Pigeon English

by

Stephen Kelman

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Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Analysis

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 Theme Icon

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 fact that Papa, Agnes, and Grandma Ama remain back in Ghana. Harri has been promised that the family will soon be reunited in London, at which point London will truly become “home.” However, the tragedy of the story lies in the fact that Harri dies before this takes place, at which point the pigeon assures him that he is going “home.” Therefore, home is presented as somewhere that is continually deferred. Many of the characters long for home, but the novel suggests that home is more of a myth than a physical place.  

Harri makes many observations about the contrast between life in London and life in Ghana. Some of this contrast is based on cultural differences. For example, Harri is puzzled by a sign in the playground that says, “Say No to Strangers,” and this bewilderment is echoed by Mr. Frimpong, who—after he is knocked to the ground by the Dell Farm Crew—is dismayed that in England, strangers do not look out for one another as they do in Ghana. The implication is that part of what makes somewhere “home” is how strangers relate to each other, so it is hard to feel at home in a place like London where strangers treat each other with suspicion and apathy.

Other differences between Harri’s lives in London and Ghana are rooted in socioeconomic issues. There is poorer infrastructure in Ghana, and Harri recalls having to deal with electricity blackouts. At the same time, Harri’s family was, in relative terms, wealthier in Ghana than they are in the UK. Harri expresses his sadness at the fact that, in London, Mamma has to work at night as well as during the day. This is the reason that baby Agnes cannot live with them, and it therefore exacerbates the feeling that Harri and his family are not yet at home in England. The novel thus emphasizes the challenges that come with the immigrant experience. Not only are immigrants removed from home and familiarity, but they have to face additional social and economic challenges—including the pressure to assimilate—which can leave them feeling even more isolated and without a home. 

The novel also explores the limitations placed on travel and migration by government authorities, further complicated the concept of home. At one point, Nish and his wife—who are from Pakistan—are arrested by police in order to be deported. Meanwhile, Auntie Sonia burns off her fingerprints so that she can keep travelling around the world and avoid being detained by border authorities. Harri explains, “If you have no fingerprints […] they don’t know where you belong so they can’t send you back.” This explanation complicates ideas about home and migration by suggesting it is possible to not “belong” anywhere. Harri also notes that being black makes it especially difficult to travel and migrate, as “some of the countries won’t let you in if you’re black.” These stories emphasize that racism and xenophobia mean that people have unequal access to home and the feeling of belonging. “Home” is not a neutral concept, but a politically-charged one. 

Harri and his family are very religious, and this lends itself to a spiritual understanding of home. Throughout the novel, Harri is constantly thinking about heaven and wondering what it is like. Of course, for Christians like Harri and his family, heaven is the ultimate meaning of home—far more so than any place on Earth. Harri’s preoccupation with heaven can arguably be explained by the fact that he has recently experienced so much change and instability surrounding his conception of “home” on Earth. For Harri, there is comfort in knowing that heaven is an unchangeable, safe home.

When Harri is stabbed at the end of the novel, the pigeon tells him, “You’ll be going home soon,” adding, “You’ve been called home.” Harri seems to assume that the pigeon is referring to heaven, which leads Harri to ask if the pigeon works for God. The pigeon refuses to answer, leaving it ambiguous as to whether Harri is going to heaven (home in the Christian sense) or whether “home” refers to something else. In either case, the novel ends on a bittersweet note. Harri may be “going home,” but in death he is leaving behind his homes in the mortal world: London, Ghana, and his family. Ultimately, the novel suggests that because people on Earth are displaced from their homes and made to feel unwelcome in new homes, perhaps “home” is a concept that does not truly exist in the mortal realm.

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Home and the Immigrant Experience ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Home and the Immigrant Experience appears in each chapter of Pigeon English. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Home and the Immigrant Experience Quotes in Pigeon English

Below you will find the important quotes in Pigeon English related to the theme of Home and the Immigrant Experience.
March Quotes

I live in Copenhagen House. My flat is on floor 9 out of 14. It's not even hutious. I can look from the window now and my belly doesn't even turn over.

I love going in the lift, it's brutal, especially when you're the only one in there. Then you could be a spirit or a spy. You even forget the pissy smell because you're going so fast.

It's proper windy at the bottom like a whirlpool. If you stand at the bottom where the tower meets the ground and put your arms out, you can pretend like you're a bird. You can feel the wind try to pick you up, it's nearly like flying.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Pigeons
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
April Quotes

Altaf is very quiet. Nobody really knows him. You're not supposed to talk to Somalis because they're pirates. Everybody agrees. If you talk to them you might give away a clue to where you keep your treasure and the next

thing you know, your wife has been strangled alive and they're throwing you to the sharks. Me and Altaf don't have to go to RE. Mamma doesn't want me to hear about the false gods, she says it's a waste of time, and Altaf's mamma thinks the same thing.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Mamma, Altaf
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Some rules I have learned from my new school:

No running on the stairs.

No singing in class.

Always put your hand up before you ask a question.

Don't swallow the gum or it will get stuck in your guts and you'll die.

Jumping in the puddle means you're a retard (I don't even agree with this one).

Going around the puddle means you're a girl.

The last one in close the door.

The first one to answer the question loves the teacher.

If a girl looks at you three times in a row it means she loves you.

