Funny Boy is a novel written by Shyam Selvadurai that has many themes such as gender/sexuality, identity, marriage, beliefs and more. One of the main themes that was very evident throughout the novel was society’s beliefs and standards versus the desires of an individual. For example, in the novel, the protagonist Arjie is caught between the way he looks and responds to life and the way society looks and responds to life. At many times during the book, Arjie feels hopeless because his orientation of life disagrees from society. The beliefs of society had often led to hopelessness and certainty not only for Arjie but also for other characters.
This theme is thoroughly analyzed through many parts of the novel such as when Arjie’s family finds him to be “funny” and sends him to an “all boy’s school”, when Radha Aunty wants to marry a Sinhalese man and the relationship between Arjie and Shehan. The theme of society’s standards versus an individual’s desires is first presented at the beginning of the novel. In his childhood, Arjie spend most of his time playing dress up with his girl cousins because he felt that playing cricket with the boys was lame and unimaginative. One day, his aunt and uncle caught him in a sari, which is meant to be a dress for women.
Arjie’s uncle then called Arjie “funny”. By “funny”, Arjie’s uncle meant gay. After this, Arjie’s father and mother argued about the scene that they had just witnessed. “If he turns out funny like that Rankotwera boy, if he turns out to be the laughing-stock of Colombo, it’ll be your fault,” my father said in a tone of finality. “You always spoil him and encourage all his nonsense,” (Selvadurai 14). Society’s belief is that the boys should play cricket with the boys and the girls should play girly games with the girls. Society also believed that boys shouldn’t be “funny”. Arjie’s family believed and went along with society’s standards.
If the community found out that Arjie was “funny”, the family could have been rejected by society. Arjie’s father didn’t want that so he sent him to an “all-boys school”. Arjie believed and might have felt that he should be able to do what he wants and didn’t agree with his father’s decisions. Despite the fact that Arjie didn’t want to go to that school, he had no other choice but to listen and follow his father. In the passage above, it is very clear that Arjie’s parents are strong believers of society meaning that they are part of society.
They believe in the stereotypes of boys and girls and how their lives should run. The conflict between society’s standards and an individual’s desires is evident in this passage. It shouldn’t matter that Arjie is “funny” and enjoys playing with the girls. When contrasting this with society, it isn’t acceptable. Here, the conflict is between society’s standard which is that boys should play with boys and they shouldn’t be “funny”, versus Arjie’s desire of being imaginative with the girls instead of the “manly” ways of the men. Since in every case, society always ends up overpowering individual desires, Arjie is now being sent to a different school to get out of this habit.
It is clear that Arjie now feels confused and uncertain because he is being forced to do something against his own will, but again, he has no choice but to listen and follow his father. This is one example of how in the novel society’s standards always defeated an individual’s desires leaving them confused and uncertain. In this novel, Arjie wasn’t the only victim of society’s standards. Radha Aunty was a victim of how society functioned to defeat her desires. Arjie’s aunt was defeated by society’s standards when it came to love. Radha lived in America and was viewed as “American-washed”.
Radha Aunty was supposed to be married to a man named Rajan. Radha believed that society, culture, traditions and religions should not come in the way of love. Even though Radha was supposed to marry Rajan, she met another man named Anil who was Sinhalese. Soon, both of them got involved in a relationship but they kept it a secret because society would not have accepted a couple of opposite cultures. Later in the novel, Radha aunty is exposed to her family and they are very opposed to this. Radha auntie’s family just like most people went along with the values of society and viewed the Sinhalese as bad people.
Her family believed and trusted in the stereotypical views of society and how it portrayed the Sinhalese. When Radha aunty was discovered, this is what Ammachi had said; “Only a Sinhalese would be impertinent enough to offer an unmarried girl a lift. ” (Selvaduari, 58). As mentioned above, Radha Aunty believed that she could love anyone who she wanted. It is clear that in the passage, the family doesn’t approve of Anil. This is because of the two different cultures and the fact of how the majority of the people viewed the Sinhalese.
Instead of breaking out of this belief, people were stubborn about it and continued to believe in this. Due to this belief, the family was scared of being rejected by society. When Radha Aunty tried to explain that there was nothing wrong with this, Ammachi said; “I’ll tell you what’s wrong! People will talk,” (Selvadurai 58). This second quotation explains what the family is scared off. They are again scared to be rejected by society. Radha then abandons her love with Anil to keep the relationship she has with her family a good one.
Radha’s story had taught Arjie how society functioned a bit. Before, Arjie was just an innocent child who needed explanations for everything. He also didn’t know much about the differences between the Tamil and Sinhalese. Now after seeing much and knowing much, Arjie sort of understands what society has placed. Arjie really had not realized the difference between these two cultures, but now he sees that society has placed differences and hate between the two. He realizes that not only culture-wise, but society has “separated the two groups socially and politically.
” This develops Arjie’s character in the way of understanding his surroundings. He sees how his family reacts to society, which is usually accepting it instead of breaking it. Also, this left Radha confused and helpless because she was forced to do something against her own will. The story of Anil and Radha was one of the ways that the novel had presented society’s standards overpowering individual’s desires and how that can lead to hopelessness and uncertainty. Similarly, Arjie’s love story had been overpowered by society’s standards. In Arjie’s new school, he meets a boy named Shehan.
Shehan was not accepted by his classmates because his appearance was different from most boys. As the novel continues, they develop a relationship. They have to keep their relationship a secret so that they don’t get into problems with their community. In this relationship, Shehan helps Arjie find out who he really is. Once Arjie fully understood that he has this relationship with Shehan, he realizes what his family meant. “I was no longer a part of my family in the same way now. I now inhabited a world they didn’t understand and into which they couldn’t follow me,” (Selvadurai 284).
In this quotation, it is very clear that Arjie has now discovered himself. By doing so, he realizes that he has somehow grown apart from his family. This is because his family had believed and followed the way society functioned. Arjie must have known that if his sexuality was exposed to the community and his family, it would cause shame and a bad reputation. As a result of this, Arjie went through a long and hard journey into finding out who he really was with the help of Shehan. He at times had no one beside him. He felt disconnected from his family because he knew they wouldn’t understand.
He was hopeless. This passage and part of the novel has sort of shown how Arjie’s character developed. Firstly, Arjie loved his family and knew that they were always there for him. Now, after he goes through many problems and situations, he thinks differently of his family. He knows that his family’s views and just like a stranger’s views. They will judge him and probably misunderstand who he is. Just like many other parts of the novel, this was one part that showed and contributed to the theme of society overpowering an individual’s desires leaving them confused and lost.
In the novel Funny Boy, many themes and ideas were presented but the one that mostly stands out was the theme of society’s standards overpowering or crushing an individual’s desires. Society’s standards always resulted in the characters feeling hopeless, lost and confused. Some examples in the novel were when Arjie was sent to a new school to become a “real man”, Radha Aunty and Anil’s love story and the relationship between Shehan and Arjie. Again, these were just a few examples of how society’s standards can usually over power an individual’s desires and this leaves them confused, uncertain and hopeless.
This was a great novel that showed the struggles of a homosexual boy growing up in Sri Lanka. Arjie had to keep relations between his family strong but at the same time, he had to keep his relationship and the other side of him a secret. Not only that, this novel showed a family in Sri Lanka had to live in a environment where there was always fighting. “Selvadurai decided to write this book as not only a therapy for himself but also to lend a voice to those who still have trouble expressing themselves about both these issues, especially children”, (Hower, 3).