Pigeon English


Stephen Kelman

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Themes and Colors
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Norms Theme Icon
Pluralism vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Pigeon English, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Home and the Immigrant Experience

When the novel begins, Harri, Mamma, and Lydia have just moved to London from Ghana. As a result, Harri is still in the process of adjusting to life in the UK. This is reflected in his idiosyncratic use of English and his observations about British customs, some of which he finds very strange. Harri tries to settle into his new home, but this task is difficult for several reasons—chief among them is the…

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Innocence vs. Guilt

The novel begins with the death of an unnamed character known only as “the dead boy.” Harri becomes obsessed with finding the boy’s killer, and he teams up with Dean on a “personal mission” to solve the case. This leads Harri to reflect on the nature of innocence versus guilt as he surveys his community for signs of the killer. At the same time, the novel’s exploration of innocence and guilt extends beyond…

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Language, Culture, and Norms

The title Pigeon English immediately emphasizes that the novel is concerned with questions of linguistic and cultural hybridity. The word “pidgin” refers to a hybrid language developed so people who speak different languages can communicate with one another—usually in a colonial context. Pidgin English, therefore, refers to languages that hybridize English with another language. The title of this book, Pigeon English, is a play on words, echoing Harri’s idiosyncratic use of language, as…

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Pluralism vs. Prejudice

Harri lives in the midst of a highly multicultural community. Alongside people with English heritage, Harri encounters other Ghanaian immigrants, Somalis, Pakistanis, Latvians, and others. In some ways, his community represents the ideal of multicultural pluralism, meaning a state in which multiple different groups of people with different backgrounds and belief systems live harmoniously alongside one another. Although Harri is occasionally made to feel different as a recent immigrant—for example, when X-Fire insists on nicknaming…

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Masculinity, Violence, and Death

Pigeon English is a coming-of-age novel, but it also specifically deals with the challenges of being a boy—and particularly a young black boy living in a tough, violent community. Although Harri does not have a personal inclination toward violence, throughout the novel he faces pressure from the Dell Farm Crew to prove himself as a man by harming others. To X-Fire and his gang, inflicting violence is a cool, boast-worthy pursuit. This is made clear…

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