. It produces the objects of knowledge in an
intelligible way while excluding other forms of reasoning as unintelligible,
and regulates what can be said under determinate social and cultural
conditions and who can speak, when and where.


Thus, Foucault

underlined the strict relationship existing between knowledge and power:

they are mutually constitutive. Moreover, according to Foucault, power does
not occupy a precise location nor is it identifiable with a single person.
States and laws are only its outcomes and manifestations on an institutional
grade, as power is everywhere, corresponding to all the relationships of
social authority.
As for the concept of ideology, although it has had a long history and
has come in various shapes and sizes, the form that has acquired most

Ibidem, p.160
Ibidem, p.41
Ibidem, p.54
Ibidem, p.54

significance in the context of Cultural Studies is the variant introduced by

Antonio Gramsci. For Gramsci, ideology is grasped as ideas, meanings and
practices which, while they purport to be universal truths, are maps of
meaning that support the power of particular social classes.16
Gramsci also developed the concept of hegemony, as a condition in
which a historical bloc of ruling class factions exercise social authority and
leadership over the subordinate classes through a combination of force and
consent. 17 This condition, however, is not stable, on the contrary it is
constantly re-negotiated, as culture is a terrain of struggle over meanings.
The attention brought to these notions and to the relationship between
power and culture was due, among other reasons, to the consolidation of the
popular class as a political force and to the large increase in the number of
migrants coming from the ex-colonies.
The latter factor in particular became more and more significant in the
1970s, so that, first, the critical issue of race and, then, the colonial and
postcolonial dimensions of culture were included into the area of inquiry of
the CCCS.

1.2. The Empire writes back to the Centre18

In the 1950s, Commonwealth Literature appeared as the name that
labelled the literatures in English written in the former colonies of the
British Empire now belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations.

Ibidem, p.97
Ibidem, p.84
Rushdie, Salman, in Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths, Gareth and Tiffin, Helen, The Empire Writes Back, Routledge, 2004, p.i

Commonwealth literature was perceived as a sub-category of English

literature and evaluated in relation to the standards of excellence pertaining
English canonical works.19 Thus, the classification soon raised plenty of
criticism. Quoting Salman Rushdie:
South Africa and Pakistan, for instance, are not members of the Commonwealth, but
their authors apparently belong to its literature. On the other hand, England, which,
as far as I'm aware, had not been expelled from the Commonwealth quite yet, has
been excluded from its literary manifestation. For obvious reasons. It would never
do to include English literature, the great sacred thing itself, with this bunch of
upstarts, huddling together under this new and badly made umbrella. 20

The idea of Postcolonial Theory emerged during the late 1970s. Two
symposia were held at Essex University in 1982 and 1984, both of them
entitled Europe and Its Others. In addition, in 1982 the Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies published The Empire Strikes Back: Race
and Racism in 70's Britain, whereas the seminal study on postcolonialism,
The Empire Writes Back, was published in 1989 by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth
Griffiths and Helen Tiffin.
Postcolonialism initially referred only to the literary field and then it
gradually broadened its sphere of investigation to the effects of colonization
on cultures and societies. Nonetheless, even this term has been called into
question, especially its hyphenated spelling Post-colonialism since the
prefix post- highlights the temporal perspective, focusing on the period


Palusci, Oriana e Bertacco, Simona, Postcolonial to Multicultural, Hoepli, 2012, p.3

Rushdie, Salman, Non esiste una letteratura del Commonwealth, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar
Mondadori, 1994, p.70

after the colonization, as if the situation in the colonies could actually have
changed the day after gaining independence.
Moreover, this denomination seems to suggest that there was only one
universal type of colonization, whereas, in fact, every single colony
presented a specific context in terms of political and social systems, of
language and traditions, and so forth, all of which makes the colonial and
postcolonial culture of that country a distinct affair.21
Indeed, as far as British dominions are concerned, there were at least
three different types of colonies: settler colonies, where colonials replaced
the native population and settled down (it is the case of U.S.A, Australia and
New Zealand); colonies of occupation (such as India and some parts of
Africa), where power was exercised by an oligarchy linked to the Empire
that never replaced the majority of the local population; slavery-based
colonies (Caribbean), where slaves, mostly coming from African colonies,
were taken to and forced to work.
The dispute around the term is still ongoing, since Postcolonialism
seems to underline colonialism as the key-event influencing and shaping all
the cultures of the ex-colonies, which is rather a colonialist perspective.
However, nowadays Postcolonialism is generally used to refer to a
body of writing and critical practices which entail a decontructionist
analysis of colonialism and its consequences.22
Frantz Fanon (1925 1961) and Edward Said (1935 2003) were the
two pioneers of Postcolonial Studies, the first ones who analysed the


Palusci, Oriana and Bertacco, Simona, Postcolonial to Multicultural, Hoepli, 2012, p.2
Ibidem, p.3


discourse of colonialism, that is, the modes of representation and of

perception embodied in the textual practices of the colonial system.23
In particular, Said, in his work Orientalism (1978), applied Foucaults
theories of discourse and power to the cultural relationship existing between
East and West, examining how the assumptions that the colonizers formed
about their colonies and their culture were instrumental in keeping them in
subjugation.24 Therefore, Said argued that Orient is a historically specific
discursive construction constituted by Western imagery and vocabulary25
and that English literary classics contributed to project that image of
otherness, that is, subjugation.
Yet, as Said himself pointed out in his later work, Culture and
Imperialism (1993), it was the case nearly everywhere in the non-European
world that the coming of the white man brought forth some sort of
Firstly, one of the main features of imperial oppression was control
over language. Language, indeed, reveals the attitudes of the people who
use and shape it, 27 it is not a neutral medium. Therefore, by imposing
language, the Empire imposed its own culture: the imperial education
system installed a standard version of language as the norm, and
marginalized all variants as impurities.
Moreover, as the nationalist movements began to emerge, the
geographic element became crucial: Imperialism after all is an act of

Ibidem, p.5
Ibidem, p.6
Barker, Chris, The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies, SAGE Publications, 2004, p.180
Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage Books, 1994, p.xii
Rushdie, Salman, Il nuovo Impero in Gran Bretagna, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori,
1994, p.150


geographical violence through which virtually every space in the world is

explored, charted, and finally brought under control.28
As a result, the reappropriation of natives own national identity
involved the renaming that is, the retrieving of places and objects.
To achieve recognition is to rechart and then occupy the place in imperial cultural
forms reserved for subordination, to occupy it self-consciously, fighting for it on the
very same territory once ruled by a consciousness that assumed the subordination of
a designated inferior Other.29

Geographic and cultural borders acquired great significance, on the

one hand because the colonized began to assert their own national identity
in opposition to that of the rulers, and on the other, more importantly,
because it became clearer and clearer how thin and permeable those borders
actually were.
As a matter of fact, scholars have put much effort in trying to
overcome the antinomy that had justified the colonial discourse.
In The Location of Culture (1994), Homi Bhabha tries to dismantle the
binary opposition on which the Empire had based its dominion and argues
that "colonizer" and "colonized" cannot be viewed as separate entities. He
states that, by addressing the non-Europeans as others, Western colonizers
did not erase them, on the contrary they put them in full view.
Its [colonial discourses] predominant strategic function is the creation of a space for
a subject peoples through the production of knowledges in terms of which
surveillance is exercised. [] The objective of colonial discourse is to construe the
colonized as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order

Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage Books, 1994, p.225

Ibidem, p.210


to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction. []

Colonial discourse produces the colonized as a social reality which is at once an
other and yet entirely knowable and visible. 30

