The role of parents concerning their children in Hanif Kureishi’s short stories “With Your Tongue down My Throat”, “My Son the Fanatic” and “Goodbye, Mother”
Term Paper 2015 16 Pages
Table of Contents
2. Theoretical Perspectives on Parenting and Immigrated Parents
3. The role of parents in “With Your Tongue down My Throat”
4. The role of parents in “My Son the Fanatic”
5. The role of parents in “Goodbye, Mother”
7. Works Cited
Parents are the most important factor in the upbringing of a child. They lay the emotional foundation and basis for their children, especially when it comes to basic trust, love, appreciation and the right way of dealing with problems. Whether a child was raised by its biological/foster parents, adopted or in an orphanage, parents always play an immense role in the life of a child. The physical or emotional absence of one parent or both parents inevitably influences a child as well as the background its parents come from and the role their parents played in their lives. In his short stories “With Your Tongue down My Throat”, “My Son the Fanatic” and “Goodbye, Mother” Hanif Kureishi illustrates the major influence, which parents and their way of upbringing have on their children.
It is a topic of very personal interest; knowing and experiencing the role my parents had and have in my life and how this affects my past, present and future. Therefore, I will analyze the parenting of the protagonists’ parents in Kureishi’s short stories named above. To understand and relate to the situation of the parents in each story the next chapter will illustrate the theoretical perspectives on parenting and immigrated parents. Each chapter, focusing on one of the short stories, is introduced by a summary of each story, followed by a description of the characters or eventual character changes throughout the story and ending with an analysis of the role of parents in the upbringing of their children. In order to stay within certain limits and to not go beyond the constraints of this paper only the way the protagonist of the story was influenced by his or her parents will be analyzed more closely, except for the short story “My Son the Fanatic” where the protagonist is a father influencing the upbringing of his son. In the story “With your Tongue down My Throat” the end of the story, which changes the entire view on the story has not been taken into account to simply focus on the upbringing presented in the main story. After the analysis of each separate story, I will draw a final conclusion on the thesis and topic of this paper.
2. Theoretical Perspectives on Parenting and Immigrated Parents
The demands on parenting are very high. So are the values that parents are expected to teach their children. The graph (Figure 1), which can be seen on the following page, illustrates important educational goals per 100 people interviewed. Values like honesty (79%), Independence (65%), reliability (64%) and helpfulness (64%) are the top ranked educational goals.
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Figure 1. Important educational goals. BAT Freizeit-Forschungsinstitut 2006, Repräsentativbefragung von 2000 Personen ab 14 Jahren im Juni 2006 in Deutschland. Source: http://www.bmfsfj.de/RedaktionBMFSFJ/Abteilung2/Newsletter/Monitor-Familienforschung/2006-03/Medien/werte,property=pdf,bereich=,rwb=true.pdf. Web. 02 Feb 2015.
Most families of the Western countries are building their foundation on these values. Compared to other cultures or other centuries, families in most Western countries are a place of love and trust. Children trust their parents to provide for them and be there in every situation. This is the ideal image of a family. However, it can be shaken by all kinds of factors, one of them being an immigrant family in another country. An analysis, which was published in the “American Journal of Public Health”, examined the association between the joint effects of children’s immigrant family type and race on parenting aggravation. The analysis indicates that all minority and immigrated parents experience high aggravation when it comes to parenting compared with US-born parents (Yu, and Gopal 2102). The well being of children in immigrant families is influenced by immigrant attributes of their parents like health-care seeking behavior, eligibility and those related to language and culture (2102). Taking care of children in a new environment and in new cultural surroundings can be a difficult task, which has to be handled alongside other hardships like economic conditions, health insurance and learning a new language. But the cultural background is nothing that is left behind in the “old country”. Some families adapt easily to the new ways of living in a new country. Others try to keep their family values and traditions, even though they might not agree with the rules of society in the new home country. All of the mentioned factors and influences play a major role in the way these parents are raising their children. In the three stories by Hanif Kureishi “With Your Tongue down My Throat”, “My Son the Fanatic” and “Goodbye, Mother” the cultural background still highly influences the ways of parenting, which influences the past, present and the future of the protagonists in each story.
