Brick Lane


Monica Ali

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A traditional and conservative Islamic practice, purdah dictates that women inhabit the private, domestic sphere while men occupy the public. Hasina, maligned for her position as a “garment girl”—meaning she works outside the home in a garment factory alongside men—feels the need to inform her judgmental neighbor, Zainab, that she still proudly keeps purdah, meaning that her purity is very much intact. Mrs. Islam likewise brags to Nazneen, Razia, and the other female inhabitants of Tower Hamlets that she keeps purdah, but it is later discovered that this is a lie because she runs a money lending business that requires much mixing with men. The onus of keeping purdah is almost always on the women themselves, while men are freer to behave as they choose, highlighting how the religious practice can easily turn to sexism.

Purdah Quotes in Brick Lane

The Brick Lane quotes below are all either spoken by Purdah or refer to Purdah. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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 1 Quotes

“Mixing with all sorts: Turkish, English, Jewish. All sorts. I am not old-fashioned,” said Mrs. Islam. “I don't wear burkha. I keep purdah in my mind, which is the most important thing. Plus, I have cardigans and anoraks and a scarf for my head. But if you mix with all these people, even if they are good people, you have to give up your culture to accept theirs. That’s how it is.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Islam (speaker), Nazneen, Razia Iqbal, Jorina
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
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Brick Lane PDF

Purdah Term Timeline in Brick Lane

The timeline below shows where the term Purdah appears in Brick Lane. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 7
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
The day Hasina is writing of is hartal, or an official day of striking. Mr. Chowdhury is against both the strikers and the... (full context)
Cultural and Religious Sexism Theme Icon
Luck, Class, and Fate Theme Icon
...Rupban would never have threatened to kill herself—that would have been blasphemy. It is another hartal, or strike day, and Hasina is home, writing to Nazneen and listening to the jute... (full context)