Brick Lane

by

Monica Ali

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Brick Lane: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Nazneen holds Hasina’s letter in her hand. It is like a butterfly, whose fragile wings have the power to disturb the world. She is almost finished packing. The computer is packed, the books are packed. But she is not going. She prepares to pay a visit to Mrs. Islam, but when she opens the door, the old woman is there with her two sons. Nazneen invites them in and makes tea. Mrs. Islam tells her that 200 pounds will settle the debt, but Nazneen calmly informs her that she will not pay. She has done the calculations herself and she and Chanu have repaid the debt and 300 pounds in interest.
Finding out that Rupban’s death was a suicide and not an accident frees Nazneen from her lifelong quest to be like her mother and to trust everything—her future, her family, her own happiness—to whatever fate God may have planned for her. Rupban obviously did not trust her life (or her death) to God, so why should Nazneen? Instead of traumatizing her, the news energizes her.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Mrs. Islam’s sons begin to break things. They shatter the glass showcase. They threaten to break Nazneen’s arms. She invites them to go ahead. Mrs. Islam is horrified that Nazneen would accuse her of being a money lender. Nazneen stands her ground. Then Mrs. Islam indirectly threatens to tell Chanu about Nazneen’s affair with Karim, but Nazneen says Chanu already knows everything.
Mrs. Islam’s sons’ breaking of the furniture is an impotent act of aggression. Nazneen doesn’t care about these belongings anymore. What she cares about is justice and not giving in to the threats of an uncaring old woman.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
For once in her life, Mrs. Islam is shocked. She gives in, and one of her sons mumbles that Nazneen and Chanu already paid too much anyway. Mrs. Islam begins beating him with her bag, crying and letting out a sound of animal-like despair. When they’re gone, Nazneen cleans up the broken glass and thinks to herself that God did, indeed, provide a way—and she found it.
This is the climactic scene of the novel. Nazneen, no longer reliant on Rupban’s philosophy of trusting everything to God, takes definitive action and triumphs over the villainous Mrs. Islam. She is confident and strong and can take care of herself and her family.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Nazneen is taking the Tube to see Karim. She’d called him earlier, telling him that she had something to say to him that could not wait. She sees now that the Karim she has loved this entire time is really only in her head. She’d thought that unlike her and Chanu, he knew exactly where he fit into the world, but the reality is he’s just as lost as everyone else. When she gets off the train, she sees him standing next to the clothes shop they’d talked about on the phone. They walk for a bit and stop in front of a street juggler. It occurs to Nazneen that they could have done this before—gone out together in teeming London, and no one would have seen them.
Nazneen and Karim’s decision to meet in front of a clothing store is significant because Nazneen has come to realize that both she and her lover have been trying on roles that do not really suit them. They can change their clothes and play house but they cannot escape who they really are or the complex circumstances of their daily lives.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
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Nazneen tells Karim that Chanu is leaving for Bangladesh tomorrow, and that she and the girls are staying behind. Then she says what she has really come to say: that she does not want to marry him. Karim is obviously pained, but he says he understands. She has to put the children first. She sees that he is, while hurt, actually relieved. They go to a café together and Nazneen notices that Karim is no longer stuttering. He says he only stutters when he’s nervous, and when she points out that he never stuttered in English, he corrects her. Maybe she just never noticed, he says. She realizes that, wanting him to be something that he’s not, she’s pieced Karim together in her mind from pieces of cloth, and now the seams are showing.
By refusing to marry Karim, Nazneen is taking her first large step toward true independence. She had allowed herself to fantasize about making a life with him, but she has come to the realization that she never really knew him. She made him up, created a fantasy man out of thin air and romantic daydreams, hoping he would save her from her mundane life as a wife and mother. She knows now that she must save herself. 
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Afterward Nazneen goes for a walk around the estate and runs into Dr. Azad, who has just been to see Tariq. Razia’s son is coming along well in his fight against addiction. Nazneen begins to wonder why he lent Chanu the money for the plane tickets. She thinks maybe he’d hoped to save someone else’s marriage, since his is beyond repair. She asks him if his wife has left him, and he says not exactly. Then she asks him directly why he gave Chanu the money, and he says it was for a simple reason: Chanu is a very good friend.
Nazneen thought she understood the power dynamics at play in the friendship between Dr. Azad and Chanu, but she was mistaken. The doctor esteemed Chanu more than she realized. Because she underestimated her husband, she thought others did, too.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
The day of departure has arrived. Nazneen drifts around the apartment, her eyes roving over the boxes and furniture labeled either to be shipped, sold, or given away. She plans to tell Chanu of her decision an hour before they are scheduled to leave the apartment. She can see that he is nervous and excited. In a quiet moment, he admits he has never been a perfect husband or father. Her heart full, and having yet to tell him of her plans, Nazneen says she is lucky that her father picked an educated man for her.
Nazneen will soon be free of the shabby furniture with which she had such a conflicted relationship. In that regard, the furniture is analogous to Chanu and Nazneen’s marriage. For most of their union, Nazneen found Chanu maddeningly inept. Now, on the eve of their separation, she realizes that she loves and values him.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Chanu leaves to run a few last-minute errands, and Nazneen looks out the window at the Bengal Tiger march playing out on the estate grounds. The crowd is large and diverse, made up mostly of boys and old men. There is a small pack of very passionate white people. The Lion Hearts, the reason the Bengal Tigers are marching in the first place, have not shown up.
It makes sense that women would be absent from the march, seeing as they were often ignored in meetings. The whites in the crowd are trying to combat the racism of the Lion Hearts and show that they are open-minded.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Chanu comes back, his briefcase full of soap from a nearby shop. He talks of his plans for the Dhaka soap factory. Once it’s profitable, he says, he’ll move the family to a bungalow in Gushan with a guest house. He leaves again and Nazneen goes to bed. Bibi wakes her to tell her that Shahana has run away.
Chanu would like to wash away his past, hence his plan to launch a soap business. He has begun “talking big” again, but his dreams are all for his family now. Shahana wants nothing to do with such plans.
Themes
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon