Concepts of Home and Belonging in Postcolonial Literature compared in the novels "Small Island" by Andrea Levy and "White Teeth" by Zadie Smith
Seminar Paper 2006 20 Pages
1.1 Brief introduction to home and belonging as a general idea
1.2 Procedure and approach of my analyses
2. Theories and concepts of Home & Identity
2.1 `Traditional' concepts of home and belonging
2.2 Fluid concepts- `diaspora' identities
2.3 Concept of living `in-between' identities
2.4 Hybrid identities
3. Migration and home — the importance of home in Small Island
4. Traditional concepts of home and belonging in Small Island 8 and in White Teeth
5. Fluid concepts- `diaspora identities', living `in-between identities' and `hybrid identities' in White Teeth compared to `in-between identities' in Small Island
6. Conclusion and outlook
1 . Introduction
1 .1 . Brief introduction to home and belonging as a general idea
Home has a significant function in our lives. Thinking of home we associate notions like shelter and comfort and when we come home we want to feel safe and welcome. John McLeod argues in this sense that "to be 'at home' is to occupy a location where we are welcome, where we can be with people very much like ourselves." 1 We are looking for who we are, where we come from and try to find our place in life. When one is born in a country but moves to another where is one's home country then? This question is hard to answer, because migration is always a process which implies a struggle of identities. When the 2nd generation is born in the host country- where do they belong if the host country does not accept them as full members? The term home is highly complicated in a complex and multicultural world like ours.
1 .2 . Procedure and approach of my analyses
I have centered my term paper on an attempt to identify and characterize the concepts of home and belonging in postcolonial literature.
Comparing how the idea of home and belonging is presented in the novels White Teeth by Zadie Smith2 and Small Island by Andrea Levy3, I have tried a text- extrinsic approach. Furthermore, I have analysed the authors' intentions with regard to the time of publication and the time of the narrative. However, the main aspect of my analyses is which concepts of home and belonging exist and which of them can be found in the novels of my comparison. I have chosen White Teeth because it is a novel that deals with the colonial past and the postcolonial present and I have selected Small Island because it is a novel that deals with migration in the past. Small Island is set at the beginning of migration when many colonized people came to England. Andrea Levy presents different views, the White and Black British point of view at the beginning of migration. My motivation to compare both novels is to go back to the beginning of colonial migration and to show the difference between the concepts from the past to the present.
2 Theories and concepts of Home and Identity
2 .1 Traditional concepts of home and belonging
In this chapter, I focus on home and belonging as a static concept and on home and belonging as a mental construction in the sense of home as a 'mythic place'. At the end of this chapter, I shortly present home and belonging in nationalist representation.
Traditionally home and belonging can be defined as the place where our ancestors used to live, the place of our origin. Consequently, this definition is dedicated to the past without regard where one lives right now. As a result, it is a very passive and static concept, and home is a fixed place. This traditional idea implies that people define their identity according to their roots.
John McLeod argues in this sense:
The concept of 'home' often performs an important function in our lives. It can act as a valuable means of orientation by giving us a sense of our place in the world. It tells us where we originated from and where we belong.4
But so many people have left their homelands in the course of colonization and up to the present time. They have to get along in the host country even though they feel somehow still committed to their old country. Furthermore, for plenty of first generation immigrants it is easier to idealize their home country and see it as the only real home, than to assimilate into the new host country. According to John McLeod, Robert Cohen, Avtar Brah and Salman Rushdie5 home can be imagined in diaspora communities as a "Mythic Place" or an "Imaginary Homeland".
