The Buddha of Suburbia-Identity

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How does the multicultural British society influence the identity of Karim in The Buddha of Suburbia?


Identity is often characterized as an individual's comprehension of him or herself as a discrete, separate entity. The word comes from the Latin word “idem”, which means “the same”. Our identity is formed by our circle of acquaintances throughout our entire life; it’s a lifelong process which consists of the development of the distinct personality of an individual under particular circumstances caused by our formation of opinion and as mentioned before, our circle of acquaintances but another influential fact is the society. It’s a particular stage in the life of an individual, in where the individual posses his or her characteristics. This stage in life defines the individual to others as well as themselves.

Some identities are acquired with birth whereas others are obtained throughout life. A considerable factor with reference to this identity formation is the fact, that the identity is affected by the encounters that are made throughout life. Therefore identity is not a stationary notion; it’s a notion that undergoes a progressive change throughout life. The difficulty of understanding the meaning of this term, vary from individual to individual. The complexity of this term is even more difficult to deal with if the individual is from another cultural background as well as a social background which is the case in the short story The Buddha of Suburbia” by Hanif Kureishi.

Karim, the protagonist in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia is a model of individuals of this background whose identity is influenced and formed by the multicultural British society he lives in.

The reason why I chose the topic “Identity” in relation to the novel “The Buddha of Suburbia” is, because I can personally identify myself with the protagonist Karim. I am also from another cultural and social background, since my family emigrated from Afghanistan into Germany, so that I was born in Germany.

My first topic functions as a background to how a person’s identity is formed and other circumstances that may effect this development, such as immigrant background. Besides, it describes the postcolonial influences on the individual’s identity in Britain; the next portion of my essay deals with the factors that form or influence the protagonist’s identity.  In order to have an overview I will present a summary of the novel in this chapter. I will give a general analyse and after that I will investigate the influence of the family, parents and of the community on the protagonist’s identity. At the end of my assignment, I will outline the parallels and differences between the protagonist and me, since I can identify myself with him.

Overall, my assignment is divided into three sections:

I. Identity

II. Which factors form or influence the protagonist’s identity in The Buddha of Suburbia?

III. Evaluation

I will precede dividing those 3 subtitles in 9 other subtitles.

My intention with this assignment is to show how the multicultural British society influences the identity of the main character Karim.


Hanif Kureishi, the screenwriter, novelist and filmmaker was born in London as a son of an Englishwoman and a Pakistani in year 1954. He studied philosophy at King’s college. Since he grew up experiencing cultural and racial conflicts, most of his works are marked by this.                                                                                                                                  
His first screenplay for the film, “My beautiful Laundrette”, was chosen for an Academy Award. Furthermore, he has written the screenplays for “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid” and “London Kills Me”. From his short story “My Son the Fanatic” (included in Love in a Blue Time, 1997), the eponymous film was adapted, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.

The first novel of Hanif Kureishi “The Buddha of Suburbia” is semi-autobiographical and was published in 1990. The novel won the Whitbread First Novel Award and was made by the BBC in 1993, into a four-part television show. “The Black Album” is his second novel and explores some of the issues facing the Muslim community in Britain, in the 1980s. His first collection of short stories is named “Loving in a Blue Time” and revolves around people working in the media. Other books by Kureishi are: The Mother, My Ear at His Heart, Intimacy, Dreaming and Scheming, Midnight All Day, Gabrielle’s Gift, The Body.

I. Identity

1.1 The meaning of identity

The senior lecturer in sociology at the Open University and Manchester University, Kath Woodward, claims that identity is something completely different from personality in many important respects. According to her, two persons could share personality traits with each other but to share a whole identity is not simple. She states that a person chooses to identify with a group or specific identity. It is of importance for the individual to have a similar identity as one group of people and a different one from others. “Identity is marked by similarity that is of the people like us and by difference, of those who are not”. Identity creates a link between individuals and the world they live in. Moreover, it is a combination of how an individual sees himself and how others see him. Thus, it is a socially recognized position.

According to Woodward, there is not always a match in how a person sees himself and how the society sees that person. There can be a tension in -how much control I have in forming my identities -and how much control is exercised over me. “Material, social and physical constraints prevent us from successfully presenting ourselves in some identity positions – constraints which include the perception of others.”

The link between the individual and others is not only indicated by the connection between how the individual sees himself or herself and how other people see him or her, but rather by the connection between what the individual wants to be and the influences, pressures and opportunities which are available.

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In the dictionary the meaning of identity is the following:

The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group”.

What this however, means in reality for one single, but also for the general public; with new and unknown chances, but also the problems that are hidden behind these words, stay mostly unnoticed.

1.2 Which postcolonial affects existed on the person’s identity in Britain?

On the word of S. Ghumann, the young South Asians face an important challenge regarding the circle of identity formation. Their parents were secure in their personal and ...

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