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Popular Literature Unit 3 LGBT Fiction
Popular Literature Unit 3 LGBT Fiction Notes cover all the exercise questions in UGC Syllabus. The Popular Literature Unit 3 LGBT Fiction provided here ensures a smooth and easy understanding of all the concepts. Understand the concepts behind every Unit and score well in the board exams.
11. Discuss the Character of Funny Boy.
Ans: Arjie: Arjie is the protagonist and also the narrator in the novel. A seven year old boy, Arjie loves to play the game “bride-bride” with the rest of the girls and sees nothing wrong in wearing a saree, meant for women, and play the role of the bride. While innocent, Arjie understands that what he does, wearing a feminine attire and playing with girls instead of boys, is frowned upon after the adults catch him wearing the saree and playing with “bride-bride”. Though he doesn’t understand what is wrong with what he does, he’s clever enough to figure out that the others view his behaviour as strange and it upsets him.
It is through Arjie’s point of view that the whole story is told and thus, how Arjie feels about the events that take place in coming chapters is also reflected in the narration. The readers know when Arjie starts to acknowledge his own sexuality for the first time and understands what the repercussions are when he has his first sexual encounter with his friend Shehan in Arjie’s parents’s garage. Initially, it disgusts him and makes him feel ashamed though he quickly comes to term with his sexuality but also recognizes what it means for his relationship with his family and with the rest of the world.
Sonali: Sonali is Arjie’s younger sister. She is the only one in Arjie’s family who supports him to play Bride-Bride. Arjie sometimes confides in Sonali because Sonali understands him better than any other member of
Varuna: Varuna is Arjie’s elder brother. He always Mocks Arjie when he plays girls games. He is named Diggy-nose because of his prevailing habit of poking nose into others affairs. Diggy alike his father is not supportive of Arjie attraction towards the feminine identity and tells him to stay away from Shehan since he is aware of the sexual identity of Shehan . Diggy manages his responsibilities of being a big protective brother on the first day of Arjie at The Victoria Academy School.
Amma: In English, Amma is called as mother, she scolds Arjie when she came to know that he is a homosexual boy and forces him to play cricket with other boys. Arjie has a special relationship with his mother unlike the one with his father.
Appa: Appa is Arjie’s father. He was a little bit worried and upset about Arjie’s sexuality as Cyril uncle said “looks like you have a funny one here”. He presents the view point of the masses who will consider his son “funny” due to his sexual identity. He even reprimands Arjie’s mother for letting him watch her dress up and even gets Arjie admitted to an all boys school to awaken his masculinity.
Tanuja: Tanuja is the Arjie cousin sister, she is nicknamed as “Her Fatness”. She refuses Arjie to play the role of bride in the game of Bride-Bride as he is a boy but a bride should be a girl.
Kanthi Aunty: Mother of Tanuja and sister of Arjie’s Father.
Cyril Uncle: Father of Tanuja and husband of Kanthi Aunty.
Ammachi, Appachi: Arjie’s Grandparents: his grandmother loves her grandchildren and welcomes them by giving them a kiss on their cheeks. Arjie’s Grandfather loves his grandchildren too but says “Ah, hello, hello” in welcome.
Radha Aunty: Radha Aunty is the youngest sister of his father, she is the only open minded aunty of Arjie. That’s why Arjie loves her the most. Radha Aunty returns from America in Chapter 2. Radha Aunty falls in love with Anil who is from the Sinhalese community and is very stem on marrying him due to which Ammachi is forced to send her to Jaffna to stay with her relatives for sometime. During her journey back from Jaffna to Colombo , her train is attacked by Sinhala fanatics due to which she breaks up with Anil and marries Rajan Nagendra whom she met in America, they worked together.
Anil Jayasinghe: Anil loves Radha Aunty, they met each other in the play “The King and I”, but they got separated due to Tamil-Sinhalese riots in Sri Lanka.
