Funny Boy

Arjie’s Burned-Down House Symbol Analysis

Arjie’s Burned-Down House Symbol Icon

During the epilogue chapter of Funny Boy, as ethnic riots break out in 1983, a Sinhalese mob shows up at Arjie’s house in the middle of the night and set fire to the house, which comes to represent. Luckily, his family has a plan and escapes in time, taking shelter in the storeroom of their neighbors, the Pereras. The next morning, they go outside and see that their house is completely unrecognizable. With nearly everything destroyed, it feels small and alien, nothing like the familiar space at the center of their past lives. Beyond marking an abrupt break between the past and the future, this moment shows Arjie’s family the severe dangers they face as Tamils in Sri Lanka: with their home, their country also becomes a forever foreign and unlivable place in the blink of an eye.

This points to the ambivalent nostalgia that characterizes Arjie’s narrative voice throughout the novel: living in Canada after the narrative’s events, he writes to remember the place (Sri Lanka, his home, and his sense of belonging in both) from which he was abruptly uprooted and to which he cannot return. In the book’s closing lines, on the day he is supposed to leave for Canada, Arjie visits his home once more and realizes that “everything that was not burnt had been stolen,” from pipes to furniture to flowers in the garden (presumably to be used in prayers “to increase [devotees’] chances of a better life in the next birth,” which clearly also serves as a metaphor for Arjie’s hope for a better life in Canada). The house now has a new layer of meaning: in addition to standing for the past that Arjie is now enthusiastically and resolutely putting behind him, it also points to the way his life was robbed of significance by the self-interest and shortsightedness of those who involved Sri Lanka in the war.

Arjie’s Burned-Down House Quotes in Funny Boy

The Funny Boy quotes below all refer to the symbol of Arjie’s Burned-Down House. 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:
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Funny Boy published in 1994.
6. Riot Journal: An Epilogue Quotes

Chithra Aunty began to cry. Amma went to her and tried to comfort her. There was something ironic about that. Amma comforting Chithra Aunty. Yet I understood it. Chithra Aunty was free to cry. We couldn’t, for if we started we would never stop.

Related Characters: Arjie (speaker), Amma, Appa, Sena Uncle, Chithra Aunty
Related Symbols: Arjie’s Burned-Down House
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:
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He was trying to cheer me up, and as I listened to him talk, something occurred to me that I had never really been conscious of before—Shehan was Sinhalese and I was not. This awareness did not change my feelings for him, it was simply there, like a thin translucent screen through which I watched him.

Related Characters: Arjie (speaker), Shehan Soyza, Sena Uncle, Chithra Aunty
Related Symbols: Arjie’s Burned-Down House
Page Number: 296-297
Explanation and Analysis:
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Arjie’s Burned-Down House Symbol Timeline in Funny Boy

The timeline below shows where the symbol Arjie’s Burned-Down House appears in Funny Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
6. Riot Journal: An Epilogue
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
...then they see smoke out of the small window and realize that the mob is burning their house down . The room gets intensely bright for a while, and then dark again, and the... (full context)
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
In the morning, the family goes to survey their burned-down house , which is unrecognizable except for the gate out front and generally seems much smaller.... (full context)
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
...he was sheltering Tamils, and that that night they would all be killed and his house burned . Amma and Appa want to go to a refugee camp, but Sena Uncle insists... (full context)
Forbidden Love and Family Theme Icon
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
...the purpose of buying groceries—was useless, because so many grocery stores were Tamil-owned and thus burned down. Many people visit Arjie, but “only bring dismal and depressing news.” The only person Arjie... (full context)
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
...that he had forgotten something, and went to visit the remnants of his family’s old burned-down house , which “looked even more bare, even more desolate than before.” He was astonished to... (full context)