3. The role of parents in “With Your Tongue down My Throat”
In Hanif Kureishi’s short story “With Your Tongue down my Throat” a girl, called Nina, is on a path of trying to look back on and reappraise her past and dealing with the consequences this brings along. It begins with a scene of Nina’s experience in an abortion clinic. Nina worked as a prostitute, got raped, was a drug addict and had two abortions. She now lives in a rather poor part of London, with her mother Deborah, where every Friday her mother’s boyfriend Howard comes over to take her mother out for dinner and then ends up having sex with her, like teenagers, as Nina describes it. Nina’s mother Deborah is a Drama teacher at a Catholic girls’ school, who looks like a 1950s teenager and has a longing for men to simply love her and fill her demands. Therefore, men have hurt Deborah many times, especially Nina’s father. He left her, because “[she] was too strong a woman for him” (62/63) and went back to his wife and two daughters in Pakistan, leaving Deborah behind: pregnant and alone. A few days after, he got his wife in Pakistan pregnant and Nadia, Nina’s Pakistani sister, was conceived. Deborah tells Nina about her half-sister on her eleventh birthday. She dislikes Nadia from then on for having the life Nina had always wanted: a father and a loving family. This is until a moment of despair, when she writes her father to let his sister come to England for a visit. When Nadia arrives, Nina immediately falls in love with her “new” sister and cares for her as if she was her own daughter. But Nadia poses a danger to Nina and her mother because she is getting very close with Deborah’s boyfriend Howard, who she finds interesting, talks to about political and other “academic” topics and kisses in a moment, when Nina leaves the two of them alone. She also tells Nina what her own father thinks of her and how he wishes he could shoot Nina, like a wild animal, to put her out of her “misery”. Nadia undergoes a (cultural) shock, living with Nina’s family in poor living conditions and when she finds out about everything her sister Nina has done in the past. After having an argument with Nina, while the latter is under the influence of dope, she decides to go back home to Pakistan. Nina, wanting to find out about Nadia’s family, her life and her father, whom she has only met a couple of times when he was on a business trip in England, joins Nadia on her way to Pakistan. At her father’s house in a new country with a different culture and a different way of living, Nina lives in a little “cell” on the side of her father’s house. She is an outsider to everyone – including her father – and voluntarily merges in this role as the illegitimate and unwanted daughter. She tries to fit in, yet does not want to follow the customs and rules of her father’s household and soon stands in conflict with everyone, except Billy, a young man, who, much like Nina, is an outsider as well. After an event at her father’s house, the two of them elope and spend the night in a house at the beach. Her half-sister Nadia and her lover “The Flounder”, as Nina calls him, are interrupting them, but they hide, until Nina and Billy confront them with their presence the next morning. No one officially knows of the liaison, so Nadia is really upset and angry when she finds out that Nina witnessed everything they did that night. Billy and Nina fall in love, even though her father does not approve of this and spend several days together until Nadia gives Nina a flight ticket back home to England.
There are many different characters in the story that need to be considered separately to analyze the influence they have on Nina, the protagonist of the story, and consequently her upbringing.
Howard poses as the hero of the story because he fills Deborah’s demands (Kureishi 67) and is the educated and artistic man, who Nadia was missing and whom she identifies with (75). Furthermore, he pays for Nina’s flight ticket to Pakistan (84). Yet, he is portrayed as an arrogant and selfish man, who belittles Nina (62) and feels superior to Nina and her mother. He gives Nina the feeling of being worth less than Nadia. The same holds true for Deborah, because he only visits her on Fridays and does not care to see her more often during the week (62).
Nadia was born the day after Nina (63), which almost makes them twins who additionally have very similar names. This also gives way to Nina being able to draw a straight comparison between both of their lives. Nina calls her sister her mirror (65), which shows her expectation of being the same person, although their lives can hardly be compared. Nadia lives a perfect life in Nina’s eyes. She is training to become a doctor while Nina used to work as a prostitute. Yet, Nadia is like a precious puppet to her, which Nina takes care of, dresses and turns into what she herself would like to be (68) but cannot achieve. She however, still sees Nadia as a competition, because she has a loving father (63), a perfect life (63), gets what she desires (78) and “steals” Howard from her mother (75), who even comes to the airport, when she departs, despite it not being Friday. Nadia gives both Nina and her mother the feeling of being outsiders in their own home (76).