That is to say, colonial discourse takes two diverging directions, trying

to mark the colonized as entirely different, to keep them out of sight and, at
the same time, bringing them into Western knowledge. Colonial presence is
always ambivalent.31
The result of this attempt to overturn the bipartition between the
traditional opposites colonizer and colonized that is us and others
produces the category of hybridity.
In its most essential sense, hybridity refers to mixture. The term
originates from biology and was subsequently employed in linguistics and
in racial theory in the nineteenth century.
Bhabha thinks of hybridity as a subversive tool whereby colonized
people might challenge oppression. He claims that it can provide a way out
of binary thinking, allow the inscription of the agency of the subaltern and
even permit a destabilization of power.
Essentially, colonizing forces obliged native people to absorb Western
language and cultural practices in order to ease the transformation of both
indigenous people and transported slaves into Western subjects. However,
the result was a mixed one, since it did help smooth the cultural conquest of
native populations, but at the same time it gave to these populations some


Bhabha, Homi, The Other Question. Stereotype, discrimination and the discourse of colonialism, in Bhabha, Homi,
The Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994, pp.70-71
Bhabha, Homi, Signs Taken for Wonders. Question of ambivalence and authority under a tree outside Delhi, May
1817, in Bhabha, Homi, The Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994, p.107


measure of control over Western culture, a control which often transformed

the colonizers own culture.
Thus, according to Bhabha, hybridity is the third space, where,
through the merging of two supposedly different cultures, other new
positions are able to emerge. In this way, he underlines how cultures are
never self-contained, holistic and static.32
Since during the postcolonial era the phenomenon of border-crossing
migration largely increased, the notion of hybridity as the merging of two
cultures has become more problematic with reference to the condition of the
migrant settled in a foreign country.


Migration is a one way trip, there is no home to go back to33

It is worth mentioning how many of the influential voices in Cultural
Studies and postcolonial theory are native of non-European nor American
Giving some examples: Stuart Hall was born in Jamaica and then
moved to London; Edward Said was born in Palestine, he was educated at
Princeton and Yale and emigrated to the United States; Homi Bhabha is
native of the Parsi community of Bombay, has been educated at Bombay
University and Christchurch College, Oxford, and presently teaches at
Harvard University.
According to Bhabha words:


Palusci, Oriana and Bertacco, Simona, Postcolonial to Multicultural, Hoepli, 2012, p.10
Hall, Stuart, in Minimal Selves, in Appignanesi, Laura and Bhabha, Homi, Identity: the Real Me, Institute of
Contemporary Arts, 1987


I have lived that moment of the scattering of the people that in other times and other
places, in the nations of others, becomes a time of gathering. Gatherings of exiles
and migrs and refugees. [] Gathering in the half-life, half-light of foreign
tongues, or in the uncanny fluency of anothers language. 34

It is an undisputed historical fact that the past century has witnessed

the large-scale dispersal of populations across the world. The transnational
mobility of people may be the result of various reasons: from the search for
better conditions of life, the hope for a better education, to the forced exile
due to war or to an unstable political situation.
It is also the consequence of major political upheavals, such as the two
European wars, decolonization and the Cold war. Moreover, globalization,
spurred by free trade, increased capital flows and new technologies of
communication, information and travel, has accelerated the movement of
people and ideas across the world.
Such circumstances have provided the context for an increased
interest in the study of diaspora in recent years, notably during the 1990s.35
The word derives from the Ancient Greek term (diaspora),
meaning "scattering", and initially was employed as a self-designation
among the Jewish populations that spread throughout the Mediterranean.
Currently, it is used to indicate a dispersed network of ethnically and
culturally related peoples.36
The term therefore pertains to such concepts as migration,
displacement and homesickness.

Bhabha, Homi, in Dissemination. Time, narrative and the margins of the modern nation, in Bhabha, Homi, The
Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994, p.139
Barker, Chris, The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies, SAGE Publications, 2004, p.51
Ibidem, p.51


A major feature of postcolonial literature is, indeed, the concern with

place often imagined and displacement, which is frequently linked, by
writers and critics alike, to the crisis of identity, to the attempt to develop or
recover an effective identifying relationship between self and place.
The very notion of identity has become one of the most productive
subject of searching critique, as the concept of diaspora encouraged to think
of it in terms of contingency and indeterminacy, thus denying the idea of
identity as deriving from some intrinsic and essential content and defined
by either a common origin or a common structure of experience or both.37
Cultural identity [] is a matter of becoming as well as of being. It belongs to
the future as much as to the past. It is not something which already exist,
transcending place, time, history and culture. Cultural identities come from
somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo
constant transformation. Far from being grounded in a mere recovery of the past,
which is waiting to be found, and which, when found, will secure our sense of
ourselves into eternity, identities are the names we give to the different ways we are
positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past. 38

Thus, especially as far as migrants are concerned, identity pertains not

to the so-called return to roots but (to) a coming-to-terms-with our
The sense of dislocation, the yearning for homecoming and the
complicated relationship with homeland and the more general idea of


Grossberg, Lawrence, Identity and Cultural Studies: Is That All There Is?, in Hall, Stuart and Du Gay, Paul,
Questions of Cultural Identity, SAGE Publications, 2003, p.89
Hall, Stuart, Cultural Identity and Diaspora, in Rutherford, Jonathan (ed.), Identity: Community, Culture,
Difference, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1990, p.225
Hall, Stuart, Introduction: Who Needs Identity?, in Hall, Stuart and Du Gay, Paul, Questions of Cultural Identity,
SAGE Publications, 2003, p.4


home are common and problematic features of the diasporic

experience and literature, since migrants live an in-between life, caught
between two worlds.
It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted
by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being
mutated into pillars of salt.40

However, cultural hybridity is not always seen as a misfortune. Said,

for example, seems to consider the status of the diasporic subject as a
privileged position for the intellectual.
For objective reasons that I had no control over, I grew up as an Arab with a Western
education. Ever since I can remember, I have felt that I belonged to both worlds,
without being completely of either one or the other. [] Yet, when I say exile I do
not mean something sad or deprived. On the contrary belonging, as it were, to both
sides of the imperial divide enables you to understand them more easily. 41

Indeed, many postcolonial writers Salman Rushdie among them

exploit their condition of migrants in order to share a new perspective on
non-European cultures, to challenge the stereotypical concept of the other
and to dispute and even rewrite the unfold of history as it has been told from
the Western point of view.
Our identity is at once plural and partial. Sometimes we feel that we straddle two
cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools. But however ambiguous
and shifting this ground may be, it is not an infertile territory for a writer to occupy.
If literature is in part the business of finding new angles at which to enter reality,


Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori, 1994, p.14
Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage Books, 1994, pp.xxvi-xxvii


then once again our distance, our long geographical perspective, may provide us
with such angles.42


Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori, 1994, p.20




It seems to me that I am that comma

or at least that I live in the comma.43

Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born in 1947 in Bombay, India, to a

middle class Muslim family. His father was a businessman, educated in
Cambridge, and his grandfather was an Urdu poet.
At fourteen, he was sent to England for schooling, attending the
Rugby School in Warwickshire and then Cambridge, where he graduated in
The migrant condition is crucial in Rushdies production as a writer
and the themes of fragmentation, memory and home are the main concern in
his work.
In an interview shortly after the publication of East, West (1994),
Rushdie refers to the title underlining the function of the comma as creating
a bridge between East and West, as connecting rather than separating them.
However, in the end the gap remains: it is the third space in which the
migrant lives.
The collection is divided into three main sections, entitled "East",
"West", and "East, West", each section containing three short stories.
The first part includes Good Advice Is Rarer than Rubies, in which
a beautiful woman, Miss Rehana, arrives at the British Consulate to apply
for a permit to London. She is approached by a man who gives her some

Rushdie, Salman, Homeless is where the art is, in The Bookseller, 15 July 1994


advice on how to answer correctly to the question she will be asked,

although she actually wants to be rejected and, by doing so, sabotage her
arranged marriage to a man off in England. Therefore she deliberately fails
the test.
The second story, The Free Radio, deals with the Indian government
attempts to contain the high birth rate. It tells of Ramani, a young rickshawwallah (puller), who accepts to get a vasectomy in order to marry the
thiefs widow who already has five children hoping that in exchange
the government will send him a free radio, which never happens.
The last story of this section is The Prophets Hair, where a
moneylender unexpectedly finds a little cylinder of glass containing the
Prophet Muhammads hair. His family starts being victim of a series of
misfortunes, presumably caused by the relic, until Huma, the daughter,
decides to hire a thief in order to make him steel it.
West contains Yorick, which is a rewriting of Shakespeares
Hamlet from the perspective of the jester, At the Auction of the Ruby
Slippers, where the narrator is attending the auction hoping to get the
fabulous slippers in order to give them to his cousin Gale and win her love
back, and Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate
Their Relationship (Santa F, AD 1492), in which Christopher Columbus,
a foreigner, is actually seeking for the Queens love or, more exactly, he
is looking for consummation.
The third and last section East, West begins with The Harmony of
the Spheres, which tells about the friendship between the Indian narrator


and the welsh writer, Eliot Crane, who is also a paranoid schizophrenic and
kills himself at the age of thirty-two.
Chekov and Zulu is the second short story and it deals with events
surrounding Prime Minister Indira Gandhis 1984 assassination, undertaken
by Sikh nationalists. The two protagonists, who got their nicknames from
Star Trek, work as diplomats in England and Zulu goes underground to
infiltrate the Sikh extremists assumed to be behind Mrs. Gandhi's homicide.
In the end, Zulu tells his friend that the Sikhs have been set up by the
Congress Party, he decides to abandon the job and moves back to India.
Chekov dies in the terrorist attack in which Rajiv Gandhi is murdered.
The narrator of the last story of the book, The Courter, writes about
the unlikely relationship that occurred between his ayah (nanny) and the hall
porter, who she wrongly but prophetically had called courter.
East, West is a collection of narratives about identity formation in
cross-cultural circumstances.
The cultural mix is firstly reflected in Rushdies narration, since his short
fiction takes different forms: parody, satire, postmodern historiographical
metafiction, and so forth.
Moreover, his characters and the situations he builds around them
clearly show Rushdies intention of undermining any idea of purity pure
race, pure culture, pure religion.
Quoting his own words, Rushdies writing
[] celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of
new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies,
songs. It rejoices in mongrelisation and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Mlange,


hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the
great possibility that mass migration gives the world, and I have tried to embrace

2.1. Home and sense of place

Is home a place? A memory? An
ideal? An imagined space? 45
The strongest sense of home commonly coincides geographically
with a dwelling. [] Home, however, connotes not only a physical or
spatial condition but also social and habitual conditions. 46 Indeed, the
concept of home generally links to the idea of emotional security, of a space
of stability. It also involves a social element, the establishment of a circle
of social relations that validate an individual as a human being.47
Therefore, traditionally home is linked with the ideas of family and
community. In addition, especially in such a context like that of postcolonial
globalization, home is associated with the concept of homeland, as ones
nation of origin.
As a matter of fact, the growth of the number of transnational
migrants has fundamentally problematized that traditional definition. Vijay
Mishra claims that home now signals a shift away from homogeneous


Rushdie, Salman, In Buona Fede, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori, 1994, p.431
Stanford Friedman, Susan, Bodies on the Move: A Poetics of Home and Diaspora, in Tulsa Studies in Womens
Literature, Vol. 23, n.2, Fall 2004
Terkenli, Theano, Home as a Region, in Geographical Review, Vol.85, n.3. July 1995


nation-states based on the ideology of assimilation to a much more fluid and

contradictory definition of nations as a multiplicity of diasporic identities.48
Certainly, the idea of home is a crucial and recurring theme in
Rushdies literary production and, consequently, also in East, West.
In this respect, a parallelism can be made between the first and the last
stories of the book.
In Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies, Miss Rehana, the protagonist,
refuses to go to London first of all because it was not her decision to go, and
also because she wants to stay home, where she feels she belongs.
Here, home is strictly related to Miss Rehanas network of affections.
Indeed, as she says to the advice expert Muhammad Ali, although she
is an orphan and has no family, she lives in Lahore and works in a great
house as ayah to three boys who would have been sad to see her leave.
In The Courter, the idea of home is related to family and stability as
well, and the sense of belonging is also addressed even if in a more
problematic way.
One of the protagonists of the story is Mary. She works as an ayah
like Miss Rehana in the family of the narrator and has moved to England
with them. Exactly like it was for Miss Rehana, the choice was not hers. The
narrator explains:
I had been at boarding school in England for a year or so when Abba took the
decision to bring the family over. Like all his decisions, it was neither explained to
nor discussed with anyone, not even my mother.49


Mishra, Vijay, Postcolonial Differend: Diasporic Narratives of Salman Rushdie, in ARIEL: A Review of
International English Literature, Vol.26, n.3, July 1995
Rushdie, Salman, The Courter, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996, p.181


The heart trouble Mary was suffering in England is symbolic of the

discomfort she was feeling, since, like Miss Rehana, she does not recognise
England as her home, and at the end of the story she decides to go back to
India, where her heart conditions instantly improve.
So it was England that was breaking her heart, breaking it by not being India.
London was killing her, by not being Bombay. 50

Perhaps, as the narrator himself points out, she was also suffering
from feeling split between her home and Mixed-Up, the courter.
Or was it that her heart, roped by two different loves, was being pulled both East and
West, whinnying and rearing, [] and she knew that to live she would have to

The same problem affects the narrator of the story. He confesses: I

felt myself coming unstuck from the idea of family itself.52
Indeed, he spends most of the time away from his house and from his
parents and sisters, so that the bounds linking him to them begin to loosen.
Moreover, he has lived in England for a much longer time than his
family and, like it may have happened to the ayah Mary, he feels torn
between two sides.
But I, too, have ropes around my neck, I have them to this day, pulling me this way
and that, East and West, the nooses tightening, commanding, choose, choose.53


Ibidem, p.209
Ibidem, p.209
Ibidem, p.202
Ibidem, p.211


It is the condition shared by the migrants: being both here and there
and neither here nor there at one and the same time. 54 In Imaginary
Homelands, Rushdie describes it as the impression of falling between two
At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers is the central short story of the
book, and it is the one that more patently deals with the concept of home,
since the ruby slippers in question are those of Dorothy Gale, from The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and they clearly refer to her yearning for home,
felt by the narrator of Rushdies short story as well.
Moreover, it is not a coincidence that Gale is also the name of the
narrators cousin, whose love he so desperately wants to win back.
Gale stands as a metaphor of home.
This is shown quite evidently when, telling us about their past
relationship, the narrator says:
she chose to cry out at the moment of penetration: Home, boy! Home, baby, yes
youve come home!55

The condition of the narrator is thus similar to that of the migrant who
has lost his home and dreams of going back.
However, in Imaginary Homelands Rushdie clearly states that
memory is not a reliable tool, that it remoulds objects and modifies them.
But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge - which gives rise to
profound uncertainties - that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably


Bammer, Angelika, in Introduction, in Bammer, Angelika (ed.), Displacements: Cultural Identities in Question,
Indiana University Press, 1994, p.xii
Rushdie, Salman, At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996,


means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost;
that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones,
imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind.56

In At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, the narrator has not seen
Gale for years, nor has he had any contact at all with her. He only has his
memories of her, which probably would not even correspond to the real
I am aware that, after all these years of separation and non-communication, the Gale
I adore is not entirely a real person. The real Gale has become confused with my reimagining of her, with my private elaboration of our continuing life together in an
alternative universe []. The real Gale may by now be beyond our grasp,

