Deconstructing Cultural/National Identity Formation Processes through Transnational Characterization in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia and Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist

Yılmaz S.

6th International Conference on Language, Literature & Culture: "Traces of Multiculturalism", Kaunas, Lithuania, 19 - 20 May 2017

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Unpublished
  • City: Kaunas
  • Country: Lithuania


Identity has been a much discussed concept in historical, cultural, anthropological, and political studies.  The concept has many layers including a person’s racial, national, cultural, gender-based, sexual identities; along with many masks he/she wears in his/her daily life. In the last decades of twentieth century, the deconstructionist approach to identity has become prevalent in theoretical and critical discussions. Literature, especially the novel form, is also concerned with making such deconstructions of identity to reveal that it is not a stable notion. In terms of racial, national and cultural identities, the examples of deconstructing identity formation can be found in postcolonial fiction and in novels by multicultural or transnational authors. Such novels criticize, as Stuart Hall suggests, “the notion of an integral, originary and unified identity,” and they present challenges to all essentialist discourses about identity formation.

The focus of this paper is how racial, national, and cultural identities are deconstructed/reconstructed in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) and Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist (2003). Written soon after the decades (1960s, 70s, 80s) which saw the emergence of postcolonial, poststructuralist, and postmodern theories, both novels integrate the ideas and application of these theories into their plots in their examination of transnational and hybrid identities. Kureishi’s novel takes place in London during 1970s and focuses on the life of an Indian-English teenager, Karim Amir, who moves from the suburbs to the heart of the city. Kunzru’s novel, on the other hand, takes place in early twentieth century and also has a young, male Indian-English protagonist, Pran Nath, who is banished from his home for being half-caste. Along with having young, half-caste protagonists, there are many other similar themes between two novels, such as acting, mimicking, lack of the feeling of belonging, the feeling of restlessness, movement, and a disruption of the essentialist views on identity. Considering these similarities – and also taking several differences into consideration – it is argued in this paper that Kureishi and Kunzru use transnational identities of their protagonists Karim and Pran to deconstruct rigid, traditional notions of identity and expose the elements which contribute to the categorization of subjects as English or Indian.