Brick Lane

by

Monica Ali

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Brick Lane can help.

Clothes and Textiles Symbol Analysis

Clothes and Textiles Symbol Icon

Like furniture, clothing acts, on the surface, as code for status. In this novel about poor people struggling to rise up in the world and immigrants working both to fit in in a new place and establish their own identities there, clothing is indicative not only of wealth—or lack thereof—but of a character’s identification with a particular ethnic group. In the London streets where men wear expensive suits and women don short skirts and sharp heels, Nazneen, clad in a sari, feels like an interloper. It is her clothing that sets her apart more than anything else. Chanu, whose dearest hope is to be a “big man,” i.e. important, rich, and admired, is a sloppy dresser. His best suit has gone shiny in the knees. Karim, who begins his time with Nazneen in jeans and trainers, ends in Punjabi pajamas and a skullcap. His attire mimics his journey toward radicalization. And Razia, refusing to cave to the petty pressure of the Tower Hamlets Muslim community, trades her sari in for a Union Jack sweatshirt and pants.

Clothing is not just an outer manifestation of a person’s inner state, however. Given Bangladesh’s history as a textile giant, and England’s history of exploiting that fact, it is clear that Ali is making a complex argument about clothing’s role in the East’s fraught relationship with the West. Nazneen, Razia, and Hasina all work for sweatshops. They slave over jeans and skirts and sparkly vests, working nonstop in order to pay for rent and food. Clothing is therefore also a reminder of the grave injustice of exploitative labor practices and the West’s insidious way of plundering Eastern talent and resources for its own gain.

Clothes and Textiles Quotes in Brick Lane

The Brick Lane quotes below all refer to the symbol of Clothes and Textiles. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Brick Lane published in 2003.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Nazneen listened, breathing quietly and hoping that if they forgot about her they might reveal the source of their woes. It was something to do with being a woman, of that much she was sure. When she was a woman she would find out. She looked forward to that day. She longed to be enriched by this hardship, to cast off her childish baggy pants and long shirt and begin to wear this suffering that was as rich and layered and deeply colored as the saris that enfolded Amma's troubled bones.

Related Characters: Nazneen (speaker), Rupban, Auntie
Related Symbols: Clothes and Textiles
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

“You think that a clothing is just a clothing. But as a matter of fact, it is not. In a place like this it is a serious thing.”

Related Characters: Arzoo (speaker), Nazneen, Karim
Related Symbols: Clothes and Textiles
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

How had she made him? She did not know. She had patched him together, working in the dark. She had made a quilt out of pieces of silk, scraps of velvet, and now that she held it up to the light the stitches showed up large and crude, and they cut across everything.

Related Characters: Nazneen (speaker), Karim
Related Symbols: Clothes and Textiles
Page Number: 382
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Brick Lane LitChart as a printable PDF.
Brick Lane PDF