Rajan Nagendra: Radha Aunty met Rajan Nagendra in America, they worked together. Radha Aunty marries him due to the socio-cultural backdrop of Tamil Sinhala conflict in Sri Lanka.
Daryl Uncle: Daryl is the first love ofArjie’s mother but they did not marry each other because of ethnic riots between Tamil-Sinhalese. Daryl came back to her life when he returned to Sri Lanka to cover a report on Tamil-Sinhalese riots, but he was killed in the riot. Daryl uncle even gets Arjie a copy of ‘Little women’ with which Arjie seems utterly elated.
Jegan Parameswaran: Jegan is the son ofArjie’s father’s school friend. He came there to find a job, previously he was a member of the Tamil Tigers organisation but now his father gave him a job in his hotel. Arjie has been admiring Jegan’s physique ever since his arrival. Arjie realises a little about his sexuality because of feeling attracted to Jegan at the age of 13.
Shehan Soyza: Shehan is also a homosexual boy like Arjie. Shehan lacks the awkwardness of most boys of his age and his body is delicately built,also he has long hair which he keeps clipped to avoid the punishments which may follow after this revelation. Shehan and Arjie love each other. One day Shehan kisses Arjie then Arjie became aware of his homosexuality. And later they have their first sexual encounter in his father’s garage. Shehan and Arjie are even emotionally connected as they share a different bond as Arjie,even deliberately messes up his poem to avenge Shehan.
Black Tie: He is the principal of Victoria Academy.
nick-named as “Black-Tie” because he is very strict toward students of his school. He is a strong believer of the practice of physical punishments and assumes it as a way to convert young boys into men who can tolerate pain and conform to the conventions of being a male. He beats Arjie and Shehan because Shehan fails to help Arjie in memorising the poems.
12. Themes of Funny Boy.
Ans: Ethnic Conflicts: Ethnic Conflicts is the major issue in Funny Boy as it sets in the 1970s and early 80s when ethnic conflict was at its peak. It is shown in the second episode when Arjie asks his father the meaning of the word ‘racist’ which Radha had used for Ammachi and his father explained to him how years ago his great grandfather being a Tamil was killed by Sinhalese. However, what turned him the most was the death of Daryl Uncle, with whom Arjie had a little attachment as he brought him the Little women books and he read them out to Arjie, when he was sick. As Arjie said,. “The world the characters lived in, where good was rewarded and evil punished seemed suddenly false to me”. It is through Jegan that Arjie became aware of the extreme dimension of the conflict. Finally, this conflict forces them to immigrate to Canada.
Queer Identity: Funny Boy is focused on growing awareness of young Arjie not only in respect of norms of gender and ethnicity but also with regard to his homosexuality as well. Arjie, the protagonist is considered to be a funny one, because of his queer identity as he play games like bride-bride with girls and he love to be in girls territory as it gives him the “potential for the free play of fantasy”. Arjie does not understand his desire early but later when he had a sexual encounter with Shehan, he knew that he had done something Wrong which his family will not going to accept, and he became aware of the word ‘Funny’ and the hetero-normative world whose significance he does not fully understand, and now he understand why his father was concerned about him.
Gender: Gender is also a key theme as it reflect in the very first episode of the novel which deals with the, Arjie’s awareness of gender and the roles that it play in a hetero-normative world. First section opens with a scene where Arjie was dressing up to play the role of bride in the game they call Bride-Bride. It was not an issue until “Tanuja nicknamed as Her Fatness”, daughter of Kanthi Aunty arrive but after her arrival she demanded of playing the role which Arjie was playing but it not only steal his role instead it also leads his exposure to the adults of the family and the Cyril Uncle quickly renamed him and said “Ey, Chelva, looks like you have a funny one here”. Gender stereotypes imposed by his family show the separate world of girls and boys and Arjie got stuck in between. As a child Arjie showed certain tendencies that refused to accept the norms of the ways men expected to behave.
Marriage: Arjie’s view of marriage is fascinating which he absorbed from the films and love comics of Janaki. As in the episode of Radha Aunty, Radha Aunty had to leave his love because of the racial consideration of the society as she was a Tamil and the boy she love was a Sinhalese. It was not a marriage that Arjie expected or wants it to be, the one he played in the game of Bride-Bride but it was brutal as Radha Aunty got injured in coming back train to Colombo and later she married Rajan Nagendra, the one with which she did not wanted to marry. And after the Radha Aunty incidence Arjie’s came out of the world of fantasy and his fictional concept of marriage is erased by the reality of society.
Language: Language is at the heart of the conflict. Selvadurai shows how society can be divided on the basis of linguistic identity and leads to ethnic violence.., Language plays a very crucial role in building a society. Arjie was heartbroken when he became aware of the ethnic violence because of the different linguistic identity. His father was an optimistic and futurist person who believes that Sinhala will the real language of future Sri Lanka and he put Arjie in Sinhala medium school, but he and his brother had to face problems there too, as his classmate Salgado reminded them “This is a Sinhalese class, not a Tamil class”. These impact the nurturing of Arjie, and he grew to experience the horrible effects of this identity further in terms of solitude and isolation.
13. Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy Analysis
Ans: Identity involves recognition of the self. It is not static, but it constantly changes in relation to political, cultural and social events that are occurring. A child’s identity is negotiable. Children are presumed innocent and naAve until they have experienced life. Their sense of identity has not been determined if they have not had experiences in which they are able to determine their relationship to and how it affects them. In narrating or privileging a child’s perspective in a novel, the language the reader is presented with is simplistic and the viewpoint of the narrator is often minimalistic as it is based upon the experiences which the narrator has encountered.
Shyam Selvadurair’s Funny Boy is narrated from an adolescent’s perspective, where the presumed innocence and naivety of the child offers an alternative view to the political, cultural, social and historical tensions in India and Sri Lanka and the effect that it has on the developing child in terms of identity. The child narrator in each text is an outsider as they do not merge with the cultural norms imposed upon by society. Arjie, the product of an upper-class Tamil family in Funny Boy, crosses borders in his awakening as a homosexual, falling in love with a Sinhalese, despite his parents attempt to create a masculine identity for him, in order that he may abide by the boundaries and social order that has been imposed upon him. The need to understand identity determines the character’s individual relationship to the tensions surrounding them. Although children might not understand what is going on, they offer a new angle in which the readers may make sense of what they are being told and how it is important to the work as a whole.
In Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, the child narrator draws readers into the characters and problems that we can recognize in any family. The child’s point of view offers a simple writing style and understanding of the novel, yet the reader is able to uncover complexities revolving around the novel. The personal and the political are intertwined in this novel as the recognition of Arjie’s own sexuality is linked with the political tensions of Sri Lanka during this time. Funny Boy breaks boundaries in it telling of the homosexuality of the young protagonist, Arjie.
The story follows Arjie’s awakening as a homosexual living in Sri Lanka. There are many things that Arjie does not know throughout the story, and just as Arjie is learning of these things, so is the reader. The child’s curiosity is privileged here as the lessons from his father on racism and the tensions between the Tamils and the Sinhalese allow for the reader to understand the background information in the formation of Arjie’s character. Selvadurai, while feeding Arjie’s curiosity in response to the things he is uncertain about, is also addressing the reader and bridging the gaps of Sri Lanka’s history and the social realities during the time. Arjie’s realisation that his lover, Shehan, is a Sinhalese is the moment when the reader is aware that he has diminished some of the boundaries that society has put in place.
The innocence of Arjie as a child in need of explanations in order to understand the world around him allows for the reader to be presented with essentially both sides of the historical, political, social and cultural aspects surrounding the situation. The first explanation we receive of the differences between Tamil and Sinhalese is when Anil brings home Rhadha Aunty. When Rhada Aunty tells her mother his name, her mother immediately responds that he is Sinhalese and that she shouldn’t be seen with him for what people might assume.
