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15. Arjie’s Burned-Down House Symbol Analysis.
Ans: During the epilogue chapter of Funny Boy, as ethnic riots break out in 1983, a Sinhalese mob shows up at Arjie’s house in the middle of the night and sets fire to the house, which comes to represent. Luckily, his family has a plan and escapes in time, taking shelter in the storeroom of their neighbours, the Pereras. The next morning, they go outside and see that their house is completely unrecognisable. With nearly everything destroyed, it feels small and alien, nothing like the familiar space at the centre of their past lives. Beyond marking an abrupt break between the past and the future, this moment shows Arjie’s family the severe dangers they face as Tamils in Sri Lanka: with their home, their country also becomes a forever foreign and unlivable place in the blink of an eye.
This points to the ambivalent nostalgia that characterises Arjie’s narrative voice throughout the novel: living in Canada after the narrative’s events, he writes to remember the place (Sri Lanka, his home, and his sense of belonging in both) from which he was abruptly uprooted and to which he cannot return. In the book’s closing lines, on the day he is supposed to leave for Canada, Arjie visits his home once more and realises that “everything that was not burnt had been stolen,” from pipes to furniture to flowers in the garden (presumably to be used in prayers “to increase [devotees’] chances of a better life in the next birth,” which clearly also serves as a metaphor for Arjie’s hope for a better life in Canada). The house now has a new layer of meaning: in addition to standing for the past that Arjie is now enthusiastically and resolutely putting behind him, it also points to the way his life was robbed of significance by self-interest and shortsightedness of those who involved Sri Lanka in the war.
16. Arjie Character Analysis
Ans: Aijun Chelvaratnam, called “Arjie” by his friends and family members, is the narrator and protagonist of Funny Boy. A Sri Lankan Tamil raised in Colombo with his sister Sonali and brother Diggy, Arjie is clearly unlike other boys from his earliest years. Barely interested in traditionally masculine pursuits, Arjie is more fond of acting out weddings and reading Little Women than playing cricket or rugger. He develops a long-standing mix of curiosity and shame about this difference, and as he grows up throughout the book, he begins to discover his attraction to men.
But when he sees Radha Aunty marry Rajan instead of Anil and Amma reunite with Daryl Uncle while Appa is away, Arjie begins to lose faith in the storybook image of romantic love he learned from Janaki’s Sinhala comic books. Ironically, he finds love only after his father sends him to the prestigious Queen Victoria Academy to make him more of “a man”; he meets a boy at the school named Shehan, although they eventually grow apart while Arjie waits to leave Sri Lanka for Canada. He has to make this move at the end of the book because his Tamil family is under persecution during the early days of the Sri Lankan Civil War; throughout the book’s earlier sections, he also gradually learns about Sri Lanka’s ethnic tensions and begins to recognize the racism in his community and his own family.
Although he is Tamil, he only speaks Sinhala and English, and so feels relatively disconnected from the nationalistic sentiments that lead people like Jegan and Ammachi to support the Tamil Tigers, although he intimately understands the oppression his Tamil minority faces. As he watches his family members and acquaintances suffer violence because of their ethnicity, gender, or commitment to justice, Arjie also develops a more complex moral outlook during the book. Although the book ends with Arjie’s move to Canada at a relatively young age, he sees and experiences a lifetime’s worth of turmoil and injustice during his youth, which clearly instils in him both a sense of moral purpose and an instinct for pursuing that moral purpose carefully and realistically.
17. Amma Character Analysis
Ans: Arjie’s Amma (the Tamil word for “mother”) is loving and close to her son; although she has a strong sense of right and wrong, she often chooses not to voice it, but she is also anything but passive. Instead, she tends to hold the family together emotionally in times of crisis. When Arjie is a child, Amma lets him dress up in her clothes, but is forced to stop after the family sees him in the bride-bride sari. Like Arjie, she often silently disagrees with many of the cultural no= that determine life in Sri Lanka: although she forces young Arjie to play with the other boys, for instance, her inability to justify herself reveals “how little she actually believe[s] in the justness of her actions.” Similarly, Amma’s relationship with Daryl Uncle shows Arjie that, unlike many other Sri Lankans, she does not see ethnicity as a defining trait, although she eventually comes to agree with the Tamil Tigers that Tamils might need a separate state to overcome violence from the Sinhalese. Her zealous effort to investigate Daryl Uncle’s death reveals her commitment to justice, but her willingness to give it up shows that she considers her family’s safety primary. In this vein, she is also the first to suggest the family move to Canada. During the riots, which (unlike Appa) she predicted, Amma comforts not only her children but also Chithra Aunty (even though the Chelvaratnams’ own house was the one burned down).
