Funny Boy Gender and Nation Sri Lanka
Outline • Background • “Riot Journal: An Epilogue” • “Pigs Can’t Fly” • “The Best School of All”
Background • Funny Boy – set against the increasing violence between a between Sinhalese and Tamil in Sri Lank, culminating in the civil war which lasted for almost a decade(1983-1991). • Black July, 1983: between 400-3000 Tamils were killed, tens of thousands of houses were destroyed, and a wave of Sri Lankan Tamils left for other countries. (source) • The author Shyam Selvadurai and his family are forced into exile after the 1983 racial riot against the Tamil in Colombo. • The protagonist, "Arjie" Chelvaratnam, is the second-son of a privileged middle-class Tamil family in Colombo.
Tamil vs. Sinhalese • Sinhalese（僧伽羅人）migrated from Northern India to Sri Lanka since 5th-6th century BCE, while Tamil (坦米爾人) came from Southern India around since 2th BCE. • Sinhalese -- Buddhism • Tamil -- Hinduism, more sent to Sri Lanka by the British government in the 19th century and supported by the latter. • The British policy of divide and rule -- placed minorities (i.e. Tamils) in positions of power in colonies. • Since its independence as Ceylon, the Sinhalese (80% majority) put forth “Sinhala Only Law” in support of their political power, which causes discontent among the Tamil people (20%).
Funny Boy Connected stories of how Arjie is continually isolated from his family and then exiled from his society because of his gender orientation and the society’s racial tensions and despite attempts at breaking boundaries and rebellion. • "Pigs Can't Fly-- Arjie's early childhood and his gravitation towards the imaginative games his female cousins play as opposed to his male cousins' beloved game of cricket. • "Radha Aunty" --Arjie's Aunt Radha, and her doomed affair with a Sinhalese man.
Funny Boy • "See No Evil, Hear No Evil“-- his mother's extra-marital affair with a childhood sweetheart. • "Small Choices" --chronicles one of Arjie's first crushes a puppy love obsession with a young man employed by his Father, • “The Best School of All” – Arjie’s experience of the conflicts between colonial education and Sinhalese nativism, between his need to conform and his love for Shehan. • "Riot Journal" -- first hand accounts of anti-Tamil violence.
“Riot Journal: An Epilogue” • The process of fear, loss and displacement (FB 280, 291-92, 298. 304)—from denial, to not feeling anything, to crying over the grandparents’ house, to finally crying over his own burned house. • Shehan – 295, 303 • The nation with its internal racial and gender divisions
“Pigs Can’t Fly” Discussion Questions • Why can’t Arjie play bride-bride? What does the mother mean when she says: “Because the sky is so high and pigs can’t fly.” (19) • What does the sky mean? What does being “funny” mean? • Is he “funny” because he is homosexual?
The title • Funny --either humorous or strange (17); disgust • But Meena also crosses gender boundaries in playing the cricket game. • The other girls do, too, in the bride-bride game. • Arjie’s view of being a bride (5) and jewel and sari (15) • the story is about the ideological system (the sky), and the power struggle within it.
Discussion QuestionsI. Childhood Games and Social System • What does "spend-the-day" mean for both the adults and the kids, maybe excepting the servant cook who cannot have a break? (pp. 1-2) • How are the boys' game and girls' game divided up and located? (p. 3) • What are the rules of the boys' cricket game and the girls' Bride-Bride? Do these rules make sense? Do these groups' structure reflect that of adults, or not?
II. Battle for Power and Gender Boundaries • Why does Her Fatness want to be the bride? • What gender roles do Arjie and Her Fatness take respectively in their power struggle? • If Arjie is the one to be ordered back to the realm of men, who else also crosses the gender boundaries in this story?
The Girls’ Game • Arjie as the leader because of “the force of his imagination”(p. 4) • His imagination– allows him to "leave the constraints of [his] self and ascend into another, more brilliant, more beautiful self" (5). • Still conditioned by the goddesses of the Sinhalese and Tamil cinema (breaking the racial boundary). • A world for girls – the groom the most useless (p. 6)
The Boy’s Game—Cricket • Competition -- with winning as the goal; • trading players • less powerful ones: Sanjay • girlie-boy: Arjie • the batting order – p. 26 • Numbers marked in the sand for the players to step on; • The older and better ones play first
The Children’s Struggle for Power • Her Fatness – in need of attention • An outsider • Kanthi Aunt – her anger (p. 8) • Wins attention • by lying (7) • by showing off the dolls (p. 8) –which is less powerful than the bride-bride game; • by playing a loud groom (9) • by appealing to traditional gender boundaries (11) “A girl must be the bride.”
Arjie’s Fight back • Insisting on the rule to be the first one to play so that he becomes offensive and can run away • the sari in the bag as a weapon • Agrees to play the groom, and then attracts the other girls’ attention. • Sari gone – so is his power.
Images representing the system • Amachi and her cane p. 38 • The seaside and the tall building as a mirage p. 38
“The Best School of All” –Questions • The roles of the authorities – • Black Tie and Mr. Lokubandara (pp. 206, 207; 215) • the Queen Victoria Academy – and its discipline, will “force...[Arjie] to become a man" • The use of spaces (e.g. the school building 209, the toilet and the garage) • The school boys: bravado 210, Sinhalese vs. Tamil 210, Cheliah vs. Salgado 214; • Black Tie against Shehan 217- • How does Arjie rebel against both kinds of authorities? The use of games (hide-and-seek 251-59, Scrabble) • How does the school life prepares us for the racial tensions which are to follow?
“The Best School of All” –Images of Authorities • Black Tie, the principal-- a man with "a sola topee, that white domed I had only seen in photographs from the time the British ruled Sri Lanka" (209). • "...the old principal, Mr. Lawton, raised him, and educated him. The values he was taught are the ones he still holds on to, so you must not blame him too much for what he did to you" (240). One of these values, he explains, is that "you can beat knowledge into a student.“ • In support of racial mixture 240
The poems –why fragmented? • Recited without any conviction 227 • The cane 229 • The possible consequences 233; 240; conflict in Arjie 242 • Efforts in the library • Smile 236 --Arjie’s dreams 237, getting closer to Shehan kiss 243 “Where is your mother” 247 dream 259 • Diggy’s intervention 249; Black Tie’s role 262-
The poems –why fragmented? • The recital 274 –a complete fragmentation of the original text, and • Black Tie’s responses 275-76, which are self-contradictory