Although Arjie is aware of this conversation, by following his desires, he is breaking boundaries of the political, cultural and social and weakening his relationship with his family by being with Shehan. The recognition that Shehan is Sinhalese occurs in the journal at the end of the novel, where Arjie is no longer a child and has experienced the world to make adequate choices for himself knowing the consequences of his action. The reader is aware of Arjie’s sexual confusion at the beginning of the novel, yet Arjie himself is unaware of this. This is characteristic of children, they know what they want, yet they do not know why they want it. Arjie knows that he wants to play with girls rather than boys, yet he isn’t exactly sure why in the beginning of the novel.
In transgressing boundaries, desire seems to be the only hope of doing this. Throughout the novel, Arjie’s family is persistent in ‘replacing’ him back in the male category, removing his involvement with girls, and encouraging his play with boys. The reader understands that Arjie’s family is aware of his sexuality, or aware of what may become of his sexuality, even before Arjie himself becomes aware of it. The continual attempt to place Arjie back in the role that has been deemed for him by society is the family’s assimilation to the rules that have been put in place. His family, the adults, is aware of the consequences of their actions, yet the child Arjie is unable to connect the two; cause and effect, which enables him to break these boundaries that his family tries so hard to resist. It is Arjie’s desire to play ‘bride-bride’ with the girls, rather than play cricket with the boys that begins his transgression of boundaries. Stepping outside of the norms of society has caused the personal to become intertwined with the political for Arjie.
Arjie questions many things throughout the novel, things that the novel suggests as acceptable for only children to question, yet at times this is even problemattic. Arjie’s question to his father about racism shows that it isn’t something that should be questioned, rather it is something that has been put in place, and society is to adhere to its ideals. Arjie’s father says when asked about racism, “It’s too hard to explain. You’ll understand when you’re older.” (Selvadurai 61) This statement suggests that children do not have the capacity to understand complex issues, yet it is juxtaposed through the child narrator in which readers are able to see the world through a different, more objective perspective. By questioning such ideals and notions, Arjie is enabling the reader to do the same thing.
It would seem almost unacceptable for an adult to question something such as racism, as they are aware of the way society enables the individual to ‘accept’ the notions that have been put in place, however, the curiosity and innocent nature of the child is an appropriate means to asking such questions. A similar thing happens when Arjie asks Amma why he can’t play with the girls. Anima answers, “Life is full of stupid things and sometimes you just have to do them.” (20) Arjie is weakening these boundaries without even realising it. The reader is able to recognize Arjie’s attempts to understand the world around him as breaking down the boundaries that have been imposed through the political, historical, cultural and social systems. We see Arjie’s breaking boundaries during ‘spend-the-days’ when his extended family gathers at his grandparent’s house. Arjie is the only boy in the family that does not play cricket with the boys, rather he prefers to play dress-up with the girls. Unconsciously Arjie is refusing social order and rules, moving towards imagination and the freedom of choice.
When Arjie recognizes that Shehan is a Sinhalese, he is recognizing the borders that he has transgressed in both his sexuality and in bridging the gap between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. As the adolescent or child narrator has grown and experienced more of life throughout the novel, they have gained recognition of the self and attempted to create their own identity.
Readers of the text are presented with information that may seem unrelated and in abundance at times, but it merely adds to characteristics of children presenting what is on their Mind which at times seems irrelevant. As children are presumed innocent and naA—ve until they have experienced life, the account of the events in both texts for the most part are told from the child’s perspective, where they have not yet been influenced by society. Through lack of experience, children’s reactions and views are objective, allowing the child as narrator to present the reader with their inner thoughts, having not yet been changed or altered by society. This offers a sense of innocence and authenticity to the child’s perspective and the reader is aware that what they are reading is the original thoughts of the child without the influence of society. Although children might not understand what is going on, they offer a new angle in which readers may make sense of what they are being told and how it is important to work as a whole.
