Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department or School/College
Department of English
Hiltrudis M. Arens, Kathleen Kane
Contemporary British Literature, Hanif Kureishi, Multicultural, Sam Selvon, Zadie Smith
University of Montana
This thesis considers how contemporary British literature helps us negotiate better ways of being in an increasingly diverse world. Britain understood itself as a relatively homogenous white society and reacted badly when commonwealth citizens unexpectedly began to “return” following World War II. Colonial migrants’ increasingly large presence, particularly as many settled and had children, challenged the myth of a “pure” Anglo-Saxon Britain and forced a re-conceiving of what it is to be British. This thesis particularly examines how colonial immigrants found ways to (re)negotiate their identities as British in the face of hostility in their “mother country.” Chapter One looks at how Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners depicts ways early West Indian immigrants found to endure in immediate post-war, nationalist, Britain. I argue that while working class migrants found ways to survive, they did so at the expense of personal growth. Nevertheless, their tenacity laid down the foundations of a new Britishness on which future generations could build. Chapter Two examines Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia. I argue that Kureishi’s novel indicates how second-generation migrants, who are often more psychically flexible, form their identities differently to their immigrant parents. They negotiate ways of being British via their heritage and immediate family, but also with peers, and across various boundaries including those of class, gender, and culture. Chapter Three considers Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I argue that this novel suggests how immigrants negotiate their identities across even more boundaries and increasingly take advantage of the changing circumstances of life in Britain. This literature indicates reasons for some minority groups’ disaffection and subsequent behavior and so helps us to better understand and negotiate difference. In the Afterword, I reiterate that, starting from Britain’s nationalistic fear of hybridity in the 1950s, the novels in this study show the trajectory of how colonial immigrants found ways of being accepted as British. While it must remain vigilant to possible peril, Britain’s “social imaginary” has expanded to understand the benefits of multiculturalism and of valuing all citizens as equal.
Vickers, Kathleen, ""This Blessed Plot": Negotiating Britishness in Sam Selvon's The Lonely Londoners, Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia, and Zadie Smith's White Teeth" (2009). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 8.
© Copyright 2009 Kathleen Vickers