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Shyam Selvadurairs Funny Boy Analysis English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1521 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Identity involves recognition of the self. It is not static, but it constantly changes in relation to political, cultural and social events that are occurring. A child’s identity is negotiable. Children are presumed innocent and naïve until they have experienced life. Their sense of identity has not been determined if they have not had experiences in which they are able to determine their relationship to and how it affects them. In narrating or privileging a child’s perspective in a novel, the language the reader is presented with is simplistic and the viewpoint of the narrator is often minimalistic as it is based upon the experiences which the narrator has encountered. Shyam Selvadurair’s Funny Boy is narrated from an adolescent’s perspective, where the presumed innocence and naivety of the child offers an alternative view to the political, cultural, social and historical tensions in India and Sri Lanka and the effect that it has on the developing child in terms of identity. The child narrator in each text is an outsider as they do not merge with the cultural norms imposed upon by society. Arjie, the product of an upper-class Tamil family in Funny Boy, crosses borders in his awakening as a homosexual, falling in love with a Sinhalese, despite his parents attempt to create a masculine identity for him, in order that he may abide by the boundaries and social order that has been imposed upon him. The need to understand identity determines the characters individual relationship to the tensions surrounding them. Although children might not understand what is going on, they offer a new angle in which the readers may make sense of what they are being told and how it is important to the work as a whole.

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In Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, the child narrator draws readers into the characters and problems that we can recognize in any family. The child’s point of view offers a simple writing style and understanding of the novel, yet the reader is able to uncover complexities revolving around the novel. The personal and the political are intertwined in this novel as the recognition of Arjie’s own sexuality, is linked with the political tensions of Sri Lanka during this time. Funny Boy breaks boundaries in it telling of the homosexuality of the young protagonist, Arjie. The story follows Arjie’s awakening as a homosexual living in Sri Lanka. There are many things that Arjie does not know throughout the story, and just as Arjie is learning of these things, so is the reader. The child’s curiosity is privileged here as the lessons from his father on racism and the tensions between the Tamils and the Sinhalese allow for the reader to understand the background information in the formation of Arjie’s character. Selvadurai, while feeding Arjie’s curiosity in response to the things he is uncertain about, is also addressing the reader and bridging the gaps of Sri Lanka’s history and the social realities during the time. Arjie’s realization that his lover, Shehan, is a Sinhalese is the moment when the reader is aware that he has diminished some of the boundaries that society has put in place. The innocence of Arjie as a child in need of explanations in order to understand the world around him allows for the reader to be presented with essentially both sides of the historical, political, social and cultural aspects surrounding the situation. The first explanation we receive of the differences between Tamil and Sinhalese is when Anil brings home Rhadha Aunty. When Rhada Aunty tells her mother his name, her mother immediately responds that he is Sinhalese and that she shouldn’t be seen with him for what people might assume. Although Arjie is aware of this conversation, by following his desires, he is breaking boundaries of the political, cultural and social and weakening his relationship with his family by being with Shehan. The recognition that Shehan is Sinhalese occurs in the journal at the end of the novel, where Arjie is no longer a child and has experienced the world to makes adequate choices for himself knowing the consequences of his action. The reader is aware of Arjie’s sexual confusion at the beginning of the novel, yet Arjie himself is unaware of this. This is characteristic of children, they know what they want, yet they do not know why they want it. Arjie knows that he wants to play with girls rather than boys, yet he isn’t exactly sure why in the beginning of the novel.

In transgressing boundaries, desire seems to be the only hope of doing this. Throughout the novel, Arjie’s family is persistent in ‘replacing’ him back in the male category, removing his involvement with girls, and encouraging his play with boys. The reader understands that Arjie’s family is aware of his sexuality, or aware of what may become of his sexuality, even before Arjie himself becomes aware of it. .The continual attempt to place Arjie back in the role that has been deemed for him by society is the family’s assimilation to the rules that have been put in place. His family, the adults, is aware of the consequences of their actions, yet the child Arjie is unable to connect the two; cause and effect, which enables him to break these boundaries that his family tries so hard to resist. It is Arjie’s desire to play ‘bride-bride’ with the girls, rather than play cricket with the boys that begins his transgression of boundaries. Stepping outside of the norms of society has cause the personal to become intertwined with the political for Arjie.

Arjie questions many things throughout the novel, things that the novel suggests as acceptable for only children to question, yet at times this is even problematic. Arjie’s question to his father about racism shows that it isn’t something that should be questioned, rather it is something that has been put in place, and society is to adhere to its ideals. Arjie’s father says when asked about racism, “It’s too hard to explain. You’ll understand when you’re older.” (Selvaduri 61) This statement suggests that children do not have the capacity to understand complex issues, yet it is juxtaposed through the child narrator in which readers are able to see the world through a different, more objective perspective. By questioning such ideals and notions, Arjie is enabling the reader to do the same thing. It would seen almost unacceptable for an adult to questions something such as racism, as they are aware of the way society enables the individual to ‘accept’ the notions that have been put in place, however, the curiosity and innocent nature of the child is an appropriate means to asking such questions. A similar thing happens when Arjie asks Amma why he can’t play with the girls. Amma answers, “Life is full of stupid things and sometimes you just have to do them.” (20) Arjie is weakening theses boundaries without even realizing it. The reader is able to recognize Arjie’s attempts to understand the world around him as breaking down the boundaries that have been imposed through the political, historical, cultural and social systems. We see Arjie’s breaking boundaries during ‘spend-the-days’ when his extended family gathers at his grandparent’s house. Arjie is the only boy in the family that does not play cricket with the boys, rather he prefers to play dress-up with the girls. Unconsciously Arjie is refusing social order and rules, moving towards imagination and the freedom of choice.

When Arjie recognizes that Shehan is a Sinhalese, he is recognizing the borders that he has transgressed in both his sexuality and in bridging the gap between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. As the adolescent or child narrator has grown and experienced more of life throughout the novel, they have gained recognition of the self and attempted to create their own identity.

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Readers of the text are presented with information that may seem unrelated and in abundance at times, but it merely adds to characteristics of children presenting what is on their mind which at times seems irrelevant. As children are presumed innocent and naïve until they have experienced life, the account of the events in both texts for the most part are told from the child’s perspective, where they have not yet been influenced by society. Through lack of experience, children’s reactions and views are objective, allowing the child as narrator to present the reader with their inner thoughts, having not yet been changed or altered by society. This offers a sense of innocence and authenticity to the child’s perspective and the reader is aware that what they are reading is the original thoughts of the child without the influence of society. Although children might not understand what is going on, they offer a new angle in which readers may make sense of what they are being told and how it is important to work as a whole.


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