14. What different points could be discussed in context of ‘Funny Boy’ by Shyam Selvadurai as a new type of bildungsroman?
Ans: “A romantic novel dealing with a person’s formative years is called a bildungsroman”.
It is indeed a new type of bildungsroman because it focuses on the plight of a homosexual teenaged boy, who is going through his formative years, of the Tamil ethnicity, living in the Sinahala-dominated island nation of Sri Lanka, which is located in South Asia, thus the book is very important from the Post-Colonial point of view.
The author himself is a homosexual and is of the Tamil ethnicity. He himself hails from Sri Lanka and is now settled in Canada but has blatantly stated that this novel is not autobiographical and the novel has nothing to do with him.
The title “Funny Boy” in this context means that the boy who happens to be the protagonist is not normal but funny. Funny in the sense that he is queer. The novel presents to us the immensely disadvantaged position at which the South Asian queer community was in 1983. We see how the boy, Arjie, was expected to act like a normal boy but he could not because he was not normal. He was funny. Homosexuality was taboo. It was not to be talked about but swept under the rug. We. see that the protagon not only feels the pressure from society but also from his family to conform to the standards of the ideal teenage boy. His family talked about his habits and demeanour occasionally but never got to the depth of it. No one consoled him or supported him. Thus exhibiting the proverbial generational gap. The only one who understood him was his younger sister.
In the first chapter, we see how the author takes us right in to the gender and sexual identity conflict of Arjie, when we see him displaying his feminity and enacting the role of a bride in that bride-bride game, only to be humiliated by his obese, boyish-looking, female cousin, Tanuja.
In the second chapter, we see how his aunt Radha was in love with a Sinhalese man, Anil Jayasinghe. But later changed her mind to many a fellow Tamilian, Rajan Nagendra, after her train was attacked by the Sinhalese militants.
In the third chapter, we learn that Arjie’s mother had an affair years ago with a man named Daryl. He had returned to Sri Lanka to investigate, human torture but one day was found dead on a beach. The witnesses were advised to keep their mouths shut if they did not want to meet a similar fate.
In the fourth chapter, we see Jegan, a former Tamil Tiger militant who comes looking for a job at Arjie’s father’s house. He was the son of Arjie’s father’s friend. He was given a job at Arjie’s family hotel but was kicked out of the job, soon. He was starting to show that his old militant habits had not worn off and that he would definitely relapse.
In the fifth chapter, Arjie’s father switches schools for him, hoping that the new school will “force him to be a real man”. The irony was abound. The school forced him to be a man, a man who was fully aware of his sexuality, who finally came out of the closet. The two sexual encounters between Shehan and Arjie prove this. We also see how abusive the principal of the school was.
In the sixth chapter, the violence between the Sinhalas and the Tamils, takes an extreme turn. The Sinhalas start burning every Tamil establishment (homes and shops alike). Arjie’s family hotel is burnt down and his grandparents who were trapped inside, die in the fire. Arjie’s father utilises the final plan. With his remaining family, they flee to Canada thus leaving their motherland behind.
Now to get to the talking points, we need to see some of the characters :
The novel highlights the ethnic conflicts. The race of these people who are at war is the same but their ethnicities are different. The Sinhalas are the majority and the Tamils are in the majority. The Sinhalas want to drive the Tamils out of the country. They want to establish a totalitarian Sinahala government in Sri Lanka. The novel is against the backdrop of the 1983 Colombo Riots. This is one of the themes in the novel as it shows us as to how these riots affect the day to day life of the characters in the novel and the way in which they interact with each other. Another theme is diaspora. This novel informs us about the Tamil diaspora of Sri Lanka which was forced to leave their motherland and settle in other parts of the world. We see the interplay of gender and sexuality. There are two genders, male and female but it is not necessary that a male has to always be masculine and display a passion for the opposite sex and vice versa. Gender and sexuality are different. Both the genders can also sport a different sexuality other than what is expected from them.