Once again, the metaphoric value of the ex-girlfriend is shown

through the use of the adjective our, which indicates a shared condition
that may be extended to all migrants.
The longing for home is presented also through a marginal character
of the short story: the astronaut stranded on Mars without hope of rescue,
and with diminishing supplies of food and breathable air.58
Trapped in his spacecraft, the astronaut sings:
[He] offered us his spaced-out renditions of Swanee, Show Me the Way to Go
Home and several numbers from The Wizard of Oz.59


Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori, 1994, p.14
Rushdie, Salman, At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996,
Ibidem, p.96
Ibidem, p.97


The choice of the songs is not casual, for all of them deal with the idea
of nostalgia and homecoming.
Swanee is a popular American song written in 1919.
I've been away from you a long time
I never thought I'd miss you so
Somehow I feel, your love is real
Near you I want to be
Swanee, how I love ya, how I love ya
My dear old Swanee I'd give the world to be
Among the folks in D-I-X-I-Even60 know my mammy's
Waitin' for me, prayin' for me down by the Swanee
The folks up North will see me no more when I get to that Swanee shore 61

The song was popularised by Al Jolson, who also consented to have

his picture used on the cover of the sheet music: in this way it would be
clear to most audiences that the narrator of the song was black.
Show Me the Way to Go Home is another popular song, written in
1925 by the pseudonymous "Irving King" (the English songwriting team
James Campbell and Reginald Connelly). The allusion to the theme of
homesickness is quite evident.
Finally, also the songs coming from The Wizard Oz recall the idea of
Basically, the astronaut represents the migrant or, as Edward Said
would say, the exile far away from home without any chance of going

Dixie refers to the Southern Unites States of America


back: once banished, the exile lives in an anomalous and miserable life,
with the stigma of being an outsider.62
Therefore, in this case home is presented as the point of return that can
never be reached. It is an imagined place only existing in the astronauts and
in the narrators memory.
More than that, through the voice of the narrator, Rushdie states:
Home has become such a scattered, damaged, various concept in our present
travails. There is so much to yearn for. [] how hard can we expect even a pair of
magic shoes to work? They promised to take us home, but are metaphors of
homeliness comprehensible to them, are abstraction permissible? Are they literalists,
or will they permit us to redefine the blessed world? 63

Therefore, it remains clear that home does not refer only to ones
place of birth. It is strictly connected and sometimes even represents
ones cultural identity, which is not stable nor definable once and for all.
Migrancy [] involves a movement in which neither the points of departure nor
those of arrival are immutable or certain. It calls for a dwelling in language, in
histories, in identities that are constantly subject to mutation. Always in transit, the
promise of a homecoming completing the story, domesticating the detour
becomes an impossibility.64


Said, Edward, Reflections on Exile, in Said, Edward, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2002, p.181
Rushdie, Salman, At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996,
Chambers, Iain, An Impossible Homecoming, in Chambers, Iain, Migrancy, Culture, Identity, Routledge, 1994, p.5


2.2. The third space as a site of struggle and isolation

And just beyond the frontier between us
and the outsiders is the perilous territory
of not-belonging. 65

The sense of loss of home as well as of personal identity is a common

feature of the migrant subject. Rushdie goes a step forward by suggesting
that this condition could be extended to all contemporary people, since we
all cross frontiers; in that sense, we are all migrant peoples.66
In At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, it is said that most of us
nowadays are sick.67 Then, the author goes on describing the bidders of the
auction, who are all the possible kinds of wrecked souls and identities.
Exiles, displaced persons of all sorts, even homeless tramps have turned up for a
glimpse of the impossible. 68
Political refugees are at the auction: conspirators, deposed monarchs, defeated
factions, poets, bandit chieftains. 69
Orphans arrive, hoping that the ruby slippers might transport them back through
time as well as space [] they hope to be reunited with their deceased parents by
the famous shoes.
Men and women of dubious character are present untouchables, outcasts.70


Said, Edward, Reflections on Exile, in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 2002, p.177
Rushdie, Salman, Gnter Grass, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori, 1994, p.303
Rushdie, Salman, At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996,
Ibidem, p.90
Ibidem, p.91
Ibidem, p.93


Indeed, living in the third space, here and there without being
exactly here nor there, could be a painful condition, also implicating
As already mentioned, the astronaut of At the Auction of the Ruby
Slippers represents the migrant away from home. He has no chance of
coming back and is completely alone. Furthermore, being stuck on another
symbolical planet, he becomes an alien and bears a stigma, he is now seen
as different, as a Martian.
He is separated from the rest of the world, but his conditions are
constantly filmed by the cameras installed in his spacecraft, exactly as the
migrant in a foreign land is at the same time isolated and in plain sight.
The third place taken not only as the site of the migrants but, in a
much broader sense, as the place pertaining to the postcolonial people
formerly subject to foreign rule is a difficult position to occupy also
because, other than the intimate troubles, external obstacles can often occur.
For example, both the protagonists of Good Advice is Rarer than
Rubies and The Courter have to face some forms of racism.
In the first short story, the so-called Tuesday women go to the English
Consulate in Pakistan, in order to apply for a permit to emigrate to England.
The first form of racism shown in the text is that of the English
employees who are eating their breakfast and do not bother letting the
women wait for them, even for hours.
When Miss Rehana asks the man who is watching the gates of the
consulate when they will open, he answers:


Half an hour [] Maybe two hours. Who knows? The sahibs are eating their

The word sahib, meaning master, owner, is commonly used to refer to

English people in the way that Mister and Misses is used in the English
language. However, in this case, it acquires a derogatory connotation
referring to the English clerks as if they were actually acting like masters.
The old adviser also suggests that the questions Miss Rehana will be
asked will be racist and disrespectful.
He told her that the sahibs thought that all the women who came on Tuesdays,
claiming to be dependents of bus drivers in Luton or chartered accountants in
Manchester, were crooks and liars and cheats.
[] He explained that they would ask her questions, personal questions, questions
such as ladys own brother would be too shy to ask. They would ask if she was a
virgin, and, if not, what her fiancs love-making habits were, and what secret
nicknames they had invented for one another.72

As a matter of fact, Muhammad Ali is most likely trying to swindle

the woman and therefore exaggerating the impudence of the questions.
This leads to the second form of racism undergone by Miss Rehana,
deriving from the fact that she is a woman.
Rushdie strews different elements in the texts that convey a
stereotyped image of women as weak and thus easily deceivable.
As for the Tuesday women,


Rushdie, Salman, Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996,
Ibidem, p.9


They all looked frightened, and leaned heavily on the arms of uncles or brothers,
who were trying to look confident.73

Miss Rehana is described as astonishingly beautiful, with large and

black and bright74 eyes, and while speaking with her, Muhammad Ali gets
the impression of an ingenuous young lady, whose voice shows a note of
anxiety, whose hands flutter.
Clearly, this is only an idea that the old man gets from her attitude,
since Miss Rehana is actually a quite independent woman. Nevertheless, he
takes her for a poor victim who certainly will be rejected because of her
candour and naivety. This stereotyping is obviously functional to the plot
twist at the end of the story.
In The Courter, the characters are all coming from India except
for the porter Mecir, who in any case is a migrant as well, coming from
Eastern Europe and living in Kensington, and the racism they undergo is
much more patent than that suffered by Miss Rehana.
The ayah Mary and the narrators mother are out for a walk with the
little sister Chhoti Scheherazade, when they are stopped by two men who
have mistaken the mother for the Maharaja of B.s wife.
As they say, the Maharaja seeks ladies and unfortunately one of the
ladies he sought out was our ward.75
You fucking come over here, you dont fucking know how to fucking behave. Why
dont you fucking fuck off to fucking Wogistan? Fuck your fucking wog arses. Now
then, he added in a quiet voice, holding up the knife, unbutton your blouses. 76


