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Being and Longing in Meera Syal’s Anita and Me


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Alexander, S 2010 , 'Being and Longing in Meera Syal’s Anita and Me', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Meera Syal’s Anita and Me (1996) is a seemingly inconsequential novel about a British-Asian child who undertakes a voyage of social education in the English Midlands in the late 1960s. However, this thesis relates the novel to a broader context inside and outside the textual world in the aftermath of Indian independence and Partition in August, 1947. It conducts a socio-historical analysis to trace the parallel narratives of the protagonist, Meena Kumar, and her communities of residence and inheritance. The dissertation draws upon postcolonial theory to analyse the continuing repercussions of Indian colonisation both in the text and in external British society. Approaching Anita and Me as a Black British Bildungsroman provides a framework to unite these multiple threads of individual and social development.
The thesis views the novel as a performative artefact which represents the transformation of Britain from an imperial power to a post-imperial society, at the same time as actively contributing to this transformation as an element of public culture. Meena’s journey of self-determination entails a partial decolonisation of her mind, juxtaposed with national identities which preserve an imperial worldview. The dissertation explores the contradictions of human relationships and the often ambivalent aversion to, and yet desire for, racialised others. A central focus is the troubled friendship between Meena and the character of Anita Rutter. The thesis accentuates the semi-autobiographical nature of the text as a form of fictional “mythology” (Syal 10) for imagining personal connections to historical moments.
The three chapters examine Syal’s Bildungsroman from alternative perspectives. The opening chapter explores interactions between class and race; the desire for belonging; the development of personal identifications in conjunction with national imaginaries; and the complexities of post-imperial racism. The second chapter considers the phenomenon of diaspora; the Partition of India; and the association between memory, history, and narratives. In the concluding chapter, the meanings of family and the “homely” and the “unhomely” are analysed. These interlinked sections emphasise the novel’s representation of the combined effects of class inequalities, historically engrained racial anxiety, and racialised visions of the overlapping English and British nations.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Alexander, S
Keywords: India, post-colonialism, history, memory, trauma, race, nation, bildyngsromane
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