Thursday, October 6, 2011

Guess who Got an A on Their First Seminar Presentation!!??!!


Thats right ladies and gents, you heard it here first, I Cristina Bilich got an A, well A- but still an A! on my seminar presentation arguing Shyam Selvadurai's "Funny Boy" as a novel about Parenting! WOOO!  Do you wanna know what I presented to the class?  Here i'll attach it below.  Please don't judge me or if you must please e-mail.. my professor already told me the issues with it- it was mostly that I overloaded my beginning part but it's okay..  So here you go!

I'm presenting “Funny Boy” as a novel about parenting discussing how parents and children in turn are affected by issues surrounding gender and sexuality, race and identity.  I'm also looking at the behaviour of parents towards children in terms of affection and discipline and how this affects the raising of children. In dealing with issues of masculinity between father and son, and the discussion around "good mothering" I intend to provide how the dynamic between parents is effective on how children should be and are raised.
From the start of the novel we see that the family dynamic highly affects the “parenting” of children.  In the first chapter, we learn about “spend-the-days” which involve the extended family children being brought to the grandparent’s house once a week.   This day allows time to be spent between older and younger generations, and the continued establishment of the family dynamics of discipline, obedience, and togetherness.
During these days the children play with their cousins games which vary by gender with exceptions.  The most important being Arjie who (as has been discussed) desires simply to play “Bride-Bride” with the girls.  This becomes a problem for his parent when he is “outed” one Sunday.  Everyone is unaware of what Arjie plays with the girls and his parents are shocked and horrified when he is dragged into the sitting room wearing a white sari and adorned as a bride.  One of the uncle’s comments on the situation to negates a silent response from “Chelva”(his father) who issues a disapproving glare to his mother, Nalini, to remove Arjie from the room.  In the argument later Nalini is chastised by her husband, who accuses her of not keeping an “eye on him” (14) and bringing up this “funniness” within him by permitting him to watch as she put on her makeup.  It is Chelva’s biggest fear that his son will turn out “funny” and he expresses it to his wife on many accounts not allowing any room for acceptance but only hoping to have him move past this “phase” quickly.  Arjie is reprimanded by his parents and is no longer permitted to enter his mother’s room thus distancing them forever (16). 
This distancing is furthered when Nalini forbids Arjie from playing with the girl cousins and orders him to be with the boy cousins on that next “Spend the day”.  She does not relent and nor offers any logical explanation for these orders beyond saying to herself (on page 18) “if the child turns out wrong, it’s the mother they always blame, never the father”.  This statement alone shows just how much pressure is placed on the mother to raise her children according to certain set “ideals” and “norms” which will enable them to conform to the rest of mainstream society.  When pressed she cannot offer up any reasonable explanation to Arjie beyond “you can’t, that’s why” and “you’re a big boy now and big boys must play with other boys” (20).  Already, the fear of an “othered” sexuality is shown by parents who are unaware and unable to give the care needed to their children when faced with gender and sexuality identities that are viewed as “abnormal”.  The only option for children is obedience or punishment.  Nalini faces the challenge of being torn between her husband’s demands and her children’s needs.
Arjie’s grandmother- Ammachi, who plays a part in his rearing, establishes that to get him past his “funniness”, she’ll put him to manual labour which will teach him to be more masculine threatening punishment for jobs done poorly.  There is a partially existent grandfather in the story, but the grandmother plays the more dominant role because of her place in the maternal hierarchy of child rearing for the entire family.   This alludes to the existence of a matrilineal culture in this family and in Sri Lanka.  The men, the fathers and grandfathers play the roles of provider and protector but ultimately the family is held together by the strength and efforts of the women.  If the wife is a “good mother” then the father will have a “good family”, but if she is unable to perform her role, she is held accountable.
 Present is the idea of  “good mothering” which comes up quite a bit within the novel, and is a deciding factor not only with Nalini for Arjie but also between the grandmother and her youngest daughter.   Radha-Aunty returned from studies abroad to find a marriage proposal waiting and it is within the chapters with Radha where we see how race and issues surrounding racial purity and racial dominance play a role in one’s life and family.  Radha is pressed to accept the proposal of the “good man” from the “good family” regardless of her needs or desires.  Radha’s mother- Ammachi, even goes so far as to give punishment when she hears of the “illicit relations” going on between her daughter and a Sinhalese youth named Anil.  When faced with “defiance”, Ammachi slaps Radha and sends her away to Jaffna for a month hoping to end the goings on (76).  When confronted by a daughter, Ammachi seems quite unsure of her-self and says “I did what was correct” (77).  She believes that as long as she upholds traditions, she is a good mother.  She even goes to Anil’s family to accuse and promote her racist ideologies.
            Coincidentally, when Radha goes to apologize she is met with much the same adversity from his father who is highly offended and seeks to prove that his is a family of honour and his son “is not desperate for a bride” (66).  He expresses quite plainly that Ammachi’s sentiments are returned and on page 66 he says “High country Sinhalese we are.  Last thing we also want is for our son to marry a non-Sinhalese”.  It is here that we see how Radha and Anil are facing struggles between their happiness and their parents/families approvals.  Racial difference becomes the ultimate dividing factor in their relationship and it stems from their parents instillations of racism and family propriety.  The young pair discusses the idea of allowing themselves or their children to marry outside of their “race” but we see with Anil’s question of “would you marry a Sinhalese” and Radha’s uncertain answers that her family’s prejudice has affected even her forward thinking mind.  Her unfinished sentence on page 69 shows us that even she has come to terms with her family’s mode of thinking- there is no place for mixed marriages especially not in a time of ethnic rioting within Sri Lankan society.  Parents and family members have good reason in this instance to instil in the younger generations the call to “racial purity” for the sake of ensuring the safety of each member but in doing so individual identity is not permitted within the family and everyone becomes subject to a sense of “blind obedience”.  
To further the topic of “blind obedience” I will now examine the issue of masculinity which is represented within the novel.  Chelva (Arjie’s father) is constantly defending and promoting the strength of “stereotypical” masculinity in the males in his family.  The only way that Arjie’s father sees fit to combat his “funniness” is to send him to the school that his older brother attends where obedience is the law and punishment is next to attaining knowledge. Chelva hopes that this form of schooling will give Arjie a “male-based” education which will work in tandem with the parenting he receives at home.   It appears that beyond being “provider and protector” Chelva never moves to show Arjie any fatherly affection, give him advice or teach him about life.  He always leaves it up to someone else, like for example, the youth Jegan with whom he discusses this issue and states “I’m glad you’re taking interest in him/ Maybe you’ll help him outgrow this phase” (166).  It is because of this non-existent communication that Arjie cannot relate to his father, and is left with the fear of punishment for failure which instils in him the need for simply a “blind obedience”.  In the hopes that the stricter schooling will prevent any further flourishing of his sons “tendencies” Arjie is made to transfer to his brothers school which his father thinks will “force [him] to become a man” (210).  This need to ensure a boys conformity to the “ideal manhood” stems from a societal, cultural and familial “norm” where heterosexuality is the sole and dominant sexuality.  Basically, from a young age Arjie is not given any instruction other than to “be a man” and “deal with it”.

There are brief moments within the novel where parents let go of the animosity they harbour and play the role of nurturer like when Ammachi’s reaction to Radha returning hurt (89) and (page 108, 111 and 114) when Arjie is sick and his mother nurses him.  The instincts of mother as nurturer and caregiver automatically arise when children are in desperate need.  An issue which we see with this though, is when the needs of the children are only tended to because they appear convenient for fulfilling the needs to the parent.  On page 118, Arjie learns that he became an “unwitting accomplice” to his mother’s scheme with Daryl Uncle.  Arjie is constantly used as the “excuse” and that even when not directly involved, appears at the centre of every oppressive and unjust situation. Children often are old enough to understand the goings on of their parents but not often able to alter or affect the outcome. 
The parents in this novel aren't really the best examples for their children, they don't do the right things, they don't say or act in ways that will show their kids how to be in control of their lives.  This is a mjor issue and Selvadurai addresses it which shows that parenting is a universal issue, across languages and cultures, and these same issue can be found not only in the culture he describes- but also in ours. 

-Selvadurai, Shyam.  Funny Boy.  McClelland &Stewart Ltd. Toronto. 1997. Print-

I hope you enjoyed reading it, if you have any questions, comments or criticisms please direct them to me by e-mail okay.  Let's keep in constructive but you know I love to hear from you ! (


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