Nina’s father does not seem to care about neither Nina nor her mother. He calls Nadia his most precious thing and with this, does not even consider the damage his words and behavior could cause in his other daughter’s life. To him it is just another business to see Nina on an occasional business trip to England (71). He sees his daughter as a shame on the whole family (98) and when she visits him and his family in Pakistan he does not want to be identified with her as his daughter (87) and treats her without love and respect continuously exposing Nina in front of everyone (90). When his attempt to “put her on the right track” fails (90), he talks to Nina most disrespectfully, curses and insults her (97).
Nina’s mother is a good, gentle and kind woman (67), who is a drama teacher (62) at a Catholic girls’ school (61) and is described as being a loved star outside the family surroundings and the shabby apartment. Yet, within her family, she is portrayed as a hurt and empty women, who never came to terms with her past and is still hurt by Nina’s father leaving her by herself with the responsibility of caring for a child. As a consequence of this, Deborah has an eating disorder (64), low self-esteem and tries to behave and stay like a teenager by even having a child-like attitude, which Nina calls Deborah’s “resentful stage” (66). On top of this, she has had nervous breakdowns (67) and uses men to fill the hole in her heart and her demands, but, until Howard, none of them meet them, which causes continuous hurt in both Deborah and Nina also, who has to get used of different father figures continuously. She is frustrated with her life and wants to be thanked for what she does, yet does not feel cherished and appreciated by her own daughter and the world (76).
Nina herself is a young woman with many problems caused by a lack of love and care by both her parents. All she has ever wanted was to belong somewhere, but everyone in her surroundings makes her feel hated and like an outsider (79/82): no one supported her when she had the abortions (60), she lives outside of her father’s house when she visits his family in Pakistan, she does neither fit in her father’s culture nor her own (83) and ends up being forced to leave her father’s family to go back to England. The only person who makes her feel loved is Billy, an outsider as well. Nina wants her sister Nadia to be her last glimmer of hope. She is willing to give her everything and even sleep in the toilet for her worrying about Nadia like a mother (67). Nadia’s opinion and impression are very important to Nina. Nevertheless, Nadia shows and mirrors Nina in every way what a disappointment she is. Nina feels so worthless that she thinks she would not even deserve her own death. When looking at her mother’s behavior many similarities can be found in Nina’s behavior as well, showing what role Deborah plays in Nina’s upbringing: Just like her mother, Nina has an eating disorder (64) and, instead of counting calories, she simply does not like to eat. Her mother has always been the victim of men and so is Nina. A therapist at a clinic raped her, after she tried to commit suicide. In her opinion, suicide would be her way of apologizing to her mother of what she has become. She switches roles with Deborah, taking care of her, as if Nina was the mother herself (76) by cooking every day and taking care of her if Deborah has a nervous breakdown (67) because there is no one else - no father figure in Nina’s life - who could support her. When Deborah and Howard are having sex, Nina listens to them and wants to run in with a first-aid kit, showing how protective she is of her mother, which is not a role a daughter should have. And yet, Nina’s mother accuses her of never caring enough for her (77), which again leaves Nina with feelings of being a disappointment to her attachment figure. However, the biggest influence in Nina’s upbringing is the absence of her father in her life and the way he treats her in the times they spend together. Nina is mad at her father and thus thinks all men are “selfish bastards who don’t understand [women]” (77). When her father visits, while he is on a business trip, Nina and her mother do everything for her father, trying to be their best selves (73). But he only brings gifts that do not fit or match the wishful thinking he has about his daughter (73), which is a disappointment on both sides. Despite that, in those moments with her father, Nina’s family seems perfect: her father takes them out of their world of frustration and disappointment to places they never go to and her parents hold hands acting as if they were together making the picture perfect (73). With the departure of her father, both Deborah and Nina have to go back to their normal lives (73) feeling abandoned all over again each time her father comes for a visit. So Nina continuously has to live through the hurt over and over again, wondering why her father does not love her (85). As a consequence of this, Nina starts working as a prostitute longing for men to meet her demands, which is exactly what her mother Deborah is trying, but Nina fails to fill the hole in her heart because no man could fill her demand from an absent father (73).