Ibidem, p.6
Ibidem, p.5
Rushdie, Salman, The Courter, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996, p.204


The ayah and the mother are targeted because they are Indians and
because they are women. This is even more evident from the fact that the
narrators mother is not even the woman that the two men were looking for,
but since she is Indian and a woman they keep on harassing her anyway.
Another problem that the inhabitants of the third place have to face is
that concerning language: as mentioned above, the use of English in the
Indian area is the legacy of the period of colonial domination, during which
British English was established as the standard version while Indian English
was only a marginal and incorrect variation
The difficulties in the use of English by Indian people are shown in
both Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies and The Courter.
For starters, the characters often insert in their speeches words coming
from their native tongue, giving birth to such expressions as completely
genuine and pukka goods.77
Moreover, they reformulate sentences, or make grammar mistakes, or
use some words instead of others, originating some funny gaffes like the one
in The Courter involving the narrators father and a pharmacist.
She hit me, he said plaintively.
Hai! Allah-tobah! Darling! cried my mother fussing. Who hit you? Are you
injured? Show me, let me see.
I did nothing, he said, [] I just went with your list. The girl seemed very helpful.
I asked for baby compound, Johnsons powder, teething jelly, and she brought them
out. Then I asked did she have any nipples and she slapped my face.


Ibidem, p.204
Rushdie, Salman, Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996,


My mother was appalled.

[] Durr and Muneeza could not contain themselves. They were rolling round on
the floor, laughing and kicking their legs in the air. [] But Abba, she said, at
length, here they call them teats.
Now my mothers and Marys hands flew to their mouths, and even my father
looked shocked. But how shameless! my mother said. The same word as for
whats on your bosoms? [] These English, sighed Certainly-Mary. But arent
they the limit? Certainly-yes; they are.78

Certainly-Mary is the one having more troubles with the English

English was hard for Certainly-Mary. [] The letter p was a particular problem,
often turning into an f or a c. [] As the elevator lifted her away, she called through
the grille: O, courter! Thank you, courter. O, yes, certainly. (In Hindi and
Konkani, however, her ps knew their place.) 79

Indeed, the ayah is the one having more troubles with the whole
process of adjusting to England. As already explained, she suffers from a
heart condition that in the end turns out to be caused by her nostalgia and
sense of non-belonging.
The narrator of the story himself admits to have problems of
My schoolfellows tittered when in my Bombay way I said brought-up for
upbringing (as in where was you brought-up?) and thrice for three times and
quarter-plate for side-plate and macaroni for pasta in general.80

Moreover, unlike his ayah who suffers from homesickness, he starts

feeling a sense of detachment.

Rushdie, Salman, The Courter, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996, pp.183-184
Ibidem, p.176
Ibidem, p.185


As I witnessed their wars I felt myself coming unstuck from the idea of family itself.
[] And I looked at my choleric, face-pulling father and thought about British

He lies to one of his schoolmates, who is American and is crying

because President Kennedy has been murdered: he says that his father has
died too, although this is not completely a lie, since he has now decided to
get the British passport, thus severing his family ties.

2.3. and as a site of liberation and emancipation.

The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner;
he to whom every soil is as his native one is already a strong; but
he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.82

To see things plainly, you have to cross a frontier.83 Rushdies idea

of the postcolonial migrants condition as a chance to see the world from
different and more productive and original perspectives is shown throughout
the book.
The characters of the stories do not simply surrender to the difficult
circumstances they live in, but fight to find their own place in the world,
whether reaffirming their own identities or finding new ways of adjustment.


Ibidem, p.202
Hugo of St.Victor, in Said, Edward, Reflections on Exile, in Said, Edward, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays,
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002, p.185
Rushdie, Salman, Lambientazione di Brazil, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori, 1994,


A full migrant suffers, traditionally, a triple disruption: he loses his place, he enters
into an alien language, and he finds himself surrounded by beings whose social
behavior and codes are very unlike, and sometimes even offensive to, his own.
Roots, language and social norms have been three of the most important parts of the
definition of what is to be a human being. Denying all three, the migrant is obliged
to find new ways of describing himself, new ways of being human. 84

In Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies, Rushdie begins presenting us

a series of stereotyped opposites the much desired First World against the
dusty and poor Third World, the weak and naive woman versus the old
schemer only to disrupt them all in the end.
Miss Rehana reverses the situation and unexpectedly fails the test on
purpose. Muhammad Ali is dismayed But this is tragedy!85 but she
reassures him not to be sad, because that is exactly what she wanted.
Her last smile, which he watched from the compound until the bus concealed it in a
dust-cloud, was the happiest thing he had ever seen in his long, hot, hard, unloving

This whole story evidently recalls Bhabhas idea of hybridity as a

subversive category, able to dismantle traditional hierarchical beliefs and
create new positions.
Another example is given by the use of language in The Courter.
Firstly, it is interesting to notice how the names of every character,
even the most marginal of the story, are reshaped or substituted with

Rushdie, Salman, Gnter Grass, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori, 1994, p.302
Rushdie, Salman, Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996,
Ibidem, pp.15-16


For instance, the narrators sort-of-cousin 87 Chandni at the folkmusic hangout Bunjies answers to the name of Moonlight, which is what
chandni means,88 and the little Scheherazade becomes Scare-zade.
As for the ayahs name, the porter calls her Certainly-Mary, the
children have always called her Aya palindromically dropping the h89
and Durr gives her the nickname Jumble-Aya Look, see, its JumbleAya whos fallen for Mixed-Up, she shouted90 linking Mary and Mr
Mecir not only romantically, but as akin in their confusion, jambalaya being
famously a multi-ingredient creole dish.91
Mixed-Up is the nickname given to the hall porter, whose real name is
Mecir. It is an Easter European name, difficult to pronounce.
You were supposed to say Mishirsh because it had invisible accents on it in some
Iron Curtain language in which the accents had to be invisible, my sister Durr said
solemnly, in case somebody spied on them or rubbed them out or something. His
first name also began with an m but it was so full of what we called Communist
consonants, all those zs and cs and ws walled up together without vowels to give
them breathing space, that I never even tried to learn it. 92

The children give the porter numerous nicknames, in their fantastic

speculations and wordplays.
At first we thought of nicknaming him after a mischievous little comic-book
character, Mr Mxyztplk from the Fifth Dimension, who looked a bit like Elmer Fudd
ad used to make Supermans life hell until ole Supe could trick him into saying his

Rushdie, Salman, The Courter, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996, p.187
Ibidem, p.187
Ibidem, p.178
Ibidem, p.181
Gane, Gillian, Mixed-Up, Jumble-Aya, and English: How Newness Enters the World in Salman Rushdies The
Courter, in ARIEL: A Review of international English Literature, Vol.32, n.4, October 2004
Rushdie, Salman, The Courter, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996, pp.178-179


name backwards, Klptzyxm, whereupon he disappeared back into the Fifth

dimension; but because we werent too sure how to say Mxyztplk (not to mention
Klptzyxm) we dropped that idea. Well just call you Mixed-Up, I told him in the
end, to simplify life. Mishter Mikshed-Up Mirshirsh.93

Mecir is, indeed, mixed-up, since a stroke left his mind turned to
rubble94 and, in this sense, the nickname may sound cruel and offensive.
On another level, however, mixed-up can be seen as having positive associations.
[] This story, like virtually all of Rushdies work, rejects notions of pure origins
and authenticity in favour of the impure, the hybrid. [] In light of this ringing
affirmation, the name Mixed-Up can be seen as not an insult but a tribute. 95

What is even more interesting to notice is the power that these new
names actually have.
The ayah, who now is Certainly-Mary because she never said plain
yes or no; always this O-yes-certainly or no-certainly-not96 at the end of
the story stands up for herself and decides to go back home.
God knows for what-all we came over to this country, Mary said. But I can no
longer stay. No. Certainly not. Her determination was absolute. 97

In a similar way, the porter Mercir undergoes a transformation when

the ayah Mary accidentally calls him courter because of her
mispronunciation, as if she had casted a spell on him.


Ibidem, p.179
Ibidem, p. 193
Gane, Gillian, Mixed-Up, Jumble-Aya, and English: How Newness Enters the World in Salman Rushdies The
Courter, in ARIEL: A Review of international English Literature, Vol.32, n.4, October 2004
Rushdie, Salman, The Courter, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996,p.176
Ibidem, p.209


So: thanks to her unexpected, somehow stomach-churning magic, he was no longer

porter, but courter. Courter, he repeated to the mirror when she had gone. His
breath made a little dwindling picture of the word on the glass. Courter courter
caught. Okay. People called him many things, he did not mind. But this name, this
courter, this he would try to be.98

Language is important in The Courter also in another way.

Mecir and Certainly-Mary do not understand each other, both because
they talk two different languages and because Mecirs stroke has affected
his ability to speak fluently.
Comparing this situation to the incommunicability the migrants have
to face, it is significant to mention how the two characters invent a new way
of dialoguing.
Chess had become their private language. Old Mixed-Up, lost as he was for words,
retained, on the chess-board, much of the articulacy and subtlety which had vanished
from his speech. As Certainly-Mary gained in skill [] she was better able to
understand, and respond to, the wit of the reduced maestro with whom she had so
unexpectedly forged a bond.
[] In the game of chess they had found a form of flirtation, an endless renewal that
precluded the possibility of boredom, a courtly wonderland of the ageing heart. 99

The Courter, along with At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers,

addresses the issue of the third-place as a potential subversive and liberating
space in other terms, too.
In both of the two stories, the narrators have issues with the concepts
of family and home. They are migrants in different ways: one has been left


Ibidem, p.177
Ibidem, pp.194-195


by his girlfriend who represents home the other is an Indian boy living
in England.
Thus, both of them live in an in-between space, although their
attitudes towards their respective homes are different. The narrator of At
the Auction of the Ruby Slippers wants his ex-girlfriend back, while the
narrator of The Courter feels torn between two sides.
However, in the end they both decide to let the past go.
The narrator of At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers decides to stop
bidding: he renounces to Gale.
So it is that my cousin Gale loses her hold over me in the crucible of the auction. So
it is that I drop out of the bidding, go home, and fall asleep.
When I awake I feel refreshed, and free.100

The narrator of The Courter finally manages to get his English

And the passport did, in many ways, set me free. It allowed me to come and go, to
make choices that were not the ones my father would have wished. 101

As for the ropes around his neck, pulling him in two different
I buck, I snort, I whinny, I rear, I kick. Ropes, I do not choose between you. Lassoes,
lariats, I choose neither of you, and both. Do you hear? I refuse to choose.102


Rushdie, Salman, At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International,
1996, p.102
Rushdie, Salman, The Courter, in Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996, p.211
Ibidem, p.211




Many postcolonial writers are native of non-European countries, often

former British colonies. This is the case of two of the three whose novels
will be discussed in this chapter.
Caryl Phillips was born in 1958 in St. Kitts (West Indies) and his
family moved to England when he was four months old. He grew up in
Leeds and studied English Literature at Oxford University.
Monica Ali, born in 1967, is native of Dhaka (Bangladesh) and
daughter of Bangladeshi father and English mother. Her family moved to
England when she was three.
Zadie Smith is instead a second-generation immigrant, since she was
born in the London Borough of Brent in 1975 to a Jamaican mother (who
had emigrated to England in 1969) and an English father.
The texts that will be referred to respectively, The Final Passage
(1985), Brick Lane (2003) and White Teeth (2000) are all debut novels and
they all present first and/or second-generation migrants as main characters.
Although coming from various cultures and having different beliefs
and their own individual stories, the protagonists are similar in their
They all undergo the process of adjustment to the new country,
therefore they have to face racism and isolation and have to struggle in order
to find their own place and in order to build a new identity.


3.1. The Final Passage, by Caryl Phillips

England dont be no joke for a coloured man103
The novels title implies ideas of migration, displacement and
exploitation: in the triangular Atlantic slave trade, the first passage was
that of European ships towards Africa, where goods were exchanged for
black slaves. The dreadful middle passage led to the American and
Caribbean plantations, where slaves were sold. In the final passage,
European ships returned home.
The Final Passage describes the experience of post-war migration
from the Caribbean to the Mother Country.
The protagonist is Leila, a young mulatto girl, daughter of a black
mother and a white father whom she has never known. Leila marries
Michael but their relationship turns out to be a disaster. When her mother,
who is seriously ill, leaves for England to seek medical treatment, she
decides to follow her, once her first child is born, hoping that she and
Michael can make a new start there.
Unfortunately, in London the couple learns the reality of migrant life.
They find that the letters Leilas mother sent home bore no resemblance to
the terrible conditions in which she has been living. She eventually dies and
is buried in a grave with other two coffins.
Forced to live in degrading conditions in London, the couple is unable
to make a success of their marriage and Michael leaves Leila, once more
pregnant. In the end, she resolves to return to the Caribbean.


Phillips, Caryl, The Final Passage, Vintage International, 1995, p.105


Being a story about migrant people, the novel addresses the concepts
of home and displacement and deals with the difficulties faced by the
coloured people settling in England.
The reason for leaving the island is linked with the condition of black
people and with the hope of a better life and a better future.
Michaels grandfather gives him a speech about their status as
opposed to that of white people.
Next time you see a piece of sugar cane ask yourself when the last time you did see
a white man cutting or weeding in the field. I want you to think hard when the last
time you did see a white man doing any kind of coloured man work and I want you
to remember good.
[] In Panama an old, old man, he can barely pick up an axe, he tell me that the
economics of the world be soldered with my sweat. [] Well, boy, it take me nearly
forty years to realize that I done meet a prophet, for the economics of the world be
soldered with my sweat and your sweat and the sweat of every coloured man in the
world, you understand? 104

Moreover, Leila suggests her reasons while thinking about the African
trees that grow on the island.
They were brought here to feed the slaves. They were still feeding them. They
would not feed Calvin.105

The sense of displacement is evident and deeply felt by Leila:

Leaving this place going make me feel old, you know, like leaving the safety of your
family to go live with strangers.106


Ibidem, pp.40-42
Ibidem, p.18
Ibidem, p.11


Here, home is related to Leilas affections and social relations,

especially to her friendship with Millie, who instead does not think of ever
leaving the island.
Then I expect I maybe going come and see you on holiday one time but its here I
belong. You maybe dont see it but me, I love this island with every bone in my
body. [] Its my home and home is where you feel a welcome. 107

England is presented as a cold and impersonal place, so different from

the hot and sunny place Leila is coming from.
Leila looked at England, but everything seemed bleak. She quickly realized she
would have to learn a new word; overcast. There were no green mountains, there
were no colourful women with baskets on their heads selling peanuts or bananas or
mangoes, there were no trees, no white houses on the hills, no hills, no wooden
houses by the shoreline, and the sea was not blue and there was no beach, and there
were no clouds, just one big cloud, and they had arrived. 108

Leilas first impression of London is shocking, as she notices how

disastrous and unpleasant the conditions in which coloured people have to
live are. Moreover, the sense of rejection and the feeling of alienation are
strengthened by the undisguised racism prevailing in the city.
Indeed, Leila and Michael have to face renting discrimination.
They walked along this empty road looking up to their left for signs, but the first
three they saw gave Leila an idea as to what to expect. No coloureds, No
vacancies, No children.109


Ibidem, p.115
Ibidem, p.142
Ibidem, p.155


The householders who have not put signs make excuses and the house
the couple finally manage to rent turns out to be a dirty slum.
At the end of the story, Michael leaves Leila, thus increasing her sense
of isolation. However, paradoxically this gives her a way out, it releases her
from an unsuccessful and destructive marriage and provides her a chance to
go back to the island, where she really belongs.

