Historical and Social ContextMeera Syal, born in 1961, isan actress, writer and novelist with a number of TV, theatre and film credits.She went to Manchester University where she got a degree in English and Drama. Muchof Meena´s character- her background, feelings and struggles in life -resemblances the author´s own childhood experiences. As Meena, Syal was born ina former mining village in the Mindlands from parents who had emigrated toEngland from India looking for a better future. Both, author and characterpassed the 11-plus exam and went to a girls´ grammar school. Meera Syal´s Anita and me is a semi-autobiographicalcontemporary Black British novel of transformation, published in 1996, thatrelates the struggle of Meena kumar – a second-generation Indian child born inBritain- to develop her own cultural identity within a gap in between twocontrasting cultures; her Indian heritage, on the one hand, and the Britishexperiences (influences) she receives from the society (surrounding her) whereshe grows up on the other hand.
Before introducing the literary context of this novelwhich means the discussion of terms suchas post-colonialism and black British literature, I consider essential to provide a brief insight into theprecedents in history that prompted (allowed) and promoted (encouraged) thedevelopment of these literary productions. Focusing, specially, on thosehistory facts related to India as a former British colony and the consequencesof such process of colonization, we can achieve a deep comprehension of the themesdealt in Syal´s work and a full understanding of what was happening in the timeand place in which Anita and me is set. Britain as a former British colony From 1858 to1947, a period known as the Raj, India was one of the colonies belonging to theBritish Empire, which meant to be under the rule of the British crown.Therefore, many British citizens migrated to India to work in the differentemployments offered by the Raj, as exposed in the novel through the characterof Mr Topsy/Turvey, who expresses to have “served” in India for tenyears (p.222). Although at first therelationship between both countries was good enough, it was brought to an end(ceased) when, influenced by Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), the Indian peoplebegan to feel that they should be ruling themselves instead of being ruled by aforeign country. The Indian Independence Act, signed in 1947, not onlyconcluded the British sovereignty in India but, furthermore, divided thecountry as it separated the Muslim state of Pakistan from Hindu-dominated stateof India.
This split, known as Partition, caused that many people felt confinedin the wrong side of the frontier, since many Muslims felt trapped in India andso felt Hindus trapped in Pakistan, creating a violent environment that eruptedin serious conflicts as the two groups met. These conflicts were extremelyfrequent in the Punjab province where Meena´s parents were born, reaching over250.000 deaths because of religious clashes. Although India – as well as most of the British formercolonies, such as, Canada, South Africa or Papua New Guinea- achievedindependence, it became, and still remains, part of the British commonwealth-“an association of nations consisting of the United Kingdom and severalformer British colonies that are now sovereign states but still pay allegianceto the British Crown.” (cita Susan Elkin 2010) Notwithstanding the fact that both countries- Britain and India- weremiles away one from each other, the shifts affecting the once British colonyalso had an effect on Britain. By the 19th century there were not many Indiansestablished in Britain, nevertheless, the number of immigrants coming fromIndia began to increase in 1948- notably from the Punjab province where thetensions were higher- as the British Nationality Act was passed and enabledpeople born in any of the British colonies to come to Britain to live and workwithout the requirement of a visa. Many Indian people, as Syal´s parents andthe fictional Kumars, came to Britain seeking a better future which meantbasically better living conditions and employments, but most importantly aproper education for their children. That is why our protagonist, Meena, feelsso much pressure upon her to pass the exam to attend to the grammar school, asreflected by the sentence “If I failed, my parents´ five thousand milejourney would have all been for nothing.
” (p.213)As a result of this wave of immigration, the Britishbegan to complaint against the immigrants- accusing them of taking their jobs-and refused the increasing number of people coming into Britain. Thus, thisnational feeling of rejection against immigrants spread – meaning that racismincreased in the country – and prompted the government to pass -in 1962- theCommonwealth Immigrants Act that restricted the rules for immigration. Settingthe novel in this moment of history – the 1960s- Syal achieves the perfectbackdrop to deal with racism by including, for instance, racial confrontations- as it is exposed by the aggression of an Indian man or the episode when theskinhead Sam Lowridge swears at Indian people at the spring fete or theaggression Bearing in mind the notions exposed above about thehistorical context of the novel, we can move on to the next section of thisdissertation that deals with the literary context in which we can place Anitaand Me, that means the discussion of the theory used to analyse this work, aswell as the discussion of the type of genre under which we can catalogue Syal´swork.1.2 Literary Context: A Black British novel oftransformationThe British Commonwealth allowed the development ofthe term Commonwealth literatures as a way of unifying all the literary worksproduced in these countries which pledged allegiance to the British Crown. AsHans Bertens remarks “In the course of 1980s, Commonwealth literary studies become part of the then emerging and nowvast field of literary, cultural, political and historical inquary that we callpostcolonial studies.” Bertens, p.