Clothes and Textiles Symbol Timeline in Brick Lane

The timeline below shows where the symbol Clothes and Textiles appears in Brick Lane. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
...visit the shops on Bethnal Green Road. Nazneen is looking for material for a new sari. She asks Chanu if he thinks a pink and yellow material is nice. Rather than... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...all her love for his daughters and for Rupban, who died while wearing her best sari. (full context)
Chapter 3
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Back home, Nazneen makes a dinner of lentils and rice and soaks her rain-sodden sari in the bathtub. Curled there, it looks like a pink python. Chanu comes home and... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
...indifference to household chores. She secretly adds hot peppers to Chanu’s sandwiches. She puts his socks away in his drawer unwashed and makes sure to mess up his files whenever she... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
...her landlord, Mr. Chowdhury, who has promised to try to find her work in a garment factory. Nazneen still worries about Hasina, but Chanu seems relieved that she is no longer... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
...ready for bed. Nazneen is continuing her housework strike, but Chanu doesn’t notice the dirty socks or poorly folded pants. He talks to her about his plan for a lending library... (full context)
Chapter 4
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
...Nazneen is intrigued, and Razia goes on to explain that Mrs. Islam’s habit of keeping handkerchiefs up her sleeve goes back to a time when she and her husband ran a... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Nazneen notices that Chanu’s soles are separating from his shoes and the knees of his pants are shiny. When she first met him, Chanu was... (full context)
Chapter 5
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 6
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...She bathes carefully and then, approaching the dreaded dark wardrobe, pulls a pair of Chanu’s pants out and tries them on, telling herself she isn’t harming anyone. Then she trades the... (full context)
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...young men flirt with her and put on exaggerated displays of chivalry. Nazneen pulls her headscarf over her face to hide a smile. (full context)
Chapter 7
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...down, as it is too close to the railway. Hasina writes to Nazneen of the garment factory where she works. It is a half hour walk from her apartment and Hasina... (full context)
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
The factory consists of three main areas: one contains the sewing machines (this is where Hasina works), one is for cutting and finishing (this is where... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Hasina began her work at the garment factory as a runner, carting thread and cloth around, but she is a sewing woman... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...to tell a lie. Aleya’s husband has grown anxious. He wants her to wear a burkha in the factory now, but Hasina writes that men and women don’t work together anyway—the... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...has been telling Hasina to watch out. Once the jute cutters find out there’s a garment girl in the house, there is bound to be trouble, but Hasina takes offense and... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
The garment factory is offering the workers overtime so they can finish a large order from Japan.... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...America and wishes he had a daughter to rub his feet. Hasina takes off his shoes and obliges him, making him happy. Zainab comes over, complaining about Mr. Chowdhury filling the... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...He is a kind man, though unattractive. Hasina is only dry when she’s at the garment factory, where Shahnaz is worried that Abdul is paying Hasina too much attention. At one... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...beaten by her husband. The previous month she was named the best worker at the garment factory and was given a sari as a reward. Her husband, upset by the constant... (full context)
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...be as sweet as her mother. Hasina is being shunned by her friends at the garment factory. She doesn’t know what she’s done, but no one will speak to her except... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...a father to her. She is confident that Shahnaz will set everything right quickly. The garment workers all look up to her and follow her lead. (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...Hasina feels lucky to have him for a friend, especially because the women at the garment factory continue to treat her poorly. Only Renu will speak to her. She tells Hasina... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...Hasina tells Nazneen not to worry about her. It is quiet around her at the garment factory, but she is working hard (she rarely takes a lunch now) and she is... (full context)
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...drama. Hussain has bought a few goats and they have an appetite only for Zainab’s washing. Zainab is furious, but Hussain just laughs. Hasina is thinking about getting a few chickens... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...do such a thing, but Shahnaz just walks away. Later, Hasina is called to the garment factory office. Hasina knows this does not bode well. One is only called to the... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
The garment factory manager who calls Hasina to the office is famous for his scaly skin and... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...is her fault. She married Malek. She left him. She took a job at the garment factory. She let Abdul walk her home. She lived in Mr. Chowdhury’s apartment without paying. (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...September 1993, and Hasina apologizes for not writing sooner. She has begun to visit the garment factory, hoping to talk to her old friends. She catches glimpses of Shahnaz, who is... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...offer of marriage from Ahmed, an albino man who supervises the night shift at a shoe factory. Ahmed is a serious man. Sometimes he visits with her and he pays full... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...at work, she cleans. Ahmed demands that everything be in the proper order, especially his shoes and laces. Hasina knows how much Nazneen likes leaving her flat, but Hasina loves the... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...her. He finds her cleaning satisfactory. He is happy with the way she keeps the shoe laces orderly. He tells her that when he comes home from work and sees her... (full context)
Chapter 8
Cultural and Religious Sexism 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... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...of his plans had failed him. Every new business he hoped to start, every new suit and briefcase and pair of shoes bought, ended in absolutely nothing, and even when he... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...Then Chanu comes home with a parcel and interrupts her. He has a batch of pants that need to be hemmed—and that’s not all. For two months, he keeps her sewing.... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...shaving, too, and humming. Nazneen recognizes these as good signs. She eventually runs out of sewing and that day, Chanu gathers the family together and announces that they will be moving... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