18. Appa Character Analysis.
Ans: Arjie’s distant, authoritative, and successful father (“Appa” is the Tamil word for “father”). Although he is a brother to Mala Aunty, Kanthi Aunty, Radha Aunty (among others), Appa seldom appears in the first half of the book; in the third chapter, he quits his job at the bank to buy a hotel that proves very lucrative and skyrockets the family into Sri Lanka’s upper class. He plays a more prominent role in the last three chapters; in “Small Choices,” Appa takes in Jegan Parameswaran because he made a pact with Jegan’s father in his school clays, but ends up tom—at first, between his affinity for Jegan (who reminds Apps of his father) and his fear of Japan’s political associations, and later, between his promise to Jegan and the safety of his family (which is threatened by the community’s harsh response to Jegan after his arrest). Throughout the book, he worries intensely about Aijie’s masculinity and sexuality. He sends Arjie to the Queen Victoria Academy in the fifth chapter so that he will “become a man,” but is deeply disappointed when Arjie befriends the equally “funny” Shehan. At the end of the book, he stays in Sri Lanka to wrap up his business, while the rest of the family leaves for Canada.
19. Radha Aunty Character Analysis
Ans: Appa’s younger sister, who comes back to Sri Lanka when Arjie is seven. She is engaged to Rajan Nagendra, whom she met during her four years studying in America. However, she is nothing like the fair-skinned, elegant, formal aunty Arjie was expecting; instead, she is rebellious, freethinking, a poor pianist, and “as dark as a labourer.” But she also lets Arjie dress up in her clothes and wear her makeup, which turns them into best friends. They join a local production of The King and I together, and during their rehearsals they meet Anil Jayasinghe, who starts hitting on Radha and eventually wins her attention. After Ammachi threatens Anil’s family, loudly voices her opposition to Radha seeing a Sinhalese boy, and decides to send Radha to Jaffna to get her away from Anil, she starts to fall for him. However, Aunty Doris’s warnings about forbidden love make her question her feelings, and then she gets attacked by a Sinhalese mob on her way home. A family friend saves her, but half of Radha’s face is badly bruised, and she grows solemn and pessimistic in the following days. She finds herself unable to keep seeing Anil and decides to marry Rajan.
20. Jegan Parameswaran Character Analysis
Ans: The son of one of Appa’s old childhood friends, Jegan helps resettle Tamil refugees in Jaffna while working for the Gandhiyam Movement and briefly joins the Tamil Tigers before moving to stay with Adie’s family in Colombo. After his father’s death, Jegan’s mother asks Apps to care for Jegan by invoking an old pact Apps made with Jegan’s father in school: they promised to -always protect each other and each other’s’ families [sic].” Jegan quickly grows close to Appa (who employs him and thinks he resembles his father) and Arjie who finds him attractive and understanding). But Jegan’s freethinking soon becomes a liability for the family; the Sinhalese employees at Appa’s work and hotel grow suspicious of Jegan, and eventually the police arrest him on false charges, but after his release everyone thinks of him as associated with the Tamil Tigers and Appa begins receiving threats.
After a Sinhalese gang nearly attacks the family and someone writes “Death to all Tamil pariahs” on the outside wall of Jegan’s room at the hotel, causing all the guests to check out, Appa realises that his business can only remain successful if he fires Jegan. Arjie is dismayed to watch this happen, and Jegan is understandably dismissive and bitter when he moves out of the family’s house, never to be seen again. His fate, like Daryl’s, shows how some of the conflict’s worst injustices were inflicted upon those with the purest motives.
21. Daryl Uncle Character Analysis.
Ans: A burgher journalist who grew up in Sri Lanka with Amma but has been living in Australia for more than a decade. In the chapter “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” Daryl Uncle visits in order to investigate the government’s abuses of power under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. While Arjie’s whole family ridicules him for reading Little Women, Daryl mentions his own affinity for the book and buys him the sequels, which brings them closer together. However, the rest of the family—especially Neliya Aunty—openly resents Daryl and his close relationship with Amma. During a trip with Daryl and Amma to the mountains in central Sri Lanka, Arjie begins to feel the same way, especially as he realises that Daryl and Amma’s relationship used to be romantic long ago, before he left Sri Lanka; they could never marry because he was white and she was Tamil. After this trip, Daryl goes to Jaffna to research his story, but he never returns; his body washes up on the shore of a fishing village, and Amma is confident that the government is to blame. Daryl’s death shows the danger in pursuing justice and forces Arjie to think about how to balance his desire to confront power with the need to stay safe.
