Saturday, August 28, 2010

Contrast between Pakistani and American Civilization and Culture as depicted in An American Brat

In ‘An American Brat’, Bapsi Sidhwa seems to be more interested in exploring the horizons of contrast and comparison of Pakistani and American civilizations. For the sake of comparison, Sidhwa has used basically two characters e.g. Protagonist – Feroza and her uncle Manek. This theme is also highlighted in the short stay of Zareen in ‘New World’. In order to understand the comparison drawn by Sidhwa, we must analyse the characteristics of both civilizations.


Sidhwa has highlighted the characteristic of Pakistani society a lot. She condemned the fundamentalism through the words of Zareen when she says:

“Could you imagine Feroza cycling to school now?... what I could do in 59 and 30, my daughter can’t do in 1978.”

Sidhwa also made his reader aware of the fact that these political problems create psychological problems in youth and Zareen took important decision of sending Feroza to America because of this problem.

“I think we should send Feroza to America for a short holiday… she is been so desperate lately;
You are right, it’s these politics”

Family Structure and Parental Order
In Pakistani civilization family structures are very strong and parental orders cannot be denied. Even Zareen has to answer her mother when she decided to send her daughter to America Kuttibai asked her in satirical tone that

“….. ping, ping and u don’t bother to consult with your elders or elder brother”

Strong Religious and Moral Institution

Religion and morality are these institutions which cannot be questioned in Pakistani civilization. One cannot compromise on religion and moral values in Pakistan. Feroza was unable to marry according to her happiness because of her religious restrictions. David’s parents can permit him to marry outside their religion but Zareen is horrified with the thought that Feroza will marry any one other than Parsee. She even considers Feroza’s children illegitimate and thinks:

She would be branded an adulteress and her children pronounced illegitimate. She would be accused of committing the most heinous sacrileges. Cut off from her culture and her surroundings like a fish in shallow waters, her child would eventually shrivel up. And her dread for Feroza altered her opinion of David.

Economic Dependence of Women
In Pakistani set up women are completely dependent on men not only economically but also emotionally and psychologically. In the introductory chapter, Sidhwa used ‘high heels’ as a symbol of quest of men to become equal. She writes about Zareen:

Her high-heeled slippers clicking determinedly beneath the hem of the printed silk caftan she usually wore in the house, Zareen fol­lowed her husband into the bedroom. She always wore high heels, "to measure up to my husband," and removed them only when she got into bed or stepped into her bath.

Sexual Freedom

This motif is also highlighted to great extent by Sidhwa throughout this novel. Kattibai’s fist fear regarding Feroza’s visit to America is the sexual freedom prevailing there. She says:

"Is the poor child's behavior so unpardonable that you have to banish her from die country? If you can't bear to keep her, I will," Khutlibai said, rejecting die bait. The matter was of too much moment for her to be so easily diverted. "She's too innocent and young to be sent there." The there-was pregnant with unspeakable knowledge of die sexual license allowed American girls and the perils of drink and drugs. Compounding the danger were vivid images of rapists looming in dark alleys to entice, molest, and murder young girls.” Further: “”

Feroza had no experience widi socializing widi boys; dating is no such tiling as dating in Pakistan. It was excruciatingly painful for her to be among so many young people and not know how to respond or behave.

Towards the end of the novel, it was a great shock to Zareen to know about the lesbian an relationship of Lura and Shirley. She was:

What goings-on! Feroza was living with a boy and a couple of lesbians. She wouldn't dare mention it to Cyrus, or anyone. How could she face the disgrace of nurturing a brat who looked her in the eye and brazenly talked about bodily juices? She tried not to show how hurt she was.

Unquestionable Obedience

In Pakistani setup, parents and relatives demand unquestionable obedience of children and after viewing the freedom in America, Feroza declares:

Feroza's parents, her aunts, and uncles, for all their assertions of being broad-minded and modern, would expect unquestioning obedience on certain matters, like the relationships between various family members, and between boys and girls, and would view with consternation any straying from die established path.

American Civilization

Americans are more tolerant in the case of religion. They think religion as a personal matter of every one. David’s parents feel nothing bad about their son marrying a girl outside their religion. But Zareen and Cyrus cannot tolerate this decision and Zareen has to fly to America  in order to intervene the decision. Feroza’s fan in Pakistan behave in the way that Bunny, Feroza’s cousin was forced to say:

Jeroo and Behram's daughter Bunny, who was by now a pert fifteen-year-old with light brown eyes and a dark ponytail she tossed frequently, said, "For God's sake! You're carrying on as if Feroza's dead! She's only getting married, for God's sake!"


