Intergenerational Relationships in Identity Construction Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

al. 11). In the same way that European colonialism itself depended on a limited view of the world that placed colonial subjects under the rule of their masters, European theory was based on a view of literature and identity that had no place for the identities and literature of colonized people. Postcolonial theory is the ideal basis for this study, because in many ways the process of developing a new, hybrid identity born out of the conflicting experiences of first and second-generation immigrants is analogous to the process of developing postcolonial theory in the first place.

In particular, this paper draws most heavily on the notion of hybrid identity, a complicated subject that has arisen within postcolonial studies. The term is difficult to define precisely due to the fact that hybridity itself suggests something complicated and heterogeneous, and at the same time, "if hybrid identity is seen as formed at both the biological and cultural level, an important question arises: are well then hybrids?" (New Narratives). However, this paper can put aside these larger questions and focus specifically on the idea of a colonial hybrid, because it is the hybridity born out two specific cultures, one of the colonizer and one of the colonized, that runs through Haji's books. This means that this hybridity is largely a cultural and psychological identity, although biology does come into play when one character discovers that her features are different from her parents (Encyclopedia Britannica). It is important to point out that hybridity in this context "is not a third term that resolves the tension between two cultures, or the two scenes of the book, [….] because […] colonial hybridity is not a problem of genealogy or identity between two different cultures which can then be resolved as an issue of cultural relativism" (Bhabha, The Location of Culture 162). In other words, a hybrid identity does not completely erase any contradictions or differences between the two cultures and generations that contribute to that identity, but rather a hybrid identity is that identity which is able to contain within it, and thus manage, the contradictions and differences of either culture.

This is part of what makes texts like Haji's novels so interesting, because they are not concerned with crating a tidy, unproblematic identity in the wake of colonialism and its intergenerational affects. Instead, Haji is interested in how people manage to take control of conflicting and sometimes violently different influences and ideas in order to make their own way forward. People are continually in the process of making their identities, because these identities shift with new information and experiences. As a result, one can never hope to ever create a clean, simple identity, because they must always include disparate elements. As Haji's work shows, colonialism makes this process of integration especially hard, because it can create such deep divides between the different elements of a second-generation immigrant's identity and history.

Thus, before analyzing Haji's work in greater detail, it will be useful to make clear that this paper is not arguing that the identity formation, which occurs over the course of her novels, is neither complete nor completely free of colonialist influence. Instead, this study recognizes that cultural colonization is a process that continues even after soldiers have left, because the legacy of colonialism influences subsequent generations to the point that "colonial power [can be] maintained and reproduced through different disciplines, discourses, and texts," even as the individuals responsible are intentionally trying to avoid or else challenge that lingering colonial power (Morton 16). As will become clear over the course of this paper, the creation of a hybrid identity does not depend on discarding a colonial past, but rather integrating that past into the present in a way that processes the trauma of colonization instead of ignoring or forgetting it.

3: The Family Unit in both The Sweetness of Tears and The Writing on My Forehead

One may begin this study of identity formation by examining the family structures of either main character, because it is these structures that present the most obvious element of colonialism's legacy and influence. This is because the family structure of both Jo and Saira is entirely dependent on the historical ramifications of colonialism. As will become clear in the subsequent sections, the lives of both Jo and Saira stem from their respective families' experiences with colonialism, even as both women imagine themselves at first to be the products of their own ambitions and interests. The final chapters of this paper will demonstrate that only by remembering the past and integrating it into their own lives Jo or Saira can actually take some agency in the formation of their identities.

To say that either character's family structure is a product of historical forces is not a particularly interesting or controversial statement, but to say that it is a product of colonialism's influence in particular is to highlight a number of features that present themselves as direct consequences of colonialism. In particular, the colonial influence seen in Haji's work is characterized by a literal and metaphorical split between the first and second generations that occurs as a result of the British Empire's separation of India and Pakistan. This split is literal because family members are actually divided, but it is also metaphorical because the divide goes further than simple geographic distance, all the way to the level of personal and familial identity.

Understanding this split is crucial for understanding the narrative arc of both Jo and Saira, because the contemporary effect of this split is the traumatic learning of new information that either character experiences. In the same way that colonialism split apart the first and second generation in the past, the knowledge of this split serves to sever Jo and Saira from the identities they had developed prior to learning of it. As a result, understanding how Jo and Saira deal with this temporary loss of identity requires understanding the split that causes it in the first place.

3.1: The First Generation

The story of the first generation in The Sweetness of Tears largely revolves around the character of Sadiq, Jo March's biological father, who comes to America at the age of fifteen (Haji, The Sweetness of Tears 65). Although the portions of Sadiq's story that are offered to the reader largely concern themselves with how he comes to meet Jo's mother, they nevertheless reveal important details about his experience as an immigrant and how that affects their family structure. In particular, it rapidly becomes clear that Sadiq's experiences are the direct result of Pakistan and India's colonial past, because his negative experiences as an immigrant stem from his disjointed family configuration, itself a result of colonialism.

Sadiq's characterizes himself during his first time in America as a "pretty mixed-up, miserable child myself -- also angry, resentful, sullen," largely due to the fact that he was going to live with mother and new husband, whom he had not seen in six years" (Haji, The Sweetness of Tears 18, 64-65). He meets Angela, Jo's eventual mother, very soon after, and although he is only in America for about a year, he spends most of his time with her (65). Part of this is due to his own disjointed family life, and part of this is due to the difficulty he has with integrating with American children:

A bunch of boys were yelling at him out of the windows of the bus. "Sad-Dick! Hey Sad-Dick, the Iraynian! Watch out, Sad-Dick! We're gonna kick your ass!" One of the boys spit at him, but missed. (76)

Most likely, it is these circumstances that lead him closer and closer to Angela and eventually to a relationship that ends in an unwanted pregnancy, because the isolation and alienation Sadiq feels from both his own family and his new surroundings lead him almost inevitably to seek comfort and intimacy with anyone he can. Further on, Sadiq does not feature prominently in Angela's life after the discovery of the pregnancy. In fact, somewhat surprisingly, she gets a new companion immediately: "Angie. I spoke to your father. This baby. It's not Jake's. [….] You married the handyman, Angie. So much older than you" (128). Because of the cultural difference between the two, it seems as if they could never be together, and as a result of this split Jo grows up thinking something completely untrue about her own identity and history. Learning the initial truth about her mother's past is what sets her off on her search for her real father.

When Sadiq meets his daughter Jo, he is much older and mature, but does not seem to have outgrown a desire to connect with his roots, because the years have not diminished the sense of isolation and alienation. When Jo knocks at his door she hears music, "a high, woman's voice, singing in a foreign language,"(17) demonstrating that even after all these years and miles, Sadiq stills listens to the music of his home…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice

in Post-Colonial Literatures. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Ball, John. Satire and the Postcolonial Novel. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Bhabha, Homi. Nation and Narration. London: Routledge, 1990.

Cite This Thesis:

"Intergenerational Relationships In Identity Construction" (2013, March 31) Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

"Intergenerational Relationships In Identity Construction" 31 March 2013. Web.26 September. 2020. <>

"Intergenerational Relationships In Identity Construction", 31 March 2013, Accessed.26 September. 2020,