Brick Lane

by

Monica Ali

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Brick Lane: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Much to Nazneen’s surprise, Chanu announces that he will be attending the next Bengal Tigers meeting. He tells her he thinks she’ll be very interested in what goes on there. Nazneen wonders if he plans to confront Karim, and she lives in a state of sick anticipation until the night of the meeting when Chanu, dressed in his best suit, shows her the title of a speech he’s been writing about the white working class and race hate. Nazneen realizes then that he plans to challenge Karim to a war of words and thereby win back his wife.
That Chanu puts on his best suit suggests that he has high hopes for his speech. He is attempting again, at least for a brief moment, to be a “big man.” This suggests that he suspects that the friendship between Nazneen and Karim is not innocent but sexual. Instead of murdering Nazneen as she thought he might, he characteristically wants to win the war with words.
Themes
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
The meeting hall is half full. Factions have formed. Nazneen and Chanu sit with a group of young men on the left side of the hall, who are watching an angry group of young men on the right, all of them dressed in slightly Westernized Panjabi pajama. A group of girls in burkas sits in the back. The moment Karim bounds in, the Secretary calls the meeting to order.
The Bengali Tigers were never a united front. They were always in danger of splitting into rival groups and thereby sabotaging their cause. The clothes represent which faction each group belongs to. Chanu in his suit is hopelessly out of place.
Themes
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
As usual, it is not very orderly. Karim wants very much to organize a calculated response to the Lion Hearts’ march, but everyone is talking at once, including a musician whose offer of providing music for the march is declared un-Islamic. The Questioner takes the stage and shows the crowd disturbing pictures of Iraqi children killed and dismembered in the U.S. operation there. A beautiful girl in a headscarf tells the crowd that on September 11, 35,000 children died of hunger, but no one covered that tragedy.
Each faction has its own worthy cause and, if they could agree to combine those causes and move forward together, the Tigers might have a chance at doing some good in the world. As it is, though, they are all single-minded—victims of their own short-sightedness.
Themes
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Nazneen watches Chanu out of the corner of her eye. His head is bent, and he seems lost in his own misery. Karim, too, is lost. Nazneen sees this now. His crusade against the Lion Hearts is an empty one. Nazneen tries to communicate with Chanu. She wonders what good would come of her trying to change the world for the better if she cannot offer her own husband any comfort. She touches her knee to his and says they should go, but he moves away from her. As the meeting breaks up, he smiles, but the smile is not a happy one, and he says he will save his speech for another day.
Nazneen has finally come to terms with the fact that Karim is not her savior. She would like to be her husband’s savior, but after years of not sharing herself with him she has nothing of value to give. She was taught to trust in God and obey the men in her life, but neither of these “lessons” prepared her for this moment when she would be asked to meet her husband on common ground.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
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Nazneen runs into Mrs. Islam in the butcher shop. The smell of meat is so thick Nazneen can taste it. Mrs. Islam informs Nazneen that she is dying. Nazneen doesn’t know if she can trust anything the old woman says. Mrs. Islam asks how plans for going home are progressing, and Nazneen politely sidesteps the question. Then Mrs. Islam grabs Nazneen’s chin and hisses that she is a liar. Mrs. Islam says she knows that Chanu ran crying to Dr. Azad for money for his escape. Nazneen is shocked and angry and wants to flee. Mrs. Islam calms down and reminds Nazneen of her debt to her. Nazneen says that no matter what they pay Mrs. Islam, it’s never enough. Mrs. Islam tells her not to worry. God always provides a way.
The over-powering odor of meat represents here the toxic nature of secrets and all that is going unsaid between Nazneen and Mrs. Islam, who, as the resident Tower Hamlets busy-body, most likely knows about Nazneen’s affair with Karim. Every character is deceiving someone in some way, and that deception skews the characters’ lives and ways of perceiving the world. That Mrs. Islam would dare to claim that God favors high interest rates shows just how amoral she really is.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
When Chanu comes home that night, Nazneen confronts him with Mrs. Islam’s accusation, and asks him if it is true. He begs her permission to take his coat off before they get into this. He knows that she hates it when he wears his coat inside. Nazneen is shocked—she never told him she felt that way. Chanu then launches into a lengthy speech about the slippery nature of truth. A man might lie to others, Chanu explains, but it is worse when he lies to himself. Nazneen is uncomfortable now. She wonders how much he sees.
Nazneen has for a long time assumed that Chanu knows very little about her life, but he is far more observant than she ever gave him credit for. He knows how she feels about his coat and that her affair with Karim is on-going. His speech makes Nazneen uncomfortable because she has been lying to herself about the impact her affair with Karim has had on her family and her own well-being.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Chanu asks Nazneen to come with him and see the plane tickets. They are for five days later. Nazneen holds them in her hand, struck by their flimsiness. Her mind runs over all her belongings, all her furniture. Chanu tells her not to worry. He went to Dr. Azad mostly for help with the ulcer. The money was a side benefit. Also, when they get to Dhaka he plans to go into the soap business.
Chanu hid from Nazneen the loans he took out with Mrs. Islam, and he kept secret from her the fact that he borrowed money from Dr. Azad to purchase plane tickets as well. She now has less than a week to prepare for leaving the home she has lived in for sixteen years.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Later Nazneen is in Razia’s apartment, visiting with her friend. She has three days before she is supposed to get on a plane for Dhaka, and she is full of panic. From a nearby bedroom comes the sound of knocking. At Tariq’s request, Razia has locked him in. He is trying to quit heroin. Nazneen’s mind is occupied with worry for her daughters, Chanu, and herself—and also for Karim. She decides she will not say goodbye to him. Thoughts of him with another woman, perhaps the beautiful one from the Bengal Tigers meeting, drift into her mind and make the panic worse. Meanwhile, Tariq continues to bang on the door, begging and pleading for Razia to let him out. She refuses, as she promised him she wouldn’t. He begins to cry.
Tariq’s struggle with withdrawal mimics Nazneen’s inner confusion. He is trying to quit heroin, while she hopes to end her relationship with Karim in a way that won’t cause difficulties for him or her family. That said, the two situations really aren’t analogous. Tariq is fighting for his life. Nazneen is in danger only of hurting people she cares about and that hurt is a result of her own misbehavior. This is another instance of her self-involvement blinding her to the suffering of others.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Nazneen and Razia move to her kitchen. Razia asks Nazneen about Karim. Nazneen tells her that being with him is the difference between watching black-and-white TV and being sucked into the set in full color and living there, in that dream. Razia is dismissive of Nazneen’s carefully chosen words. She says it’s called being in love, like the English. Nazneen is offended by her friend’s indifference.
Nazneen’s comparing her love for Karim to color television is telling. She is still stuck in her ice skating fantasies. Razia sees through such romantic notions, although it is hypocritical of her to dismiss Nazneen’s behavior as English when she herself has adopted so many of their ways.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Dr. Azad arrives to give Tariq medicine for withdrawal. He has a helper with him in case Tariq tries to escape. All goes smoothly, and when he is about to leave, he stands with Nazneen for a moment, showing her one of his snow globes. His wife bought it for him. He tells her that he and his wife were once poor but very much in love. When one is that much in love, he says, one thinks the love will never run out, but the love that really lasts is the one that builds over time from what seems like nothing.
Dr. Azad’s thinly veiled advice to Nazneen suggests that he might know about her affair with Karim. Perhaps Chanu has told him in a private moment. The kindly man obviously wants to save Nazneen from making the same mistake he did—that is, thinking that passionate love will last. What truly stands the test of time, he says, is the kind of love Nazneen and Chanu have.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Nazneen dreams of being home in Gouripur with Rupban, who is braiding her hair and telling her stories about how when Nazneen was an infant, she wouldn’t feed. Nazneen loves such stories. She asks her to tell her more. Rupban says that she left Nazneen to her fate and that is why she lived. Nazneen has a sensation of waking then, and she walks to her sewing machine in her Tower Hamlets apartment, rests her head against it, and asks Rupban to tell her what she should do now. Rupban appears and begins to talk about the words Nazneen said over Raqib in the hospital. Rupban heard every word. She tells Nazneen that by standing between Raqib and his fate, she killed him. She killed her son. Nazneen wakes, screaming, and Chanu tells her to talk to him about the nightmare. The words will chase the fear away, he says.
Nazneen’s ghostly and dream-based interactions with Rupban have grown grisly and morbid. These are manifestations of Nazneen’s guilt. She blames herself for Raqib’s death, and so dreams of Rupban making that same accusation. She wonders if, when she was in the hospital mentally battling for Raqib’s life, she doomed him instead. Her past as a child who was left to her fate continues to plague and punish her.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon