Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Eric Reimer

Commitee Members

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.



© Copyright 2009 Kathleen Vickers