Brick Lane

by

Monica Ali

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Brick Lane: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrative returns to Tower Hamlets in London and Nazneen’s point of view. It is February 2001, and Chanu is on the floor (he rejects chairs now) teaching Shahana and Bibi, his and Nazneen’s youngest daughter, the poem “My Golden Bengal” in preparation for the family’s trip home to Bangladesh. Bibi does her best to recite her lines, but Shahana has no patience for this activity. She rejects everything about Bangladesh, favoring Western things instead. Her attitude infuriates Chanu, who often ends up beating her. Nazneen, who strives to keep busy with housework, notices that Chanu is the one in the family most upset by the beatings and Shahana the least.
Chanu has taken it upon himself to school his daughters about the history of their homeland. In doing so he is hoping to avoid the so-called “tragedy of the immigrant.” He wants his family to love Bangladesh as he does. He has a formidable opponent in Shahana, however, and the kind, gentle Chanu has grown violent in his frustration. It would seem that Shahana is being beaten at least in part because she is not Raqib—that is, not a son.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Chanu’s methods for beating are almost always ridiculous. He can always formulate a plan but can never execute, and Shahana often gets away, saying the same thing over and over: “I didn’t ask to be born here!” Later, Nazneen is trimming Chanu’s nose hairs. He tells her it is important that they go home to Bangladesh while the girls are still young, before they are rotten through with Western influence. Every part of Nazneen’s body and heart is straining toward her sister, but she worries that if they moved to Dhaka, Shahana would never forgive her. She trusts their future to God—he will see that everything is taken care of.
Both Chanu and Nazneen are, despite the passage of the years, remarkably consistent. Chanu, as always, is a failure and cannot even follow through on a promised beating. Nazneen, still in charge of her husband’s hygiene, and has gone back to trusting God and fate to sort out her family’s complex problems with assimilation and personal identity. It seems the death of Raqib may have had the effect of reversing Nazneen’s changing outlook on life.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
When Hasina was still working at the garment factory, Nazneen went to Chanu to ask if they might bring her to London. Chanu mocks the idea, telling her, sure, why not bring the entire village? Nazneen reminds him that she only has one sister, and he, in turn, reminds her that it would be ridiculous to bring Hasina to London since they are going to Bangladesh, and once he decides something, the subject is finished.
Perhaps because he is an often ridiculous and ineffectual parent and a dysfunctional employee, Chanu attempts to wield his power as a husband. It works because Nazneen is too afraid and timid to question his authority, even when her sister’s life is at stake.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
But they didn’t leave London because they didn’t have the money. They move instead to a two-bedroom apartment in the Rosemead block of Tower Hamlets, and Chanu remains unemployed, lounging around the apartment where Nazneen tries to keep herself busy, tidying and straightening. She would have liked to begin sewing from home like Razia as a way to make a little money, but Chanu disapproves and she lets the subject drop.
Hasina advised Nazneen in one of her letters to turn to work to improve her state of mind. Housework is an unending task. It gives her very little satisfaction and there is no reward at the end of the day. Chanu, though, likes that it keeps Nazneen very much in her place.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
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Chanu is no longer pursuing any academic degrees. He teaches more than learns now, and the girls and Nazneen are often his pupils. Today, he is telling Nazneen about a book he’s reading about Bangladesh’s history as an international textile manufacturer. He then begins quietly rehearsing a lesson he will later impart to the girls. Nazneen knows how it will go—Bibi will try her best to learn, while Shahana will sigh impatiently, running for the television the moment Chanu sets them free.
Bangladesh’s role as a textile producer is significant, given the importance of clothing in this novel. Clothes offer characters a chance to try on a different persona. In this instance, Chanu is trying on the role of professor. He hopes to teach his daughters to value their home. The lessons are lost on Shahana, who is learning about life via British TV.
Themes
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Chanu wants his daughters to have a sense of Bangladesh’s history so that they can feel proud of where they’ve come from, a country that was fought over by four European countries and provided England with one third of its Indian empire revenues. Nazneen, meanwhile, thinks of Shahana’s habit of turning inward. Such moments always end in tantrums and in Shahana kicking the furniture, or her sister. She saves her hardest kicks for her mother.
