Intergenerational Relationships in Identity Construction Every Night Thesis

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¶ … Intergenerational Relationships in Identity Construction

Every night, I have the same nightmare.

I search through a crowd of people on an endless expanse of green lawn, pushing past bow-tied waiters in white uniforms who carry trays piled high with biscuits, sandwiches, and tea. [….] Beyond the garden, there is a pavilion trimmed in teak, furnished with cane-backed chairs where the pale, white ghosts of British officers and their wives, the founders of this place, whose names are still etched on the plaques at the front entrance, congregate to laugh at the antics of the natives, swirling their gin and scotch, clinking their glasses. [….] I am distracted by voices behind me, calling my name. [….] These are the all familiar characters from stories I know, stories I have lived my life by. (Haji, The Writing on My Forehead 2-3)

The above quote, taken from the first chapter of Nafisa Haji's The Writing on my Forehead, introduces the idea of an individual torn between two legacies, two cultures, and ultimately two futures. One of the most interesting and complicated aspects of the Western world's exploitation of Asia, Africa and the Americas is the idea of identity formation on both sides: colonizer and colonized in the aftermath of colonization. Of particular interest is how this process of problematic identity formation has continued and does continue throughout generations. The above quote presents this problem as a nightmare for the main character, as she is caught between different voices calling out to her, attempting to get her to remember the past in a particular way.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Thesis on Intergenerational Relationships in Identity Construction Every Night, Assignment

Nafisa Haji discusses precisely this topic in her novels The Sweetness of Tears and The Writing on My Forehead by assembling her stories' plots around young, second-generation immigrants who must find a way to reconcile the post-colonial experience of their present with the colonial trauma of their families' past. The Sweetness of Tears resolves around Jo March, a young girl coming to terms with the realization that she is not exclusively related to her American, Evangelical family, while The Writing on My Forehead follows Saira Qader and her attempts to piece together the generation-spanning history of her family. In both cases the central characters must find a way to reconcile their present lives as American-born individuals with the lingering cultural and emotional attachments and memories of their immigrant past in order to construct a hybrid identity, a term later discussed in this paper. Faced with new knowledge that upsets their connection to a past they never really knew, Saira and Jo set out to discover the truth about themselves and their family, and in the process, they are able to repair a rift decades old.

Thus, this paper is primarily concerned with how Haji describes and demonstrates the ruptures and reconciliations that occur between the first and second generation of immigrant families and particularity families of Pakistani origin. As a result of the British separation of India and Pakistan, families are torn apart, seemingly forever, until the children of the next generation come looking for their ancestors. This separation takes different forms, with husbands and wives separating due to outside, colonial influence, or parents and children never meeting in the first place as a result of social propriety and cultural difference, but in each case it is up to the latest generation to bridge these divides by overcoming them through the creation of a new, hybrid identity that incorporates the experiences of both colonizer and colonized.

The second-generation protagonists of either story undergo a process of identity demolition as a result of shocking events or knowledge, and the plots of both stories consist of women attempting to rebuild new identities for themselves in view of these shocking occurrences, identities that can integrate and respect both their family histories and their own lived experiences. Each woman discovers a truth about her family that completely upsets the identity she had developed to that point, and the only way to move forward is to confront that truth head-on, with an eye towards understanding the reasons behind it. They leave their homes and goes searching for the truth, because as this paper demonstrates, a stable and secure identity depends on accurate and reliable information and history, because it is history, memory, and family that serve as the basis for all identity. In order to recover from the psychological trauma of having the lie behind their identities revealed, the protagonists must find a way to integrate this new information into their preexisting psyches.

In both the Sweetness of Tears and The Writing on My Forehead, these truths lead the protagonists on a journey of discovery that reopens wounds caused by British colonialism's legacy. In turn, these new daughters of colonialism's past must find way to begin a process of hybrid identity formation in order to overcome these lingering traumas. Although by the end of either story this process is not entirely complete, Haji demonstrates how a concerted effort to remember the past and reconcile with past generations can serve to transcend the collective and personal traumas brought about by the legacy of colonization. Her character find safety and a kind of salvation in hybrid identity, because their new hybrid identities are able to coordinate and combine the histories that otherwise forced to overwhelm them, emotionally, intellectually, and politically.

2: Generations in Haji's Novels

2.1: The Second-Generation Subject

As a second-generation immigrant herself, Haji is particularly suitable for assuming the subjectivity of a second-generation woman attempting to build her own identity out of the memories and traumas of the past. Both novels are explicitly concerned with the experience and subjectivity of the second-generation immigrant woman, and although the memory and experiences of the first generation play an important role, as will be seen below, the identity of the second-generation immigrant is the common thread linking together every other character and event. It is worth noting up front that Haji's work is successful in portraying this experience partially because she manages to show the process of identity-formation and family development at different stages. In particular, while Jo March is just coming into adulthood when she begins to learn the truth about her past, Saira Qader is already a grown woman, with a career and independent life, when events lead her to the unraveling of her family's secret past. In both cases, this new knowledge demolishes whatever identity formation has already occurred, forcing the characters to rebuild their identity and subjectivity from the pieces left over.

The reason being that the identity of a second-generation immigrant is by definition dependent on "the ambivalence of modern society, and particular the fact that 'its transitional history, its conceptual indeterminacy, its wavering between vocabularies,' means that one cannot ever form a truly stable identity out of different national and cultural histories" (Bhabha, Nation and Narration 2). Because these second-generation immigrants must be constantly juggling different and frequently oppositional histories and cultures, they must either attempt to force the construction of an exclusionary and ultimately unstable identity or come to terms with a hybrid identity that can handle these contradictions. The second-generation immigrant is thus the site of an ongoing conflict, one that plays out over the pages of Haji's novels.

2.2: The First-Generation Memory

If the central organizing concept of Haji's work is the second-generation immigrant woman, then the most important supporting concept is the idea of first-generational memory and narrative as a constituent part of the immigrant identity. The memories and experiences of the first-generation are central to the kinds of lives led by the second, even if the main characters do not realize it at the beginning of their stories. In fact, both the identity disruption and eventual reconstruction is only made possible by the main characters' decision to acquaint themselves with the knowledge and experiences of the first generation, thus bridging a divide created by colonialism and ultimately allowing the creation of a new, hybrid identity. The second chapter of this study will concern itself with detailing the differing experiences of the first and second generations in order to demonstrate the intergenerational gap created as a result of colonialism, while the third chapter will focus on the development and maintenance of intergenerational relationships. Finally, chapters four and five will examine the identity crisis that emerges from the introduction of new intergenerational knowledge and relationships, and the way that this identity crisis can give rise to a new, hybrid identity.

2.3: Construction of a Hybrid Identity

As already established, this study's theoretical approach is deeply rooted in postcolonial theory, because only postcolonial theory can effectively account for the concepts and issues under discussion. As Ashcroft, Griffith, and Tiffin write in their book The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures, postcolonial theory emerged "from the inability of European theory to deal adequately with the complexities and varied cultural provenance of post-colonial writing" like Haji's, because earlier theories simply could not account for the variety of experiences and injustices made evident by the legacy of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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