...cab driver. One hot day a new middleman shows up, armed with a bale of jeans over one shoulder. This is how Karim comes into her life. (full context)
Chapter 10
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...pleasing to look at. He tells her that his uncle owns the sweatshop she’s been sewing for. The next time he comes to see her, Nazneen still has five hems to... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...from the dream and gets up to sew. She’s working on a pile of sequined vests in need of zippers. Having finished three, she takes one to the bathroom and tries... (full context)
Chapter 11
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Nazneen finishes reading Hasina’s letter and puts it away. Razia, dressed in a Union Jack sweatshirt despite the hot weather, has come to visit. Neighbors in the estates are gossiping about... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Karim comes to pick up the vests from Nazneen. While he is there his phone rings—a call from his father, he says.... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...she sees that the group gathering is almost all men. An intense man in immense pajamas and a skull cap welcomes her, and Karim tells her to sit down. The meeting... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...in the skull cap points out the group’s spiritual leader, an old imam in women’s shoes who just got to London and who has no idea what’s going on. (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Karim comes to Nazneen’s apartment with jeans and unlined dresses. They talk. He tells her about the persecution of Muslims in Chechnya... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Karim often composes leaflets while Nazneen sews. He is unhappy with what he sees as apathy among the members of the Bengal... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...a fight. Shahana walks ahead of her mother, drawing stares. Nazneen wishes she were wearing pants today. Chanu has been waffling on the issue of the girls’ attire. If he has... (full context)
Chapter 13
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Nazneen puts on her red and gold silk sari for no particular reason. The leaves in the fabric keep distracting her, and at one... (full context)
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...in for a meeting. Nazneen obliges him, happy that she wore her red and gold sari. She imagines Karim taking the stage and giving a stirring speech, with every word directed... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
...begins to lose ground. More and more people side with Karim, including two girls in burkhas who want to be included in the group’s mission but whom the Questioner refuses to... (full context)
Chapter 14
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...time to become a tourist, and he buys a guide book and a pair of shorts festooned with pockets for the purpose. They begin on a double decker bus and then... (full context)
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Nazneen and Razia are out shopping. Razia is looking for cloth for Shefali, who just finished her exams and is planning to go to university. Nazneen... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...Razia will think of something to get Mrs. Islam off their backs. She selects her fabric and pulls out her purse to pay, but it’s empty. The white sales girl is... (full context)
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
That night, Chanu is reading a book about the Bengali textile industry at the time of British imperial rule. He mentions to Nazneen that the English... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Nazneen can’t sleep, so she gets up to wash the girls’ clothes in the sink. She finishes quickly, but a horror rushes on her suddenly—a realization of... (full context)
Chapter 15
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
...the door and Nazneen knows it is Karim. He comes in with a bale of jeans over one shoulder. They stand for some time not talking, and Nazneen feels the room... (full context)
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...the couch with his feet on the coffee table, that there are holes in his socks. He tells her that he hasn’t visited for a while because he’s been away, visiting... (full context)
Chapter 16
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...time, began furnishing it again with modest but elegant pieces she could afford on her seamstress’s salary. Now it’s all gone, and Razia admits that she’s known for some time that... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
...linen and sleep there. Chanu buys her an ivory comb and a beautiful bolt of cloth. She doesn’t want either. One night, when ice skating is on the television, Chanu drags... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...thing that seems to puncture Nazneen’s depression. Soon, though, she is back in a fog, sewing and worrying. Chanu rushes in and orders her to turn on the television. (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...for a while after school tomorrow. Nazneen agrees. Nazma starts to leave, pausing by Nazneen’s sewing machine. There is a glint in her eye as she asks Nazneen if she is... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
People in the estates start to experience a backlash from September 11. Girls have their head scarves pulled off. Razia is spit on. Chanu gathers his family into the living room and... (full context)
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
Karim changes his style. He trades the jeans and gym shoes for Panjabi pajama and a skull cap. Nazneen senses he doesn’t want... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...a bit and then tells her that, unlike the women who go around in short skirts speaking English all the time, she is the real thing. She is reminded of the... (full context)
Chapter 17
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...does any impressions. They walk past a store called Fashion Fusion. It seems to sell saris to white girls, and Razia is roused to talk finally. She wonders how people can... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...claims that Islam is a religion of hate and violence. Karim, still dressed in his Panjabi pajama and skull cap, is furious with such claims. Everyone is always talking about Islamic terrorists,... (full context)
Chapter 18
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 19
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...it was not an accident. On that day, Hasina had mostly been staring at her shoes. New, patent leather, they filled her with happiness. Then she saw Rupban walk across the... (full context)
Chapter 20
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Displacement and Dissociation Theme Icon
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
...be something that he’s not, she’s pieced Karim together in her mind from pieces of cloth, and now the seams are showing. (full context)
Chapter 21
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Immigrant Life Theme Icon
It is March 2002 now, and Razia has built a small sewing business for herself and Nazneen. Razia approached the Brick Lane sari shop, Fashion Fusion, and... (full context)