In this extract from Brick Lane, Monica Ali portrays the protagonist as one who is constantly receiving oppressive paranoia and alienation from the urbanization of the city. She feels very much uneasy in the city where everything seems to be overwhelming her as she portrays even the simplest of everyday things such as pigeons and mother-child in a negative image. She however, feels much more at ease once she enters Brick Lane, a more run down part of the city.
She conveys this overall impression by evoking an odd sense of mystery and paranoia all throughout the passage, through the presentation of an ominous and thoroughly descriptive atmosphere as well as setting and a protagonist who takes into observation even the smallest of things around her in a very negative image. The usage of imagery and symbolism also plays quite a huge role in bringing out the theme of the passage.
In the very beginning of the extract she already views “a gang of pigeons [who] turned weary circles” as “prisoners in an exercise yard”. This shows that even the mere animals are not exempted from the oppression by the urbanized society. This portrays Nazneen, the protagonist as one who views everything in the urban world in a negative image. The extract continues with her portraying a mother as a “kidnapper” struggling to take away her own child. This once again is a negative image of the urbanized world in the eyes of Nazneen. She can be seen as very uncomfortable and very paranoid of everything around her, even the simplest of everyday activities.
Continuing, Nazneen walks along the pavement and sees a man who “padlocked” furniture together. The fact that the word padlocked was used shows that Nazneen viewed these two men as thieves, showing that in her mindset, thievery was a very common thing to happen in an urbanized world, showing that she had a very negative opinion of the urbanized world and that she felt alienated, thus not knowing the true facts behind the city.
More paranoia and negativity can be seen in the traffic conditions of the city. Nazneen feels oppressed by the amount of cars being described as the amount of rain during the “monsoon” season. This hyperbole shows that she was afraid of the city, of everything in the city, of all the negativity she could see in the urbanized world that she could not fully comprehend, adding to that it also shows the harshness and difficulty of life in the city where even the simplest crossing of the road was a torturous and strenuous task. The word “shout” was used to again show the harshness in the urbanized world where everyone was alienated from one another and where other people could not be bothered to spare a thought for anyone but themselves.
As she enters Brick Lane, a sense of familiarity clouds her and despite it being a run-down place shown by the hyperbole of “rubbish piled high as fortresses”. She “had been here a few times with Chanu”, a character never again mentioned in the extract. The scent of “old fried fat” and the sight of waiters “holding out menus and smiles” continually shows the fakeness and oppression the society has on Nazneen, even in a place where she is familiar with. All the hypocrisy of the world is further shown as the waiters themselves are waited on “by wives who only serve and were not served in return”. Everything behind the world’s fake faï¿½ade is scary and oppressive on Nazneen as she has no idea at all what the real motifs of people around her are. This continues to emphasize on the alienation in this capitalized world, as the people are self-centered and have no care and concern for anyone other than themselves and their money.
Compiled with the oppression by the urbanization of this self-centered world, Nazneen can’t help but to be paranoid about everything around her. She sees schoolchildren “galloping with joy or else terror”, portraying everything in a very negative and pessimistic image. Before leaving Brick Lane, she sees movie posters with the theme that “the world could not stop their love”, this once more emphasizes that Nazneen, although being constantly oppressed by the evil and selfish desires of this world, is still continuing to strive on and break out of this alienation to continue her love for this world.
Once she receives Brick Lane, she receives much more oppression from this unfriendly and unfamiliar urbanized world where alienation is a norm and where people care only for themselves. Her paranoia is very easily observed when she ran around till “she realized she was leaving a trail”, thinking that there is someone chasing after her and being oppressive towards her in this unsafe urbanized world.
There is also a huge and strong sense of alienation in the city when she walked pass the building “constructed entirely of glass”, showing that there is always a layer or something in between her and the urbanized world, that even though she could see through, there will always be this blockage that leads to her alienation in this unfriendly urbanized world. This point is further emphasized when the entranced was described as “a glass fan, rotating slowly, sucking people in, wafting others out”, that only some people were accepted in this urbanized capitalistic world of self-centeredness where only the rich and shrewd will survive. And Nazneen was certainly not one of those urbanized people, thus she felt alienated there and was under much oppression to join in the world of selfishness.
Oppression is very much observed when Nazneen observed clapping on another’s shoulder as “not for reassurance, but for emphasis”, that even the simplest of actions can be seen as a form of oppression from this capitalistic world. Everything, everyone in this urbanized world had a destination, a plan, a objective to accomplish and will not stop at anything to achieve that. “Swift and seamless” exchanges, “exactly on time” for appointments are just a few of the normal urbanized human’s daily activities and thoughts.
In conclusion, the story ends with Nazneen being in contrast with everyone else in this urbanized capitalistic world of self-centeredness as she was “without a coat, without a suit, without a white face, without a destination.” She was being left out, being alienated by everyone and everything in this urbanized city because she was different and she refused to conform despite all the heavy oppression on her by society. “A leaf-shake of fear – or was it excitement? – passed through her legs.” It ends on a note that leaves the reader thinking, will Nazneen finally succumb to the immense pressure of oppression and conform to the norm, or will she strive on being herself and the odd one out in this capitalistic urbanized world of self-centeredness.