The irony is unbound especially, because Arjie is a homosexual and he is studying in a boys-only school. He struggles with the distortion between his gender and sexuality on a daily basis and in public and in private. Another theme is marriage. We see how a marriage between two people does not necessarily mean that they love each other. Barriers like ethnicity and race get in the way and people are forced to marry someone else. Like Radha, who loved a Sinhalese man, Anil Jayasinghe but had too many Tamilian man Rajan Nagendran. Also, Arjie’s mother was in love with Daryl, who was a Burgher, before getting married to Arjie’s father. Other themes are ethnic identity and sexual identity. Both Arjie and Shehan have the same sexual identity i.e. both are homosexual boys and are in love with each other but their ethnic identity again becomes a barrier between their growing love. Arjie was a Tamil. Shehan Soyza was a Sinhala. Other themes are the Tamilian diaspora and the civil war in Sri Lanka. Arjie and his family are now a part of the Tamil diaspora as a result of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
Tanuja signifies the shaming, estrangement and suppression of the queer community. The adversities against the queer community are personified in Tanuja as androgynous, manly(in a sadistic way), ugly and fat. Sonali, the younger sister to Arjie, is the only one who understands him. Diggy is Arjie’s brother. He is the ideal, nosey teenage boy. He warns Arj ie to stay away from Shehan because he knew that both Arjie and Shehan were queer and he disliked Shehan, because he was prejudiced against the queers. Amma represents the feminist aspect of the novel just like Arjie’s aunt, Radha. Amma had to marry a man in an arranged marriage. She loved a Burgher man, named Daryl. Arjei admired his Amma and after watching her, he started getting in terms with his own femininity.
Appa was also anti-queer. He is not a good father. He did not support his son Arjei, instead of being a friend, he tried to suppress his sexuality. Jegan Parameshwaram, a former Tamil Tigers insurgent, ignites the fires of passion in Arjei when Arjei admires his muscular body. Daryl’s uncle was kind to Arjei because Arjei was the son of the woman whom he still loved but their love was forbidden and hence could not materialise. Black Tie was the abusive principal of the school into which Arjei was admitted. He believed that children could be beaten up and made to do anything. Black symbolises evil and Tie symbolises slavery and animalistic treatment. The themes are :
: Gender and Sexuality.
: The Tamil-Sinhala conflict.
: Feminist issues.
: The Burghers are Sri Lankans of Portuguese/Dutch descent. Daryl signifies the racial barriers and the phenomenon of migration.
: Human rights and human rights violations. (Which Daryl came to investigate but was killed).
: The next theme is related to the previous one, corruption, politics and governments.
: Immigration, borders and diaspora. How families are forced to migrate to better places. Canada is a very liberal country with a not-so-tight border policy.
: Fear, unrest, hatred and strife, among the people of different ethnicities of a country, trapped in a civil war.
: Unemployment, lack of education and militancy. (Tamil Tigers and other similar terror outfits which work on the ideology of hate and fear).
: Nationalisation and privatisation. The black tie principal did not want the government to take over his school. It is clear that the Sinhalese government wanted to nationalise the Christian school so that more Sinhalese could get in. Even in school, Arjie was bullied by the Sinhalese boys for being a Tamil, when suddenly Shehan, started giving him compassion which was secretively sexual. Shehan, unlike Arjie, was completely aware of his own sexuality.
: Sexuality can not be forced on someone. Appa was forcing Arjei to be someone whom he could not be and was not.
: Law and order and ethnic conflict. Arjie’s aunt Radha was almost killed and both of his grandparents died in a fire. The absence of law and order and the increasing ethnic violence made living for them more difficult. They decided to flee the country. Arjie had to leave his lover and his country behind.
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