When Shahana throws her fits, she is fighting against her family’s immigrant status. She resents being different, and therefore Chanu’s efforts at forcing her to celebrate her Bengali heritage only anger her further. She directs that anger mostly at Nazneen because she represents what Shahana most wants to avoid.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Nazneen gets up in the middle of the night and eats curry cold over the kitchen sink, thinking of Hasina and the letter she sent about the both of them living under the same moon. Nazneen has her doubts; the London moon is too cold and far away. Bibi interrupts her thoughts. She asks for some curry and they eat together, both pretending not to look at the other.
Nazneen continues to pine for home and for Hasina. Whereas Gouripur’s moon is warm and welcoming, London’s is cold and distant, rejecting her. Bibi, on the other hand, accepts her, and that connects her to the city and to England.
Themes
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Razia has come to visit. She complains of arthritis in her hands and aches in her joints, all from the sewing she’s been doing. And she complains that her kids get the money while all she gets is older. Tariq always needs twenty pounds for books or for his computer. Shefali is in her final year of high school and wants to take a year off before entering university. Razia smokes and complains and makes fun of Chanu. Nazneen giggles and worries she won’t be able to get the smell out of the apartment before her husband gets home.
The fate Chanu fears for his family is already in full effect in Razia’s. Her children are very much products of a Western education. Razia works hard to support them, but it’s never enough. They simply want more and more and more. Raising children, like housework (and getting the smoke smell out of an apartment), is a seemingly never-ending, thankless task.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
When Chanu returns, he is burdened by two large packages. The box is for Nazneen, an early birthday present. The bag is for him. The girls start unwrapping the box. It contains a sewing machine. The bag holds a computer. Nazneen tries not to wonder too much about where the money came from, and they spend the evening experimenting with both, everyone in good humor until Shahana notices that her father has spoken to her mother in English. Shahana complains that Chanu won’t let them speak English in the house. Nazneen, who has learned English from the girls, tries to defuse the situation by telling Shahana that Chanu was right about her not taking English lessons at the college. Chanu, Nazneen says, is right about most things, but Shahana screams that she hates him, all the while kicking at Nazneen’s shins as hard as she can.
Nazneen’s powerless position as a wife does not allow her to question where Chanu, who is currently unemployed, might have gotten the money for such expensive items. It also demands that she tell both Chanu and their daughters that he is right about everything. Shahana, though, isn’t buying it. She wants her mother to be more independent, and to think for herself. Nazneen does not see this. She wants to keep the peace between Chanu and Shahana, even if that means she must submit to her daughter’s periodic outbursts of violence. Nazneen’s role as wife and mother is shown to be one of pure submission.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Nazneen practices on the sewing machine, getting better all the time. She uses almost every bit of cloth in the apartment, applying different stitches and experimenting with patterns. One day, while Chanu is out buying groceries, Mrs. Islam drops by. She still carries her big black bag with her. Older now, Mrs. Islam fills it with medicines of every variety. She slumps down on Nazneen’s couch and notices her new sewing machine, calling it a “gold mine.” Then she asks when Nazneen and Chanu are going to send their children to the madrash, or Muslim school, she has founded. Nazneen says soon, but Chanu does not wish to send his daughters to her school. The fact that Bangladesh is a majority Muslin country is a matter of chance, he says.
Like Chanu, Nazneen is trying out a new role: that of seamstress. It excites and invigorates her, and, for the moment, the work she does is mostly for herself, which is a new sensation. Her relationship with Mrs. Islam is likewise in new territory. Nazneen no longer trusts the older woman, having found out about her seedy business dealings. The black bag is a symbol of Mrs. Islam’s corrupt nature, something she cannot disguise simply by founding a religious school. 
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Mrs. Islam then tells Nazneen to open her bag and put the money in the pocket. Misunderstanding, Nazneen roots around in the cavernous black bag, finding mostly broken cough drops. Gradually, it dawns on her that Mrs. Islam is asking Nazneen to give her money—fifty pounds, to be exact—and that Chanu must have taken out a loan to pay for the sewing machine and computer. The problem is, she doesn’t have the money. Mrs. Islam gets up and tells her it’s okay. She can pay her when she’s able. And next time she comes to visit, she says, she’ll bring her sons. They would like to see Chanu again.
Chanu did not consult Nazneen when he quit his job at the council back when Raqib was still in the hospital, and he did not consult her this time either when he decided to take out a loan with the unethical Mrs. Islam. As Nazneen’s husband, he is under no obligation to keep her informed, but this may not work to anyone’s advantage. Nazneen might have tried to talk him out of such a disastrous move if he’d only given her the chance.
Themes
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon