Funny Boy Shyam Selvadurai Essay

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Arjie’s Journey In Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy

Arjie’s Journey in Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy

Growing up during a time of violent political upheaval in Sri Lanka, Arjie travels an especially bittersweet journey into maturation in Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy. The adults in Arjie’s extended family mostly belong to an older, more conservative generation that attempts to fit Arjie into society’s norms. The adults that Arjie meets in the community through his family are individuals who prompt him to see past the confines of his childhood, and it is Arjie’s peers who give him the extra push to understanding himself. With guidance from his extended family, his adult friends, and his peers, Arjie is able to discover his identity through understanding the impact of race and gender on his life.

Although spend-the-day occurs but once a month, Ammachi has a commanding presence in Arjie’s life. While Appachi hides behind his newspapers, Ammachi is “enthroned in big reclining chairs” (Selvadurai, 2), her canes inspiring awe in her grandchildren. When Arjie is caught dressed in a sari while playing bride-bride, Ammachi decides that manual labour will teach him to be more masculine. This is the first time Arjie is embarrassed about his “funniness”, though he does not understand why. It is also at his grandparents’ house that Arjie first learns about the tension between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Afraid that people will talk, Ammachi forbids Radha Aunty to receive rides from Anil Jayasinghe, a Sinhalese. Arjie does not comprehend why Ammachi is upset, for he is in a Sinhala class at school and his friends are Sinhalese. His parents’ best friends and servant are Sinhalese too. Nevertheless, Ammachi sends Radha Aunty to Jaffna for a month, hoping that her “illicit relations” (76) with Anil will end. When confronted by a daughter, Ammachi is unsure of herself and says, “I did what was correct” (77). She believes that as long as she upholds traditions, she is a good mother.

Like Ammachi, Amma is at times uncertain of herself when she tries to help Arjie in his maturation journey. Before Arjie is caught wearing a sari, Amma used to let him play with her jewellery and watch her put on her sari. However, after Arjie’s humiliation, Amma orders Diggy to let Arjie play with the boys during spend-the-day – and forbids Arjie from playing bride-bride with his girl cousins. When Arjie questions this, Amma says simply, “You’re a big boy now. And big boys must play with other boys” (20). This does not appear to satisfy Arjie because he is still unmarred by society’s expectations. Not knowing how to deal with the problem of gender issues, Amma allows that “life is full of stupid things and sometimes we just have to do them” (20). Amma is equally uncomfortable with explaining racism to Arjie. When Arjie is disappointed that the English governess does not marry the King in The King and I, Amma tells Arjie that people do not marry outside their own race (54). It is...

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Funny Boy Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai.

Funny Boy, by Shyam Selvadurai (1994), is a novel about coming of age. It won several awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for gay male fiction and the Books in Canada First Novel Award. Selvadurai grew up in Sri Lanka, where the novel is set. It is composed of six separate but related stories about a boy from age seven to fourteen, who grows up within a wealthy Tamil family. He explores his sexuality and sexual identity, as well as the Sinhala-Tamil tensions that would lead to the riots of 1983.

The first story, “Pigs Can’t Fly,” takes place during the “spend the days.” The grandchildren of the family are playing a favorite game of theirs called “bride-bride.” Arjie and all his female cousins are playing, but Tanuja, nicknamed Her Fatness, refuses to let Arjie be the bride. The grownups find the children and scold them; an uncle calls Arjie “a funny one.” His mother explains that he cannot play with the girls anymore because “the sky is so high and pigs can’t fly, that’s why.”

In “Radha Aunty,” Radha Aunty has returned from America. She and Arjie become close, and are involved in a performance of The King and I. Rajan Nagendra proposes to Radha, but she is reluctant to accept. She becomes friends with Anil Jayasinghe, a Sinhalese also involved in the play. The family tells Radha to end the friendship, and Radha leaves for Jaffna to forget Anil. On the train back, she and several Tamils are attacked, and soon after, Radha is engaged to Rajan. These events explain to Arjie what the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict means.

In “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” Daryl Uncle returns to Sri Lank from Australia. Arjie’s father is in Europe on a business trip. Daryl is meant to investigate allegations of government torture. Arjie slowly becomes aware of the hidden affair between Amma and Daryl. He gets sick, and Amma takes him to the country. Daryl visits. Daryl also goes to Jaffna, where there is violence. Daryl’s body is found on the beach. They are told he drowned, but they suspect he was murdered first. Amma tries to dig deeper, but the lawyer says there is nothing she can do. He references the three wise monkeys and implores her to behave the same.

Appa’s friend Jegan begins to work with Appa at his hotel in “Small Choices.” Jegan used to associate with the Tamil Tigers, but says he broke all connections long ago. Jegan also befriends Arjie, who notices his homosexuality for the first time. The political tensions continue to build, and Jegan is accused of plotting to assassinate a Tamil politician. His room at the hotel is vandalized, and Appa fires Jegan, who may go back to his violent past after all.

In the penultimate story, “The Best School of All,” Appa decides that Arjie will be transferred to Victoria Academy. He says the school will force Arjie to become a man. Arjie meets Shehan and also the school principal. Arjie is warned that Shehan is gay and to stay away from him. But Arjie and Shehan spend more time together, and Arjie becomes more and more attracted to his friend. Arjie is asked by the principal to read several poems at an upcoming school event. “Black Tie” says they are important because they will plead with the government not the reorganize the school. Arjie is nervous, and forgets all the lines of the poem. The principal beats Arjie and Shehan for not helping Arjie memorise his lines. One day, Shehan kisses Arjie, who begins to understand his own sexuality. They have their first sexual encounter, alone in Arjie’s parents’ garage. Later, Arjie is deeply ashamed of himself, and believes he has failed his family and betrayed their trust. Still later, Arjie purposefully screws up his poem again after Shehan breaks down because of Black Tie’s frequent beatings.

In the final story in Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, “Riot Journal: An Epilogue,” the tensions between the two sides in Sri Lanka has come to a head. Rioters ravage the area, burning down the Tamil houses and businesses throughout the town of Colombo. The family runs for safety, and hides in a neighbour’s house. They go into hiding after an angry mob comes to burn down their home. Soon after that, their hotel is burned down, and Ammachi and Appachi, Arjie’s grandparents, are killed. This is finally the moment when the family decides to leave the country. There is one last chance for Arjie and Shehan to make love together, before he is forced to say goodbye, never to see his friend and lover again. Then Arjie and his family leave Sri Lanka and move to Canada.


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