In the character of Jo, Sidhwa has shown the independence of American girls. While Feroza was dependent on her parents and for sometime on her uncle Manek. But Manek taught her to be independent. All American characters are free and independent to take their own decisions as opposed to those of Pakistani culture where women are still dependent and unable to take their decisions.

Family Structure

American family setup is absolutely shattered and broken. Children are supposed to live alone and independently. While old parents live separately and have their own activities. This characteristic of American family system of Jo where parents run their own restaurants while their sons and daughters used to live separately. Feroza was highly impressed y the Miller’s family (Jo’s family) and thought about them in the following way:

And, surprisingly, even though Feroza found the Millers' way of life admirably tolerant and eminently desirable, she could not imagine it transposed to any community, whether it was Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or Parsee, in her part of the world. What would life be like in her family and in Lahore without the extrava­gant guidance and dire warnings, the endless quoting of homilies, and the benign and sometimes not so benign advice, inquisitive-ness and interference?

Political Insight

In Pakistan, politics concerned every one from street sweeper to business tycoon – because it personally affected every one. The political process would run smoothly and it would make a little difference to Jo’s life as it would to American policy.

Different Set of Manners

American people have entirely different set of manners. Feroza really works hard to learn all those manners of how to eat, how to demand things from sales man and how not to stare on a kissing couple. She (Feroza) has created a scene at a store when she is unable to phrase her demand properly. She nervously asked sales woman:

“May I have this, please?” and she answered: “"You may not. You'll have to pay for it. This isn't the Salvation Army, y'know; it's a drugstore."

Zero Interference

Every one is free to take decision. There is no interference of any one into the decisions taken by American people. They not even let the religion or moral values to interfere in their personal matters. David needs no permission from his parents or religious scholars while Feroza needs to take permission on every level. But in the end, she was independent enough to take her own decisions. As she thinks:

Feroza knew her dioughts would be considered despicable and selfish were she to voice them at home. But it was a selfishness sanc­tioned by die values of die prosperous new world in which she wished to dwell. Surely she could arrive at a compromise if her con­science troubled her — and even as she thought this, she knew it would. Her deeply ingrained and early awareness of political and state evils and her passion for justice would always make her fight injustice wherever she was.

Potential of Progress for Every one

American culture allows every one to go for equal progress. There is no repression or regression for any one at any level. Even a person likes sushi by using his intellect properly can earn enough. His family back at home is not that much rich to send him enough money so he exploits all the means which that culture allowed him to do.

The cross-cultural effects on Feroza

The cross-cultural effects on Feroza were that she became independent, obsessed, powerful, experienced, confident and secular.  There are a lot many effects on Feroza’ mind set after experiencing the two contrasting sets of civilizations. Her relation with David and her liberties with him are ample proof of her mental advancement. In concluding chapters, she thinks about herself:
Once when she was sneaking back into her room at three o'clock in the morning with her shoes in her hand, she wondered if she was the same girl who had lived in Lahore and gone to the Convent of the Sacred Heart.


Because of American civilization Feroza becomes more independent. Once she was unable to take the decision whether she wanted to act in annual drama of G.C. or not. But in America she changed her university, selected her career, chooses her friends and even took the decision to marry a non-Parsee boy.

Linguistic Changes

When she first got change to have conversation with ordinary people, they thought her very artificial because of her accent and word choice. Jo helped her a lot in improving her pronunciation and made her speak in an accent nearer to the native Americans.

Jo spent the next Sunday afternoon improving Feroza's pronun­ciations and taught her to say mayonnaise as "may-nayze" with the accompanying curl of nose and emphasis. She made Feroza practice saying, "Gimme a lemon­ade. Gimme a soda," and cured her of saying, "May I have this — may I have that? Pretty soon Feroza was saying, "Hey, you goin' to the laundry? Gitme a Coke!"”.

We can conclude this discussion of contrast of both civilizations by quoting two opinions of Zareen. These statements show that both the civilizations show that both the civilizations are incomplete contrasting with each other and this thing completely metamorphosed the personality of Feroza:

"She's becoming more and more backward every day."
"I should have listened. I should never have let you go so far away. Look what it's done to you — you've become an American brat!"

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