Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Analysis – My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi Analysis – My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi

Analysis – My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi

The short story, ‘My Son the Fanatic’ is written by the British author Hanif Kureishi and is set in a possibly middle-class suburban-city of England. The short story is told in a third person perspective and has two main characters, Parvez, the father and Ali, the son. Parvez is an immigrant who has lived in England for at least 20 years, given that this is the period of time he has worked as a taxi-driver there. It is also suggested that the neighbourhood where the main characters live, is home to a lot of immigrants, seeing that the father mainly works with people from his own country and where the people have to work hard to achieve what they wish for. Parvez, for example, working for long hours and spending a lot of money paying for the education of his son.

The short story unravels the difficulties and challenges, a huge amount of immigrants face in their new country, especially the difficulties involved in finding a place to belong. Parvez, the father of the teenage boy Ali, begins noticing changes in his son’s behaviour and at first sees this as a good thing. He believes that his son is finally growing out of his teenage attitude and taking more responsibility. However, when Ali begins throwing out valuable belongings and his friends start avoiding him, Parvez gets seriously worried and feels as if his son is ungrateful and that he himself has done something wrong as a father. Finally he opens up to his colleagues who instantly believe that Ali has a drug problem and that he is selling his things to afford drugs, which later is revealed to be incorrect, seeing that he is giving his belongings away to charity. Parvez begins watching every movement Ali makes, but cannot find that anything is physically wrong with his son. Shortly but suddenly he finds out that Ali has become interested and fascinated by the religion Islam and that he spends all his time praying or going to the mosque. While Parvez feels relieved, he cannot help feeling frustrated and afraid at the same time. After telling his friends at the taxi-driver office about his son’s sudden interest in religion, they become unusually silent and this makes Parvez even more nervous.

Parvez’s wife, and mother of Ali is given very little importance by Parvez. As a matter of fact, he does not see it fit discuss any thing with her, regarding Ali. On the contrary he finds it comfortable to turn to his English prostitute friend, Bettina whom he has befriended while at work as a taxi driver. By their actions towards each other, it is fair to believe that their relationship goes deeper that they like to admit.

Ali, Parvez’s son is good looking and resembling his father. His exact age is not determined, though he seems to be a teenager, soon to move out of his teens. He did have an English girlfriend and before his behaviour changed, he was a very good student and had a lot of friends. It is not made clear when or why Ali’s interest for religion occurred, but one thing is obvious: his interest for Islam, in many ways had gone a bit too far. Ali develops a sharp tongue and his friends pull away from him, something which he does not seem to mind. He encloses himself into his own little world where nothing which is against his belief can be accepted. Ali’s fanatic behaviour when it comes to religion and his urge to have something to belief in, might be owing to his desire and need to have somewhere to belong and something to indulge in, which can give him a sense of belonging.

On the other hand, his son was now a religious fanatic and Parvez’s dream of seeing Ali excelling in a number of fields like cricket, football and swimming, getting a good job as an Accountant, getting married to the right girl and settling down with a family begin to crumble. Parvez expected his son Ali to be totally westernized, as a ‘Britisher’, eating pork, sausages, consume alcohol, socialize, etc. as he always says ‘This is England. We have to fit in’.

Conversely, Ali sees Britain and the West as immoral, oppressive, corrupt and “a sink of hypocrites, adulterers, homosexuals, drug takers and prostitutes”. Ali’s identity is not British, nor does really see himself as his father’s son. Instead, Ali seems to define himself in opposing to his father’s ideals. He is against drinking, gambling and socializing with women and as persecuted and oppressed by a country he has never left.

Ali is full of rage at the sinfulness of Western culture and speaks of the ‘millions and millions of people’ that share his beliefs. He hates that his father consumes alcohol and has a relationship with an English prostitute. Parvez is dumbstruck and makes no further attempt to understand these beliefs or even to discuss or debate them. His reaction is, instead, to consider evicting his son from the family home and ultimately his inability to understand leads him to resort to violence with Parvez beating his son, to which his son’s only response is the statement “So who’s the fanatic now?”

The short story ‘My son the Fanatic’ woven around immigrants, focuses on the relationship between a father and his son, a relationship which slowly but most certainly declines and is broken down bit by bit. Parvez’s anger is most likely disguised fear. He is afraid that his son will be ill treated by people who do not accept his belief and that he will get his life destroyed because he becomes to be caught up in his belief that he will not accept anybody else.

The short story is also well written and informative. It does address an important subject; the urge for us to belong somewhere, might lead us onto an unexpected road and that we should not be too hasty to condemn other people’s need to do the same, even though it might be in a different way than we had liked.



  1. As the story develops Parvez seems to have completely lost his son, Ali. In fact, he cannot even recognize him…By the end of the story this bewildered father also loses his temper and hits his son…Why do you think he reacts like that? Is it that difficult to respect others and let them lead their own lives? Who do think is the fanatic in the end?

  2. What the writer is attempt to depict is far greater than mere 'who's who' of fanaticism. The aim is to make the readers understand the impact that immigrants face in the light of post colonial era. How it is difficult for Parvez to accept his identity as a Pakistani and how Ali is in need of spiritual transcendence which results in him blindly accepting Fundamentalist Islamic practises. The idea is to make readers understand the difficulty in having an identity in a foreign land, especially when you belong to a diaspora