22. Black Tie Character Analysis
Ans: The cruel, traditionalist principal of Victoria Academy. Universally feared by the students, Black Tie is often seen wearing an old-school British colonial outfit, overlooking Victoria Academy from the balcony next to his office. When a lock of Shehan’s hair falls out of place, Black Tie gives Shehan a rudimentary haircut and punishes him endlessly along with the other students he deems the “future ills and burdens of Sri Lanka.” A proponent of keeping the school multiethnic, Black Tie faces a challenge from Mr. Lokubandara, who wants to take his job. To help keep his power, Black Tie organises a ceremony for a prominent politician and enlists Arjie to recite two of his favourite poems at this ceremony. When Arjie messes up the poems’ words, Black Tie canes both him and Shehan, and he eventually threes them to kneel outside on the balcony for hours for the same reason. Arjie eventually decides to purposefully botch the poems he is to recite during the ceremony in order to ensure that Black Tie loses his job and Shehan is no longer senselessly punished with the “ills and burdens.”
23. Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme(funny boy) Analysis
Ans: Behind Arjie’s coming of age, Funny Boy also traces the lead-up to the Sri Lankan Civil War, a growing tension between Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority and sizable Tamil minority that eventually erupts into violent conflict and becomes the book’s driving force, uprooting Arjie and his family forever. And yet Selvadurai presents this ethnic conflict from the perspective of a boy who scarcely cares about ethnicity. In doing so, he sheds light on the fundamental illogic of the quest to secure a country for a single group of people, and a single group of people for one’s country, in addition to showing the horrifying impact of the random violence that seems to inevitably emerge from such ethno-nationalist politics. By emphasising personal relationships that transcend the ethnic divide, Selvadurai suggests that pluralism is the only route to political coexistence.
During Arjie’s childhood and adolescence, the reader watches Sinhala and Tamil Sri Lankans grow increasingly mistrustful of and violent toward one another. Arjie’s first encounter with this tension is hearing about Ammachi’s hatred toward the Sinhalese, a response to her own father’s murder by a racist Sinhalese mob in 1958. At this point, not only does the young Arjie fail to understand Ammachi’s racism, but he does not even know what the word “racist” means. When Daryl Uncle returns to Sri Lanka after 15 years, he is there to document the violent conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese in the northern region around Jaffna. His mysterious death, declared an accident by the police likely responsible for it, shows that the Sri Lankan government actively backed the Sinhalese and drove the nation toward war.
In the following chapter, a young man named Jegan, the son of Appa’s old friend, comes to live with Arjie’s family. A former Tamil Tiger, Jegan’s presence makes Appa’s Sinhalese employees suspicious; after the police falsely but publicly accuse Jegan of plotting an assassination and then quietly release him, thugs deface Appa’s hotel with threats and Appa feels he has no choice but to fire Jegan. Although he disapproves of violence, Jegan is treated as a threat and a pariah, which reflects Sri Lankans’ severe ethnic paranoia in the lead-up to the war. The book’s Epilogue most saliently captures the toll of Sri Lanka’s ethnic violence, as Arjie and his family have to flee their house (which is then burned down), Appachi and Ammachi are murdered, Appa’s hotel is burned down, and numerous Tamils lose their homes and businesses, not to mention their lives.
The conflict between Sri Lanka’s Tamils and Sinhalese is fundamentally a conflict over belonging: it is about who gets to own the nation, whom the government should serve, and whether different groups can coexist at all. Over the book’s course, Arjie’s family increasingly feels that they are being defined out of the national identity and made foreigners in their own homeland. The novel explains that the earliest waves of Tamil rebellion and violence followed the government’s attempts to make Sinhala the nation’s only official language. The Tamil Tigers demanded their own state because they felt Tamils were being made sub-citizens, while being Sri Lankan increasingly came to mean being Sinhalese.
Yet ethnicity never means anything to Arjie, who is no more attached to Tamil than Sinhalese identity; he shows how it is not at all inevitable for ethnic identities to take on political weight. He takes Sinhala-medium classes and surrounds himself with Sinhala friends; in fact, he does not even speak Tamil. Despite this, when Jegan comes to Colombo, the family realises that, as Tamils, they are under constant threat from the government, which can declare them extremists and target them whenever it wishes. And near the book’s end, Arjie and Shehan grow distant, despite being one another’s primary source of emotional support; Shehan cannot understand Arjie’s sense of constant persecution, and Arjie can’t fathom how Shehan feels normal enough to propose they go see a movie. While they never turn against each other, their rift shows how the experiential and empathetic gap between a majority group and an oppressed minority group can easily foster misunderstanding.
The book also shows numerous close relationships between Tamils and Sinhalese that prove mutual understanding is possible and disprove the government and Tamil Tigers’ shared assumption that successful nations should be drawn on ethnic lines. During the riots, Sinhalese neighbours and friends save Arjie’s family : the Pereras shelter them from the mob that burns down their house, and Chithra Aunty and Sena Uncle lodge them afterwards. In other words, the Chelvaratnams manage to survive because of Sinhalese people who put personal relationships and human connections before the bare fact of ethnic difference. Similarly, in the last chapter, Arjie chooses to side with the pro-Sinhalese Mr. Lokubandara over the school’s racially indifferent principal, Black Tie, in order to save Shehan from Black Tie’s cruel punishments. In a Sri Lanka apparently unable to see past ethnicity, Arjie stubbornly insists on doing so, and in his last reflections on immigration he expresses hope that Canada might be able to accept him in a way his own home country cannot. However, he also sees it possible that Canada will be just as racist as Sri Lanka, and that his family could be reduced to begging. While he can envision a better kind of nation, then, Arjie does not necessarily expect it to be possible.
In Funny Boy, Selvadurai shows both how real people are far more complex than ethnicity and also how they are nevertheless reduced to it by political forces. In doing so, he points to the insolubility of ethnic conflict over national identity: people will never be as one-dimensional or cut-and-dry as nationalists and racists want them to be, and so nationalism and racism, beyond perpetrating horrible violence, cannot achieve the kinds of societies they want to begin with. It is only because some Sinhalese and Tamils do not care about being Sinhalese or Tamil, in other words, that the efforts to create a fully Sinhalese or Tamil nation will inevitably fail.
24. Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme(Funny boy) Analysis
Ans: As it follows Arjie’s coming of age, Funny Boy also becomes a tale of moral development: Arjie encounters and grapples with blatant injustices that challenge his initial faith in human goodness. Yet, rather than giving up on the idea of a just world and resigning himself to the self-interested worldviews of those around Wm—including, at times, his own family—Arjie continues to pursue the just world he recognizes as impos-sible. Nevertheless, in responding to the abuses of power around him, he learns that pressure and manipulation—the very tools of injustice—are often the only way to convince the powerful to give the powerless their due.
Arjie learns early and clearly the world is not just, and in fact that the same adults who claim to be the bearers of morality often fail to choose good over evil. When Arjie and his younger cousin Tanuja (whom he calls “Her Fatness”) fight over the sari they use in their game of bride-bride, Ammachi immediately blames Arjie and ignores the rest of the children’s attempts to fully explain the situation. Because Kanthi Aunty had already shamed Arjie for his femininity, Ammachi decides the fight is his fault and makes him do housework instead of playing with the cousins on the family’s subsequent Sunday gatherings. Similarly, in the chapter “The Best School of All,” Victoria Academy’s draconian principal, Black Tie, arbitrarily and cruelly punishes students he calls the “future ills and burdens of Sri Lanka” for offences like wearing long hair or winking, even as he ignores violent bullying by students like Salgado. And Daryl Uncle’s death shows how such abuses of power play out on a larger scale.
The Sri Lankan government targets Daryl for documenting its human rights violations against Tamils, and then refuses to investigate his mysterious death—for which Amma is convinced it is responsible. And Arjie sees another dimension of injustice—his own family’s complicity in it—when he learns that his father’s hotel is supporting the prostitution of underage boys and, later, goes with Amma to the village of Daryl’s servant boy, Somaratne, only to be violently kicked out because the village’s impoverished inhabitants are so used to being exploited by wealthy city people like Arjie’s family.
While witnessing, experiencing, and learning about his complicity in profound injustices could have easily led Arjie to give up on his faith in good and evil altogether, instead it actually inspires him to pursue the kind of justice he thinks the world deserves. Daryl and Jegan, who dedicate their careers to exposing the Sri Lankan government’s abuses of power and helping beleaguered Tamils, respectively, inspire Arjie to try and live with a sense of moral purpose rather than simply following the path of least resistance. And he continues to feel inspired by them even after they suffer horribly for taking moral stands. Due to his respect for both Daryl and Jegan, Arjie takes a prominent role in his family’s attempts to save each of them: he insists on helping his mother search for Daryl (including by visiting Somaratne’s village) and tries to support Jegan while Appa grapples with the consequences of firing him. In both cases, though, despite his sense of what is right and effort to pursue it, Arjie does not yet have the means to make a difference.
His first serious opportunity to stop an abuse of power comes when Black Tie labels Arjie’s friend and lover, Shehan, as one of the so-called “ills and burdens.” When Black Tie makes Arjie recite poems, he punishes Arjie and Shehan together whenever Arjie messes up; even though Arjie is ostensibly one of Black Tie’s favourites and Shehan one of the “ills and burdens,” their struggle becomes one and the same, and ultimately Arjie ends up deliberately messing up the poems in order to sabotage Black Tie’s important ceremony and ensure that the more docile vice principal, Mr. Lokubandara, takes over Black Tie’s job. In doing so, Arjie willfully disobeys authority for the first time in order to end Shehan’s unjust and unequal punishment.
In fact, by the end of the book, Arjie learns that he must fight those who abuse their power with their own tools : ruthlessness and manipulation. Because they do not care about morality, the perpetrators of injustice do not respond to moral appeals; instead, they must be pressured to correct their ways or be forced out of power. Arjie first learns this in childhood, after Her Fatness ousts him from the game of bride-bride and the adults force him to play cricket with the boys. When reasoning with the adults and cousins fails, Arjie hatches a plot: he hides the bride’s sari, he so seriously disrupts the boys group that they kick him out of their cricket game, and when Her Fatness agrees to make him the groom in exchange for the sari, he uses his sense of humour to steal his cousins’ attention and ruin her moment, as if to remind her that she is not the game’s legitimate bride. But Arjie truly proves his willingness to fight dirty for the right cause when he deliberately botches his poetry recital at Victoria Academy, which makes Black Tie’s speech based on the poems look nonsensical. The audience breaks out in laughter when Black Tie furiously insults Arjie before dutifully reading the contradictory speech that he had prepared. At the end of the chapter, Black Tie is poised to lose the presidency and stop unfairly punishing Shehan for simply having had long hair one day months before.
As a tale of moral development, then, Funny Boy is peculiar for showing not only how Arjie gains a moral compass, but also how he realises that far too much of the adult world seriously lacks one. The systematic injustices Arjie sees in Sri Lanka come from unchecked power, and so he learns to respond to these injustices on the only terms that they know : by doing everything in his power to hold the unaccountable accountable.
25. Forbidden Love and Family Theme(Funny boy) Analysis.
Ans: While Funny Boy’s most important love story is undeniably about Arjie discovering his sexuality and meeting Shehan, the vast majority of the book follows other relationships, in all of which people fall in love across, despite, and even because of the social boundaries that separate them. Like Arjie’s sexuality, these forbidden relationships draw familial ire; and yet, whereas Arjie learns to accept his sexuality despite his family’s criticism, the book’s forbidden relationships seem to end, for the greater good, because of a similar family pressure. While Funny Boy shows how class, race, ethnicity, and culture are never absolute barriers to desire, it also makes a case for prioritising family—to whom one is already committed—over particular love interests.
Beyond Arjie’s own love story, Funny Boy is full of relationships that cross social barriers and prove that differences of class, race, ethnicity, and culture can seldom stamp out the feelings of love—and, in many cases, are precisely what attract people to one another. One example of such a relationship is Radha Aunty’s relationship with Anil, a Sinhala boy who acts alongside her in a production of The King and I. Although she initially finds him annoying, Radha grows attracted to Anil because she realises that he loves her despite belonging to an opposed ethnic group. In fact, The King and I also
foreshadows the failure of Radha and Anil’s interethnic relationship: in the play, an English governess and her employer, the King of Siam, fall in love but can never be together because, as Amma explains, interracial love was not (and in many places is still not) conventionally accepted. Aroma’s-ambivalenee_about interraciaLlavtl—becomes even more clear when Arjie learns about her previous relationship with Daryl Uncle, a white burgher who grew up in Sri Lanka but has lived elsewhere for at least 15 years. And beyond Arjie’s relationship with Shehan, his early affinity for romantic Sinhala comic books and insistence on playing the bride during his mock weddings with his girl cousins demonstrate how his romantic desires consistently land outside the sphere of social acceptability. Whether ethnic, cultural, racial, or class-based, social barriers cannot quash the feelings of love.
And yet all these characters face immense pressure for loving someone outside their social group; they are ultimately forced to choose between romance and family. Both Radha Aunty’s mother (Ammachi) and Anil’s father are horrified that their children are dating across ethnic lines. And Daryl’s return to Sri Lanka, while Appa is in Europe for business, sows division in Adie’s family. Neliya Aunty, Diggy, and Sonali grow distant and resentful as Amma and Daryl grow close; Arjie is horribly ill the whole time, and when he recovers, Amma brings aim to a bungalow in the hills, where Daryl soon shows up. As Daryl explains that burghers and native Sri Lankans were effectively barred from dating one another in the past because of social prejudice (obviously referring to his history with Amma), Arjie, too, begins to resent him for getting between Amma and the rest of the family.
As though to prove Daryl’s point about the social pressures against interracial marriage, Aunty Doris, the school theatre director who is also a burgher, warns Radha about marrying Anil by divulging the fact that her own family rejected her—by moving back to England without even informing her or leaving contact informa-tion—when she married a Tamil man. Radha, Anil, Amma, and Daryl—plus, eventually, Arjie and Shehan—end up in moral dilemmas: while they know their families are wrong to reject their love, they still have to pick between the sure thing that is family and the enchanting uncertainty that is romance.
Ultimately, while the novel openly criticizes the social divisions and norms that make intergroup marriages taboo, it also suggests that people are correct to choose family over their transgressive relationships. When Radha gets violently attacked by a Sinhala mob on a train, she finally caves into her mother’s pressure, quits the play, and marries Rajan, the Tamil man to whom she was already engaged. After this, Arjie explains that he has lost the ability to think “that if two people loved each other everything was possible,” a view that might strike a young reader as cynical, but is full of wisdom: love is powerful but can always be rediscovered, and sometimes prudence requires sacrificing it and waiting. Amma loves and loses Daryl twice: once in her youth, and then again when he dies while covering the Tamil-Sinhala riots in the northern city of Jaffna.
While his death is a tragedy, Daryl Uncle likely would have broken up Arjie’s family had he stayed with Amma. (When she visits the civil rights lawyer Q.C. Uncle, he encourages her to do something similar: to give up her passionate desire to avenge Daryl’s death in order to save her family from the government’s wrath.) Aunty Doris, of all people, is the one to deliver the book’s message about hasty love : after her husband’s death, Doris explains, she began to wonder whether it was really worth it to marry the person she loved and lose her family, since she presumably could have had a successful marriage with someone else down the line. In Funny Boy, romance is fleeting and limitless, while family is enduring and finite; it is always possible to find another love but never possible to find new parents and siblings.
Although Funny Boy shows how the social constraints around love will never stop people from falling in love and sees a deep tragedy in relationships cut off by family and cultural pressures, it also shows how, in many cases, the tragedy of losing love might be preferable to the tragedy of losing one’s community or family. Despite this preference for family ties, Funny Boy also pushes for constructing a world in which people are not forced to choose between love and community, in which difference makes relationships more vibrant instead of more difficult.
26. Masculinity and Queerness Theme (Funny boy) Analysis
Ans: Set from the late 1960s to the early 1980s in Sri Lanka, Funny Boy follows the childhood and adolescence of Arjie Chelvaratnam as his nation hurdles toward civil war. At the same time as he watches Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority gradually turn against his minority Tamil community, Arjie comes to terms with the consequences of bding gay in a patriarchal culture and family. From his earliest days, Arjie fails to meet his family’s expectations of a boy; he prefers staging weddings with his girl cousins, acting in plays, and reading love comics and Little Women to playing cricket with his male cousins or rugger with the boys at school. When his parents start openly worrying about his “funny” sexuality and Arjie realizes that he is indeed gay, they all react with deep embarrassment and shame. Ultimately, Arjie does not manage to find acceptance for his sexuality or even come out to his family during the novel; instead, his great accomplishment is simply learning to accept himself, reject shame, and disavow his family’s demand that he follow in other men’s footsteps.
Arjie grows up in a family and society structured by rigid gender roles and a distinct concept of masculinity that he does not, and never will, fit into. At the family’s monthly gatherings, which they call “spend-the-days,” Arjie and his numerous cousins have complete freedom to play and invariably split up by gender: the boys play cricket, and the girls act out weddings—along with Arjie. who is always the bride. When Arjie’s cousin Tanuja (also known as “Her Fatness”) tries to take over his role, she calls him a “pansy,” “faggot,” and “sissy.” Although she is no older than ten, she already has a deeply ingrained sense of what masculinity—the “proper” way of being male—requires. In order to cultivate his masculinity, Arjie’s dad (whom he calls App, the Tamil word for “father”) sends him to his brother Diggy’s school, Victoria Academy, in the novel’s penultimate chapter. As Diggy puts it, Appa “doesn’t want [Arjie] ie] turning out funny,” but instead thinks he can “force [Arjie] to become a man” by surrounding him with Victoria’s rambunctious, aggressive, athletic students. Indeed, Appa’s continual fear that Arjie will become “funny” and his commitment to masculinizing his son suggest that he sees masculinity, femininity, and sexuality as changeable, rather than innate, which means that being properly masculine is in one’s control and reflective of one’s value as a human being.
Arjie’s deviation from traditional masculinity leads his family to continuously shame him, and he quickly internalises this shame and begins to think of himself as inherently flawed. Largely because they do not know what to make of him and fear that his failure to he conventionally masculine reflects their failure as a family, the Chelvaratnams repeatedly call Arjie “funny”—a word that both betrays the family’s anxiety about admitting the possibility of having a gay son and shows that their homophobia is based on an unjustified, instinctual revulsion, tied to the cultural norm of heterosexual marriage and families. While he is too young to even understand his family’s conviction that he is the wrong kind of boy, Arjie understands that he is being punished for simply being himself and following his desires, things over which he has no control. Although Arjie’s sexuality mostly falls out of view during the middle part of the book, when he goes to Victoria Academy, he befriends and falls in love with a boy named Shehan, about whom his brother Diggy repeatedly warns him. After Arjie and Shehan first have sex, Arjie immediately sees that Appa disapproves of Shehan and thus lashes out at him, although internally, Arjie actually blames himself for committing a “dreadful act” and feels he has betrayed his family. Over time, Arjie has absorbed his family and culture’s sense of shame surrounding queerness, and like many young people overcome with such shame about sex, he is unable to fully appreciate or embrace his first love.