Migrants see their home country as idyllic place of security and shelter where they are welcome and where the people are like them (race, nationality, religion etc). Migrants often experience discrimination against them in their host country. One way to deal with this experience is to idealize their home country and to see their host country only as a place of temporary residence. As Avtar Brah puts it: "Home is a mythic place of desire in the diasporic imagination."6 According to this idea home is a mental image:
In this formulation, home becomes primarily a mental construction built from the incomplete o dds and end s of m emory th at survive fro m th e p ast. It ex ists in a fractured, discontinuous relationship with the present.7
In this regard, migrants might have an ideal mental image of home, which differs widely from reality. They might have glorified their home so that it might not be possible to return home without disillusion them because their home in reality is not the home of their imagination:
"In this sense it is a place of no-return, even if it is possible to visit the geographical territory that is seen as the place of 'origin'."8
Home and belonging are important in nationalist representation as well. For example John McLeod describes home as a relevant concept of nationalist representation: "Community, belonging, a sense of rootedness in the land, home- each is relevant to the construction and purpose of nationalist representation."9 So in a nationalist representation home and belonging are defined in terms of belonging to a nation. This concept of home and belonging can be regarded as an extreme form of traditional concept. According to McLeod "nations are imagined communities and evoke a feeling of belonging, home and community for the people."10 Furthermore, he argues "every definition of identity is always defined in relation to something else," and "nations place borders that separate the people 'within' from different peoples outside". So according to John McLeod home and belonging in a nationalist representation is bound to the nation one is born in and is defined in relation to other nations whose people have a different identity.
2 .2 Fluid concepts- 'Diaspora' Identities
It would be nice and simple if we were all pure. If we all came from where our parents, grandparents and beyond came from. If we all just took on our forefathers' culture. Wouldn't it be nice if we could say that all Africans are Black and all English are white?11
This quotation by Andrea Levy expresses that in a multicultural world like ours the old static concept does not fit for everybody. There must be the possibility to create new concepts of home and belonging for those people who live in-between cultures.
One very common concept found in postcolonial literature is the concept of 'Diaspora Identity'. In "Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies" by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin the following definition of diaspora can be found: "Diasporas, the voluntary or forcible movement of peoples from their homelands into new regions, is a central historical fact of colonization. [...] The widespread effects of this migration [...] continue on a global scale."12 John McLeod 13 uses a quotation by Robert Cohen to explain diaspora:
Diasporas as communities of people living together in one country who 'ac knowledge' that 'the old country'- a notion often buried deep in language, religion, custom or folklore-always has some claim on their loyalty and emotions. 14
Diaspora identities include several generations of immigrants- the first generation immigrants who have experienced migration as well as their descendants who have not experienced migration. Therefore, the term diaspora identities fits better than migrant identities:
"[...] it is more accurate to talk about 'diaspora identities'; not all of those who live in a diaspora, or share an emotional connection to the 'old country', have experienced migration."15 Diaspora identities can be subdivided into two groups: One group are the first generation immigrants and the other group are their descendants- the second generation immigrants and further generations.
1 John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 210.
2 Zadie Smith, White Teeth (London: Penguin Books, 2001), .
3 Andrea Levy, Small Island (London: Review, Headline Book Publishing, 2004).
4 John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 210.
5 Cf. ibid., pp. 208-210.
6 Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (London; New York, Routledge, 1997) p. 192 in John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 210.
7 John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), p.211.
8 Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (London; New York, Routledge, 1997) p. 192. in John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 210.
9 John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), pp.71-72.
10 Ibid., p.74.
11 Andrea Levy, ' This is my England#$ The Guardian (February19, 2000) in "'Pivoting the Center':The Fiction of Andrea Levy" by Maria Helena Lima in Write Black Write British: From Post Colonial to Black British Literature, ed. by Kadija Sesay (Hertford:Hansib, 2005) p.72.
12 Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths; Helen Tiffin, Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies (London; New York: Routledge, 1998) pp. 68-70.
13 John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 207.
14 Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (UCL Press, 1997) p. ix, in John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 207.
15 John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 207.
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- University of Göttingen – Seminar für Englische Philologie
- Concepts Home Belonging Postcolonial Literature Small Island Andrea Levy White Teeth Zadie Smith