200. Postcolonialism, as a critical theory, focuses in the colonialexperience and its consequences from the point of view of the colonised peopleor their descendants. Thus, under this term we can classify almost all theliterary production from countries with a history of colonialism.
Accordingto John Mcleod´s Beginning Postcolonialism three salient areas aregather under the term postcolonialism: Very basically,and in a literary contex, postcolonialism involves one or more of the following. Readingtexts produced by writers from countries with a history of colonialism, primarly thosetexts concerned with the workings and legacy of colonialism in either the pastor the present.. Reading texts produced by those that have migratedfrom countries with a history of colonialism, or those descended from migrantfamilies, which deal in the main with diaspora experience and its manyconsequences.. In the light of theories of colonial discourse,re-reading texts produced during colonialism; both those that directly addressthe experience of Empire, and those that seem not to.
This dissertation examines, thus, Anita and Me withinthe frame of postcolonial theory, as a Black British novel of transformation.Anita and Me is a text produced by someone whose parents had migrated fromIndia- a country with a history of colonialism- and which deals in the main, aswe will see later on as the central body of this research, “with diasporaexperience and its many consequences.” Hence, I consider Meena´s struggle to develop her owncultural identity as a hybrid subject who is built up from the inputs receivedfrom two opposing cultures- Indian and British- as the main theme developedthroughout this novel. Therefore, Anita and Me fulfils at least one of thethree conditions that, according to McLeod, a text must accomplish to beconsidered as postcolonial. Postcolonial writings included literary productionssuch as those known as Black British literatures, under which we can placeSyal´s novel. Black British literature, as Mark Stein noted in his book”derives from its own space, yet this space is not homogenous in terms of timeor culture or location, it is an imagined experiential field of overlapping territories”(p 10)Despite the fact that the term Black British wasdeveloped by the Caribbean Artist movement- in the late 1960- in response to anincreasing wave of racism and extremist politics, this concept was also used toinclude migrant groups from other parts of the world – such as Africa or Asia -since the term black denotes, as Stuart Hall noted, “a way of referencing thecommon experience of racism and marginalisation in Britain.
” A central genre in black British literature, as Steinargues, is the novel of transformation. Although Anita and Me can be read as a black british novel of formation,that is, a literary genre focused around the main character´s psychological andmoral growth, I consider more accurate to read Syal´s novel as a Black Britishnovel of transformation. Mark Steinnoted throughout his study several characteristics of the novel oftransformation that we can apply to Syal´s novel. Firstly, these novels have a dual function.
As Steinmarked, “on the one hand, on the thematic level, novels of transformationdepict the process of growing up.” This process of growing up impliesdealing with alienation and relations to the larger society and represents aquest for an outlook on life which accommodates the protagonist´s own identity,and which is shaped by a struggle with the parental generations, and one´speers and society at large.” (p 25) “On the other hand, these fictions are not onlyinscribed by the cultures they inhabit, they in turn mold those very cultures.”This means that we can appreciate, through this novels, the transformation ofthe British society- what is, from my point of view, the distinguishing featureof this genre. Syal´s Anita and Me shows perfectly this dualfunctionality. Being the thematic level the central focus of the principalsection coming forward, I would like to specify those aspects of the novel thatshow a change in the British society.
As it is illustrated by The Kumars´upward social mobility, as they will move from Tolligton, leaving the other Mindlandvillagers behind, Meena´s position as empowered when she confronted SamLowridge or Secondly, Novels of transformation “implies radical generationalconflict between a generation that migrated to Britain and one that was bornthere.” (p 29) Finally, finding a voice –which the protagonist and narrator use to makethemselves heard- and inserting a narrative is a key function of this genre.”This genre is about the voicing of the protagonist´s identity” (Stein 30)