Ultimately, however, Arjie does manage to overcome his shame, and this shows the groundlessness and arbitrariness of the conventional gender roles his family tried to squeeze him into. Even in the first chapter, when Amma forces Arjie to play with the boys rather than the girls, she reveals that she does not completely believe in the restrictive notion of masculinity she is enforcing : she
says that Arjie must go with the boys “because the sky is so high and pigs can’t fly,” as though gender separation is just an inherent and necessary feature of the world. When Arjie challenges her, Amma’s frantic reaction proves to him “how little she actually believed in the justness of her actions.” She has done what she was pressured to do, not what she believes. Eventually, Arjie learns to form his own beliefs about gender and love; he learns to see “powerful and hidden possibilities” in his friendship with Shehan, to recognize that the same behaviour his family shames him for also. allows him to uncover his true self and pursue his true desires without self-censorship. After berating Shehan, Arjie soon realises that what they share is love, not deviance: he sees that Shehan “had not debased me or degraded me, but rather offered me his love,” and so he decides to take this at face value instead of continuing to fight against his genuine desires.
In simply deciding that his own feelings are more important than the roles he is asked to fit into, Arjie overcomes his family’s restrictive assumptions and accepts himself. Although Arjie does not come out to his family or win their acceptance—which is another, longer battle—he does realise that society’s scripts for what men should do, how they should carry themselves, and who they should love really just reflect everyone else’s fear of difference. While others see gender roles as inevitable, like the fact that “the sky is so high and pigs can’t fly,” Arjie proves to himself that an alternative is possible and learns to reject shame in favour of self-acceptance.
27. Historical Context of Funny Boy.
Ans: Funny Boy is set in the 1970s and early 1980s, during the lead-up to the Sri Lankan Civil War that was still raging at the time of the book’s publication. This war, an ethnic conflict between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority, is impossible to understand without grasping the historical antecedents that turned ethnicity into the basis for political identity. Ruled by a series of Sinhalese kingdoms until the sixteenth century, Sri Lanka was colonised in three waves by three separate powers. First, the Portuguese set up trading outposts and founded the city of Colombo in the sixteenth century. To defeat the encroaching Portuguese, the king of Sri Lanka agreed to a treaty with the Dutch, who completely ignored their promise to respect the kingdom’s sovereignty and instead conquered nearly the whole island in the seventeenth century. (The shrinking but socially prominent group called “burghers” are mostly the descendants of these Dutch colonists.)
The British occupied Sri Lanka at the end of the eighteenth century and defeated the remaining local power, the Kingdom of Kandy, before largely turning the island into tea estates and importing Tamil laborers from India to work in slavery-like conditions on them. While a small percentage of Sri Lankan Tamils are the descendants of these indentured labourers, this is a distinct group from the Sri Lankan Tamil population that lives mostly on the islands north tip and east coast, and to which Selvadurai’s protagonist Arjie Chelvaratnam belongs. Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948 and tensions between Tamils and Sinhalese soon began to escalate, as the characters in Funny Boy both experience and remember. After independence, the Sri Lankan Parliament defined Indian Tamils as foreigners and deported roughly half to India; later, the Sinhalese-run government passed the infamous “Sinhala Only Act,” which defined Sinhala as the nation’s only official language and accordingly reinforced Sinhalese control by kicking a substantial number of Tamils out of the government, even in Tamil-majority areas, due to their lack of fluency in Sinhalese. In response to this policy, small acts of violence and larger acts of retaliation turned into full-scale ethnic riots in 1956 and, more seriously, in 1958.
The 1960s were relatively peaceful, but a militant separatist group called the Tamil Tigers grew and began demanding their own state soon thereafter, and violence spontaneously broke out various times throughout the 1970s, the period during which Funny Boy is mostly set, culminating in large riots in 1977 and setting the stage for the beginning of the Civil War in 1983. As the Tamil Tigers grew and the Sri Lankan government became more rigidly pro-Sinhalese, assassinations by the Tigers and targeted attacks by the government (even on civilians) became increasingly common. In 1981, government-backed forces burned down the library in the Tamil-majority northern city of Jaffna, and in 1983, the Sri Lankan government supported riots that killed and displaced thousands of its Tamil citizens.
The Tigers and the government both retaliated by massacring civilians, and all-out war began soon there-after. The government nearly won this war by the end of the 1980s, but then India interfered militarily on behalf of the Tamil Tigers. However, Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi then pushed through a peace accord that gave Tamils less autonomy than the Tamil Tigers demanded; in retaliation, the Tigers assassinated Gandhi, losing much of their international credibility. The following years saw much of the war’s deadliest conflict, culminating in 1992 battles near Jaffna, frequent suicide bombings by the Tigers, and government-led massacres of civilians in the late 1990s. A peace movement broke out in response to this extreme violence, and Norway managed to broker a peace accord between the sides in 2000, but the Tamil Tigers dropped this accord in 2003 and the government officially did the same in 2007, although all-out war had resumed the previous year. A strong military push by the government drove the Tamil Tigers out of their territory in northern and eastern Sri Lanka by 2009 and killed the organisation’s leader, ending the war and returning the mostly Sinhalese government to power (although Tamil is now an official language in Sri Lanka). Ethnic tensions remained high after the Civil War, with the Sri Lankan government on trial for war crimes and ethnic riots still common a decade after the war’s end.
28. The Bride-Bride Sari Symbol Analysis
Ans: During his childhood “spend-the-days” at Ammachi and Appachi’s house, young Arjie plays the game “bride-bride” with his girl cousins, which consists of staging a fantasy wedding. During these weddings, he invariably gets the position of honour : that of the bride herself. When he puts on the rudimentary sari (a traditional draped cloth garment) he made out of a bedsheet, Arjie feels like a film hero and declares that he is “ascend[ing] into another, more brilliant, more beautiful self.” Many years before he even realises that he is attracted to men, this sari illuminates and stands for the changing and conflicted relationship between Arjie’s gender expression, social norms, and the promise of romantic love.
Beyond clearly representing his break from gender norms and affinity for things considered conventionally feminine—which soon gets him in trouble—the sari also shows how Arjie, as a boy who does not fit in, only gets to pursue his real desires (here, the desire to be beautiful and full in love) in the register of fantaSy. Indeed, when Kanthi Aunty finds him in the sari, she marches him out in front of all the other adults, who fall silent in horror at Arjie’s effeminate outfit. In this sense, the sari comes to represent Arjie’s shame before his family, and his family’s shame before the world; it crystalizes what is wrong and “funny” about Arjie in everyone else’s eyes (except the children’s). Even his most innocent desire—to play with the girls—becomes seen as a deviation from the “correct” way of being and a threat to his family’s honour. When he withholds the sari in order to try and win his role back from his vicious cousin Tanuja (“Her Fatness”), Arjie and Tanuja end up literally fighting over an emblem of womanhood, which Arjie tries but fails to hide (like his feminine disposition and his own sexuality later in the book) and ultimately gets punished even more harshly for seeking out. His conflict during bride-bride is both a prediction and a microcosm of the struggles he will face as gay teenager in his conservative Tamil family and Sri Lankan community.
Ultimately, the sari both exposes and ridicules the unchallenged norm of heterosexual love. By donning the sari, Arjie gets to fulfill his nascent desire to love a man, but only in fantasy, by roleplaying a heterosexual marriage; the children have no concept of a marriage except as a bride marrying a groom, and so when Arjie dons the sari, one of the girl children—namely, Arjie’s sister, Sonali—ends up with the unwanted role of groom. In this sense, while it reveals the strong norms of gender, tradition, and heterosexuality that ultimately constrain Arjie’s self-realization throughout the book, the sari also circumscribes an inverted realm of play in which femininity is power and masculinity is irrelevant.
29. Brief Biography of Shyam Selvadurai.
Ans: Like his protagonist Arjie, Shyam Selvadurai also grew up gay in Sri Lanka during the 1970s before fleeing at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1983. However, the character of Arjie is in no further sense based on Selvadurai’s family or life—indeed, whereas Arjie is Tamil, Selvadurai had a Sinhalese mother and a Tamil father. After moving to Canada, Selvadurai studied theatre at York University and wrote a handful of television plays before finding breakout success in 1994 with Funny Boy, which remains his best-known work. Funny Boy won both the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction and the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and it is also slotted for a film adaptation by the decorated Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta. His three other novels have covered similar themes: Cinnamon Garden (1999), set in the 1920s, follows both a young feminist pressured to marry by her family and her uncle’s reunion with his male lover from decades before; Swimming in the Monsoon Sea (2005) recounts a boy falling in love with his cousin from Canada; and The Hungry Ghosts (2013) portrays the emotional conflicts of a gay SriLankan-Canadian man as he sets out to return to Sri Lanka to take care of his elderly grandmother, who rejected his sexuality when he first came out. Selvadurai has explained that one of his writing’s fundamental goals is to help queer youth accept their sexuality. Selvadurai has also edited two anthologies: Story-Wallah (2004),selection of short fiction from the South Asian diaspora, and Many Roads Through Paradise (2014), a similar volume focused on Sri Lanka. His novels have been translated into various languages, and he has also written short stories and nonfiction for publications ranging from The New York Times to Toronto Life Magazine. Selvadurai has also occasionally taught writing and, notably, let a project called Write to Reconcile that helped cultivate Sri Lankan writers interested in narrating the Civil War.
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