3.2. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

And then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging.
Suddenly this thing, this belonging, it seems like some
long, dirty lie... and I begin to believe that birthplaces are
accidents, that everything is an accident.110
White Teeth is the comic tale of multicultural London told through the
friendship of the Englishman Archie Jones and the Bengali immigrant
Samad Iqbal, and their families.
Zadie Smith portrays the community of Willesden Green as a melting
pot. Samad and his wife, Alsana, come from Bangladesh; Clara, Archies
wife, is Jamaican; Samads co-worker at the restaurant, Shiva, is native of
OConnells Poolroom which is neither Irish nor a poolroom111
is the perfect example of what Rushdie calls mlange, hotchpotch, a bit of


Smith, Zadie, White Teeth, Penguin Books, 2000, p.407

Ibidem, p.183


this and a bit of that, 112 with its carpeted walls, the reproductions of
George Stubbs racehorse paintings, the framed fragments of some foreign,
Eastern script, and an Irish flag and a map of the Arab Emirates knotted
together and hung from wall to wall. 113 Denzel and Clarence, the old
friends who are always at the pub playing domino, are Jamaicans and
Abdul-Mickey, the tall man behind the counter, is an Arab.
The friendship existing between the two main characters is symbolic
of the cultural mix that permeates all the novel.
However, Samad has many difficulties in trying to adjust himself to
He is very fond of his Bengali origins and the contrast between East
and West is always present in his speeches and in his behaviours. He is
incapable of mediating between the two sets of values.
I have been corrupted by England, I see that now my children, my wife, they too
have been corrupted.114

His colleague points out the impossibility of going back to who they
were before.
I wish to live as I was always meant to! I wish to return to the East!
Ah, well we all do, dont we? murmured Shiva, [] I left when I was three.
Fuck knows I havent made anything of this country. But whos got the money for
the air fare? And who wants to live in a shack with fourteen servants on the payroll?
Who knows what Shiva Bhagwati would have turned out like back in Calcutta?


Salman, Rushdie, In Buona Fede, in Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Oscar Mondadori, 1994, p.431
Smith, Zadie, White Teeth, Penguin Books, 2000, p.183
Ibidem, p.144


Prince or pauper? And who, said Shiva, some of his old beauty returning to his face,
can pull the West out of em once its in?115

Moreover, Samad has to face the difficult relationship with his twins,
born and raised in London.
Indeed, one of the main themes explored in the novel is the different
ways in which the second-generation migrants relate themselves to the idea
of homeland and home-culture.
Since childhood, Magid Iqbal has shown his desire of being integrated
and being like all his friends. For example, on his ninth birthday, some of
his white schoolmates had shown up at his house and had asked for Mark
Smith, which was the name Magid had chosen for himself.
The divergence between him and his father becomes much more
evident when it comes to decide whether the boys are going to participate to
the Harvest Festival organized by the school or not. Samad is totally against
the idea of letting them go and that is why Magid and Irie, Archies
daughter and Magids classmate, decide to protest and stop talking.
But this was just a symptom of a far deeper malaise. Magid really wanted to be in
some other family. He wanted to own cats and no cockroaches, he wanted his mother
to make the music of the cello, not the sound of the sewing machine; he wanted to
have a trellis of flowers growing up one side of the house instead of the ever
growing pile of other peoples rubbish; he wanted a piano in the hallway un place of
the broken door off cousin Kursheds car; he wanted to go on biking holidays to
France, not day-trips to Blackpool to visit aunties; he wanted the floor of his room to
be shiny wood, not the orange and green swirled carpet left over from the restaurant;
he wanted his father to be a doctor, not a one-handed waiter; and this month Magid

Ibidem, p.145


had converted all these desires into a wish to join in with the Harvest Festival like
Mark Smith would. Like everybody else would. 116

All Samad wanted was two good Muslim boys.117

In his attempt to save his children from Londons depravation, Samad
eventually resolves to send them back to Bangladesh, except he has got
money only for one of them and therefore has to choose, and he chooses the
elder-son-by-two-minutes118 Magid.
Unexpectedly, Magid grows up being an atheist, while his brother
Millat enters the radical Muslim group KEVIN, thus breaking all their
fathers dreams.
There are no words. The one I send home comes out a pukka Englishman, whitesuited, silly wig lawyer. The one I keep here is fully paid-up green-bow-tie-wearing
fundamentalist terrorist. I sometimes wonder why I bother, said Samad bitterly,
betraying the English inflections of twenty years in the country, I really do. These
days, it seems to me like you make a devil's pact when you walk into this country.
You hand over your passport at the check-in, you get stamped, you want to make a
little money, get yourself started... but you mean to go back! Who would want to
stay? Cold, wet, miserable; terrible food, dreadful newspaperswho would want to
stay? In a place where you are never welcomed, only tolerated. Just tolerated. Like
you are an animal finally housebroken. Who would want to stay? But you have
made a devil's pact... it drags you in and suddenly you are unsuitable to return, your
children are unrecognizable, you belong nowhere. 119

As far as Irie, Archies daughter, is concerned, her relationship with

her homeland is completely different than that of the twin boys.

Ibidem, p.151
Ibidem, p.406
Ibidem, p.214
Ibidem, p.407


Like Magid, she wanted to fit in at school and has tried to change her
appearance. Nevertheless, in the end she starts digging in her parents past
in order to find her roots and thus find out who she really is.
In her mind, Jamaica becomes a place of freedom and possibilities, as
opposed to the secrets and lies of her family.
This well-wooded and watered place. Where thing sprang from the soil riotously and
without supervision, and a young white captain could meet a young black girl with
no complications, both of them fresh and untainted and without past or dictated
future a place where things simply were. No fictions, no myths, no lies, no tangled
webs this is how Irie imagined her homeland. [] And the particular magic of
homeland, its particular spell over Irie, was that it sounded like a beginning. The
beginningest of beginnings. Like the first morning of Eden and the day after
apocalypse. A blank page.120

Indeed, at the end of the story, she joins her grandmother in Jamaica
in the year 2000.

3.3. Brick Lane, by Monica Ali

The village was leaving her. Sometimes a picture
would come. Vivid; so strong she could smell it.
More often, she tried to see and could not. 121
Monica Alis Brick Lane portrays the position and identity confusion
of Bengali migrants in the isolated community of Tower Hamlets, London,
through the story of the eighteen-year-old protagonist, Nazneen, who faces

Ibidem, p.402
Ali, Monica, Brick Lane, Scribner, 2003, p.176


the immigrant experience for her arranged marriage with an older man,
The novel follows Nazneens life from the first obedient years, during
which Nazneen is frightened by her alien surroundings, through her affair
with the young radical Karim until her final decision to start a new
independent life.
This process is accompanied by the emotional and cultural shock of
migration, the everyday reality of racism, the hardships of settling in and
adapting to an unfamiliar country, the feeling of dislocation and identity
London is presented as much colder and more alienating than
Nazneens birthplace.
You can spread your soul over a paddy field, you can whisper to a mango tree, you
can feel the earth between your toes and know that this is the place, the place where
it begins and ends. But what can you tell to a pile of bricks? The bricks will not be

At first, Chanu seems to be well settled in England, with his job and
his expectations of being promoted.
Indeed, he criticizes the general attitude of Bengali immigrants
Uneducated. Illiterate. Close-minded. Without ambition. 123 who have
come to live in London.
They dont ever really leave home. Their bodies are here but their hearts are back
there. And anyway, look how they live: just recreating the village here. 124


Ibidem, p.66
Ibidem, pp.15-16
Ibidem, p.19


However, despite his snobbery, Chanu himself is still thinking of

going back home one day.
Speaking of when he first arrived to England, he says:
And I made two promises to myself. I will be a success, come what may. That's
promise number one. Number two, I will go back home. When I am a success.125

The old village is a constant presence also in Nazneens memory,

especially in the first part of the book, when she does not dare to leave the
apartment without her husband.
However, while she dreams of going back where she feels her roots
are, Chanu instead desperately wants to be firstly integrated with the British
society and the Bengali elite and go home afterwards.
Nevertheless, Chanu is the one more tied to Bangladesh, even if he is
actually recalling its golden past and history and not thinking of the reality
of its present situation.
He experiences nostalgia and uses his imagined Bangladesh as a
defense against the disillusionment and the isolation he feels in England.
In fact, much of Chanus failure results from his inability to mediate
between two contradictory sets of values, and to make a compromise
between the conflicting expectations of the two cultures. In a conversation
between Chanu and Dr. Azads wife, he argues:
Im talking about the clash between Western values and our own. Im talking about
the struggle to assimilate and the need to preserve ones identity and heritage. Im
talking about children who dont know what their identity is. Im talking about the
feelings of alienation engendered by a society where racism is prevalent. Im talking

Ibidem, p.21


about the terrific struggle to preserve ones sanity while striving to achieve the best
for ones family.126

The clash of cultures Chanu talks about leads to another problem

explored in the novel: the clash of the relationship between generations.
It especially pertains to the perception of the place called home,
which is different for the members of different generations.
Nazneens daughters, Shahana in particular, lack a strong bond with
Bangladesh and its culture, since England is the only country they know.
Shahana did not want to listen to Bengali classical music. Her written Bengali was
shocking. She wanted to wear jeans. She hated her kameez and spoiled her entire
wardrobe by pouring paint on them. If she could choose between baked beans and
dal it was no contest. When Bangladesh was mentioned she pulled a face. She did
not know and would not learn that Tagore was more than poet and Nobel laureate,
and no less than the true father of her nation. Shahana did not care. Shahana did not
want to go back home.127

It is also interesting to notice how another character, Karim, relates

himself to his homeland.
Initially, he appears as being well integrated, wearing Western clothes
and even stammering when speaking Bengali but not in English. He is a
second-generation migrant, born and brought up in London, but though
seemingly British, he cannot be seen as rooted in the host nation for his
political choices are always connected to Bangladesh as his true home.
However, the racism that Karim and his group the Bengal Tigers
are assembled to combat is discovered to be practically nonexistent: it

Ibidem, p.88
Ibidem, p.144


would appear that the real menace are the Bengali gangs whose existence
Karim had previously denied, and who ultimately take over the anti-racist
march and transform it into a violent riot.
Therefore, Karims perception of his own identity and culture is
confused and, as much as he tries, he does not seem to find a definitive
place or self-consciousness.
Both Chanu and Karim are caught in an in-betweenness and
ambivalence, which turn them in impotent men.
Nazneen, on the contrary, undergoes a process of emancipation.
She learns to take more control of her life by making her voice heard
in her home and making her own decisions. In the end, she rejects Chanu
and Karim, both of whom want in different ways to cast her in certain roles,
having the first defined her as A good worker. Cleaning and cooking and
all that. [] A girl from the village: totally unspoilt128 and the second as
His real thing. A Bengali wife. A Bengali mother. An idea of home.129
Nazneen realizes that things have changed.
She had wanted to go. But now she did not know. [] She was not the girl from the
village anymore. She was not the real thing.130

She decides to stay in London with her daughters and starts a business
with her friends.
I will decide what to do. I will say what happens to me. I will be the one.131


Ibidem, p.11
Ibidem, p.382
Ibidem, p.322
Ibidem, p.339



Testi primari:
Ali, Monica, Brick Lane, Scribner, 2003
Phillips, Caryl, The Final Passage, Vintage International, 1995
Rushdie, Salman, East, West, Vintage International, 1996
Smith, Zadie, White Teeth, Penguin Books, 2000

Testi secondari:
Appignanesi, Laura e Bhabha, Homi, Identity: the real me, Institute of
Contemporary Arts, 1987
Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths, Gareth e Tiffin, Helen, The Empire Writes Back,
Routledge, 2004
Bammer, Angelika (ed.), Displacements: Cultural Identities in Question,
Indiana University Press, 1994
Barker, Chris, The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies, SAGE
Publications, 2004
Bhabha, Homi, The Location of Culture, Routledge, 2004
Chambers, Iain, Migrancy, Culture, Identity, Routledge, 1994
Hall, Stuart e Du Gay, Paul, Questions of Cultural Identity, SAGE
Publications, 2003
Pagetti, Carlo e Palusci, Oriana, The Shape of a Culture. Il dibattito sulla
cultura inglese dalla rivoluzione industriale al mondo contemporaneo,
Carocci editore, 2004


Palusci, Oriana e Bertacco, Simona, Postcolonial to multicultural. An

anthology of texts from the english-speaking world, Hoepli, 2012
Rushdie, Salman, Patrie Immaginarie, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1994
Rutherford, Jonathan (ed.), Identity: Community, Culture, Difference,
Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1990
Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage Books, 1994
Said, Edward, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2002
Williams, Raymond, Keywords: a vocabulary of culture and society, Oxford
University Press, 1976



of International English Literature JSTOR SAGE Journals Media Education Formation Contemporary Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature in English - Al Jolsons Swanee



Grazie a mamma e a pap, per aver accettato le mie scelte, anche e

soprattutto quando non erano daccordo con me. Grazie per avermi dato
lopportunit di crescere e diventare la persona che sono.
Grazie a mio fratello per essere la voce della mia coscienza e riportarmi con
i piedi per terra, quando serve, e per essere il mio pi grande e vero amico.
Grazie alle nonne migliori che si possano avere, per avermi insegnato la
tenacia e la dolcezza. Grazie per il sugo al pomodoro pi buono del mondo e
per i ravioli con la panna e le costine della domenica. Grazie per essermi
vicine, sempre.
Grazie a tutta la mia famiglia. Anche se non lo dico spesso, mi mancate e vi
voglio bene.
E, s, grazie anche a Tavernelle. Per essere stata la mia prima casa, il mio
punto di partenza.
Grazie ad Andrea, per essere la mia forza. Grazie per aver trovato il modo di
starmi vicino anche quando era difficile. Grazie per essere cos uguale e cos
diverso da me.
Eleonora e Viola, amiche di birra, di capelli rossi, di Varazze, di birra, di
partite (!!), di studio (?) e di birra. Grazie per essere come siete. Vi voglio
Valentina, Silvia, Estela, Claudia e Masha, le migliori coinquis di sempre.
Grazie per le risate e le serate sul divano e il sushi e i compleanni e Real
Time grazie per essere state la mia famiglia adottiva.


Un grazie anche a Max, Veronica, Leo, Davide, Gio, Andre, Robi e Saba,
per le serate a mangiare insieme, quelle a bere, e grazie pure per quelle in
cui non si fa nulla.
Grazie a Mirca e a Carlo, per avermi accolta e fatta sentire a casa.
Grazie a Milano, al Birrificio di Lambrate, al Kobe 2 in Porta Romana e al
Papiro di Precotto.
E, infine, grazie alla mia relatrice, Nicoletta Vallorani, per avermi aiutata in
questo lavoro, e soprattutto per essere stata dispirazione fin dalla prima
lezione, tempo fa.
Grazie di cuore a tutti.