Pigeon English

by

Stephen Kelman

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Pigeon English can help.
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.
Pluralism vs. Prejudice Theme Icon

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 him “Ghana”—his community features a significant proportion of immigrants, and his recent arrival to England is mostly treated as unexceptional. On the other hand, the novel also suggests that just because a multicultural community appears to be coexisting harmoniously, in reality, this community might still be plagued by prejudice. Just because a community is multiethnic, doesn’t mean that its residents are open-minded and tolerant. Indeed, the novel indicates that it is necessary to possess an open-minded, loving attitude like Harri’s in order to avoid prejudice and live in harmony.

Racial and cultural prejudice informs the social world at Harri’s school. For example, Harri is bullied by a Latvian boy called Vilis, who tells him that in Latvia, “they burn black people into tar and make roads out of them.” Elsewhere in the novel, Harri explains that “you’re not supposed to talk to Somalis because they’re pirates.” These interactions show that prejudice is not unidirectional in the novel—it is not a simple case of people with racial privilege bullying those who are deemed inferior. Instead, it seems as if everyone in the novel holds prejudiced opinions about everyone else. The fact that Harri holds prejudiced opinions even though he is mainly a kind, loving, and open-minded person suggests that the power of prejudice often overcomes people’s (and especially children’s) innocent tolerance.

At the same time, Harri stands out as being more willing than others to overlook prejudice and accept people despite their differences. For example, he ends up dismissing the stereotype about Somalis being pirates and befriends a Somali boy named Altaf. Ironically, Harri and Altaf meet because both their mothers reject religious pluralism and request that their sons skip their religious education class so they don’t have to learn about other religions. Harri and Altaf’s friendship is thus an example of children being able to overcome the prejudiced instilled by both society at large and their own parents. Likewise, Harri’s friend Dean and girlfriend, Poppy, are both white, and Harri also remains friends with Jordan despite Mamma insisting that Jordan is a “waste of time.” Harri’s open-mindedness toward other people adds an element of optimism to the book, suggesting that it is possible for younger generations to refuse to inherit their parents’ prejudice.   

The novel paints Harri’s multicultural community as being plagued by prejudice, and while there is hope in Harri’s kindhearted, innocent willingness to accept those who are different from him, the cycle of prejudice is difficult to break. Experiencing prejudice can make people more likely to espouse similarly biased views as a defense mechanism—for example, when Harri attempts to deflect Vilis’ bullying by calling him “potato house.” However, in order for prejudice to truly give way to harmonious pluralism, it is necessary for all people to adopt Harri’s childlike, loving attitude toward others.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…

Pluralism vs. Prejudice ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Pluralism vs. Prejudice appears in each chapter of Pigeon English. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
chapter length:
Get the entire Pigeon English LitChart as a printable PDF.
Pigeon English PDF

Pluralism vs. Prejudice Quotes in Pigeon English

Below you will find the important quotes in Pigeon English related to the theme of Pluralism vs. Prejudice.
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

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 love it when you get a good surprise. Like the cement being there just waiting for us to write in it or like when you think somebody will be rubbish at something and then you find out they're actually brilliant at it. It was the same with Manik: nobody suspected him to be such a good goalie because he's so fat, but actually Manik's a brilliant goalie. It's impossible to score against him. Nothing ever gets past him […] I didn't think Dean would be such a good climber because he has orange hair. I just didn't suspect it. But actually he's a brilliant climber.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Lydia, Dean, Manik
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis: