Brick Lane

by

Monica Ali

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Brick Lane: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chanu and Nazneen settle into Dr. Azad’s garish living room.  Tiger figurines snarl in front of a gas fire place. Velvet curtains cover the windows. Mrs. Azad yells for her husband to come down and greet his visitors. Dr. Azad appears, neat as ever, freezing when he sees Chanu. Chanu is likewise frozen. Finally, he spits out that he and Nazneen were just passing by. Dr. Azad says he would love to offer them dinner, but they already ate. Mrs. Azad overrules him, inviting Chanu and Nazneen to stay.
Mrs. Azad’s assertiveness shocks both Nazneen and Chanu, not only because they expected Dr. Azad to have married a very different sort of woman, but because she refuses to defer to her husband like the timid Bengali wives with whom they’re used to interacting. The tiger figurines bring to mind the lawn ornaments: more disingenuousness on display. 
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
The four of them eat TV dinners in the living room. Mrs. Azad does her best to ignore Chanu and Nazneen, drinking beer and watching television, which she keeps at a high volume. Chanu joins her in drinking a beer, and Nazneen wonders if eating pigs will be next. To fill the silence, Chanu begins talking about his plans for building a house in Dhaka. Dr. Azad sits strangely still in a straight-backed chair, squeezing the arms as if he hopes to draw blood from them. Nazneen supposes he comes to her house for dinner to escape his uncouth wife.
Nazneen and Chanu are again surprised, this time by the food Mrs. Azad offers them. Nazneen is always making homemade Bengali dishes. TV dinners are western culture at its worst: impersonal and tasteless. Blood, in this instance, symbolizes the lack of affection the Azads feel for each other. Despite Dr. Azad’s best efforts, the ties of his family are broken.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Soon, a teenage girl appears, asking for money. Her skirt is even shorter than her mother’s and her hair is highlighted the same, coppery color. Once she gets her money, she leaves, hardly acknowledging Chanu and Nazneen. Chanu says that is the tragedy of being an immigrant. One is always torn between two cultures, and then one’s children get caught in the struggle as well. Mrs. Azad says Chanu is talking crap. It’s really very simple, she says—they now live in a Western society where women are permitted to work and do what they want. The real tragedy is women feeling as if they have to cover themselves and behave demurely while men are free to live their lives.
Nazneen is characteristically silent during this debate. The so-called “tragedy of the immigrant” is one of the novel’s many dualities. Chanu is suggesting that the immigrant is forever torn in two, as he loves and is loyal to his home but must assimilate in order to succeed. Mrs. Azad is not torn at all. She has chosen to embrace the west because it offers women equality. Nazneen observes, though, that while Mrs. Azad seems empowered, she is not happy.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Mrs. Azad invites Nazneen to come with her. She grabs a teddy bear from a cupboard and hands it to Raqib, but he just falls asleep. Standing there, watching the doctor’s wife smoke, Nazneen feels a strange affection for her, and she realizes that Dr. Azad comes to visit her and Chanu not to get away from his family but to study one that is even unhappier than his own.
Nazneen and Mrs. Azad could not be more different from each other, but still, there is a sisterhood between them, a kind of shared understanding that arises from the fact that they are both women living in a man’s world.  
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
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Sometime later, Nazneen wakes from a dream in which Hasina is working in a garment factory, ironing collars, then her own hand, then her face. She awakens to discover that Raqib’s skin is on fire. Nazneen looks around her bedroom. The large, dark wardrobe looms nearby, stuffed now with two more broken chairs. Chanu snores beside her. Nazneen knows in this moment that her son is the only thing that matters to her. She holds him up and his head droops. She runs to the hallway and flicks on the light, calling to the baby to wake up. Chanu appears, asking what is wrong. Then he, too, grabs the baby and tells him to wake up, but Raqib does not respond.
Nazneen’s dream suggests that she is still consumed with concern for her sister. She worries that Hasina’s work is putting her in some kind of danger and that it might be erasing her beauty, which is tantamount to her identity. The wardrobe’s presence in this scene is also a harbinger of dark things to come. It is a reminder of another nightmare Nazneen had, the one in which she was trapped inside. The dreams both hint at the seriousness of Raqib’s illness.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon