Two generations clash in Hanif Kureishi’s short story, “My Son, The Fanatic. ” Parvez, the father, is an immigrant from Pakistan while his son, Ali, was born and grew up in England. In his adopted country, the father has exerted the effort to imbibe the English values and raise his son the English way; his son, meanwhile, suddenly decides to explore his familial roots and denounce everything Western. The story plays out the generational conflict between father and son in the context of their differing cultural values. Parvez is a good father according to traditional standards as to how a father should be.
He grew up in his native Pakistan but left behind his old life when he migrated to England. He is hard-working. He has devoted his life to ensuring his son’s education and supplying his needs. He measures his accomplishments according to his son’s own. With an intelligent son who is also good at sports, he feels he has done well as a father. He is also concerned about Ali all the time. When he senses something wrong with his son, he immediately tries to find out the reasons for the latter’s behavior. While a good father, however, Parvez has forgotten his roots.
He has renounced his old religion. He studied in a strict Islamic school as a boy, but has since stopped following its tenets. He is a taxi driver in England now and here, taxi drivers make “jokes about the local mullahs walking around with their caps and beards. ” (Kureishi, 1196). The son, Ali, while he grew up in England, feels alienated with British culture. The story suggests, however, that the alienation occurs at a certain point in his life. The father’s dilemma begins when Ali starts throwing away his old toys, games and clothes.
He gives up his sports and old friends, too. It is revealed later on that the reason for these changes is because Ali has embraced Islam. Along with his conversion is the realization that there is too much freedom in the west that is more destructive than liberating to the human soul. He sums up all that is wrong with the western civilization by declaring that “the west was a sink of hypocrites, adulterers, homosexuals, drug takers and prostitutes” (Kureishi, 1198). Furthermore, he believes that Muslims are being persecuted and thus should declare war against other religions.
Ali’s fanaticism causes the conflict between him and his father. The latter begins to feel that his son’s mind has been convoluted with his newfound faith. Parvez tries to understand Ali and hopes to make him realize the wrong logic in his Islamic faith by inviting him out to dinner. It only worsens the conflict, though. Ali chastises his father for drinking and gambling, forbidden acts in the religion. He expresses his disapproval at the fact that his father eats pork in spite his still being a Muslim.
Parvez explains his side by telling his son that they are in England now and they have to fit in. Ali, however, could not be swayed in his strong convictions against western civilization. The problem with the west, according to him, is being allowed too much freedom. He also tells his father that he is going to stop going to school because “western education cultivates an anti-religious attitude” (Kureishi, 1198). This totally crushes the father. After all, he has invested his entire life for his son and Ali’s decision would put to waste his dreams and the long hours he has worked.
The story climbs to a climax when Parvez sees his son walking on the street on the poor side of town where there are two mosques. He asks Ali to get into the car. Beside him in the front seat is Bettina, the prostitute whom Parvez has made a close friendship. While Bettina tells Ali about how his father loves him, hoping to engage him in conversation, the son only responds with anger and comments on her profession. His son’s disgust and prejudice against Bettina humiliates Parvez in front of his friend. The night after this incident, Parvez forces himself into Ali’s room while the young man is praying.
He kicks and hits him. He is disappointed and desperate with both his son and himself. He thinks that if reasoning with his son would not bring him to his senses, punishing him physically would. The boy, however, does not fight back but instead turns the table upon his father by asking; “So who’s the fanatic now? ” (Kureishi, 1201). The final question which Ali accuses his father with begs an analysis as to who is in the right in the conflict between the father and his son. To Parvez, living in England is an escape from a life in Pakistan which he feels constricted him.
To Ali who has become a devout Muslim, everything about England is a contradiction to the tenets of his newfound faith and the country, and others that practice the western culture, is prejudice to people like him. Each one has valid reasons for his actions, but any belief or value that is imbibed and led to the extreme—into fanaticism—could be harmful and cannot be acceptable. The concept of democracy as a western ideal is positive only up to a point as much as Islam is positive until it is taken to extremes.
Furthermore, Parvez could not force his own beliefs and values upon his son at his age because Ali has already reached adulthood, that time in life when a person could already think for himself, when his will cannot be controlled as easily as when he was a mere child, and when can no longer be called his father’s child. If Parvez and his son could not meet halfway because they are consumed by their respective cultural beliefs and their fanaticism, they would only be at peace with each other if they learn to accept their differences.
Work Cited Kureishi, Hanif. “My Son, The Fanatic. “
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