If you look at her back you love her.

He who smelt it dealt it.

He who denied it supplied it.

He who sensed it dispensed it.

He who knew it blew it.

He who noted it floated it.

He who declared it aired it.

He who spoke it broke it.

He who exposed it composed it.

He who blamed it flamed it.

(All these are just for farts.)

If you look at the back of a mirror you'll see the devil.

Don't eat the soup. The dinner ladies pissed in it.

Don't lend Ross Kelly your pen. He picks his arse klinkers with it.

Keep to the left (everywhere). The right is out of bounds.

The library stairs are safe.

If he wears a pinky ring he's a gay (a pinky ring is a ring on your little finger).

If she wears a bracelet on her ankle she's a lesbian (shags it up with other ladies).

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker)
Page Number: 63-64
Explanation and Analysis:

In football nobody used to pass to me. I thought it meant they hated me. Then I found out it's because I used the wrong command. Instead of saying pass to me you have to say man on. Apart from that the rules are the same as where I used to live. Vilis still doesn't pass to me but I don't care. Where he comes from (Latvia) they burn black people into tar and make roads out of them. Everybody agrees.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Vilis
Page Number: 73-74
Explanation and Analysis:

Auntie Sonia burned her fingers to get the fingerprints off. Now she has no fingerprints at all. It's so if the police catch her they can't send her away. Your fingerprints tell them who you are. If you have no fingerprints, you can't be

anybody. Then they don't know where you belong so they can't send you back. Then they have to let you stay.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Auntie Sonia
Related Symbols: Fingerprints
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Auntie Sonia hasn't even done anything bad. She's never killed anybody or stolen anything. She just likes to go to different places. She likes to see the different things there. Some of the countries won't let you in if you're black. You have to sneak in. When you're in you just act like everybody else. Auntie Sonia only does the same things as them. She goes to work and shopping. She eats her dinner and goes to the park.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Auntie Sonia
Related Symbols: Fingerprints
Page Number: 93-94
Explanation and Analysis:
May Quotes

I just wanted to get your attention, Harri, get you out of another mess. I'm trying to help you while I still can, I'm trying my best but there's only so much I can do from here […] Home will always find you if you walk true and taller than those weeds. You can be a tree, you can be as big as you want to be.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri)
Related Symbols: Pigeons
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

In England nobody helps you if you fall over. They can't tell if you're serious or if it's just a trick. It's too hard to know what's real.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Mr. Frimpong
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

Wars

Kids vs Teachers

Northwell Manor High vs Leabridge High

Dell Farm Crew vs Lewsey Hill Crew

Emos vs Sunshine

Turkey vs Russia

Arsenal vs Chelsea

Black vs White

Police vs Kids

God vs Allah

Chicken Joe's vs KFC

Cats vs Dogs

Aliens vs Predators

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
June Quotes

Signs of guilt include:

Ants in your pant

Talking too fast

Always looking around you like you've lost something

Smoking too much

Crying too much

Scratching

Biting your fingers

Spitting

Sudden bouts of violence

Uncontrolled gas (farting a lot)

Religious hysteria

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Dean
Page Number: 155-156
Explanation and Analysis:

I wonder what Heaven is really like. Is it different for kids than for grown-ups. Like would there still be somebody there telling him to come in

from playing football when it got too dark. The dead boy could do the most tricks, he could flick the ball up with his heel and keep it up for donkey hours with both feet. He always aimed his shots for the corners like you're supposed

to and he was even good at heading. He was good at everything. I wonder if there's dogs like Asbo who steal your ball. That would be funny. I hope in Heaven the animals can all talk, then they can tell you when they're happy so

you don't have to guess. You can usually tell from the eyes but it only works on bigger animals, not pigeons or flies. Their eyes only look sad.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), The Dead Boy
Related Symbols: Pigeons, Heaven
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:
July Quotes

I ran fast. I ran down the hill and through the tunnel. I shouted:

Me: 'Poppy I love you!'

It made a mighty echo. Nobody else heard it.

I ran past the real church. I ran past the cross.

I ran past the Jubilee.

I ran past the CCTV camera. I let it snap me for luck.

I ran past the other pigeons. I pretended they called hello to me.

Me: 'Pigeons I love you!'

It didn't even feel stupid, it felt brilliant. I ran past the playground and the dead climbing frame. I was running superfast. I was going faster than I've ever gone, my feet were just a blur. Nobody could ever catch me, I was going

to break the world record.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Poppy Morgan
Related Symbols: Pigeons
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

Pigeon: 'Don't worry, you'll be going home soon. When it's time to go I'll show you the way.'

Me: 'Can't I stay here?'

Pigeon: 'It's not up to me. You've been called home.'

Me: 'It hurts. Do you work for God?'

Pigeon: 'I'm sorry if it hurts. It won't be long now.'

Me: 'I like your feet. They're nice and scratchy. I like all your colours.'

Pigeon: 'Thank you. I like you too, I always did. There's nothing to be scared of.'

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Pigeons, Heaven
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

You could see the blood. It was darker than you thought. It just felt too crazy, I couldn't keep my eyes open. I just wanted to remember, if I could remember it would be alright. Agnes's tiny fat fingers and face. I couldn't see it anymore. All babies look the same.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Agnes
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis: