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An Analysis Of Shanty Town Kid English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2084 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The book Shanty-town Kid was written by Azouz Begag in 1986 under the French title Le gone du Chaâba. Begag is a French writer of Algerian descent and was a minister in the French government for two years till 2007. As a child Begag grew up in a shanty town near Lyons and draws upon personal experience when he writes about the lives of people who live in the ghettos on the outskirts of cities that they call home. He focuses on the problems of the immigrant population of France and how government and bureaucratic policies divide people along various lines of ethnicity, language and culture. The subject matter of his writing deals with multi-ethnic and multi-cultural issues that the immigrants face in post colonial Europe, particularly in France because it has a large migrant population from northern part of Africa. Begag is an advocate of the integration of multicultural facets such as language and culture from the different regions and assimilate the immigrants from the ghettos into mainstream life in France. This analysis of the book Shanty-town Kid will dwell on this theme and do a comprehensive analysis of the book and a comparative study of Trica Keaton’s Muslim Girls and the Other France and Algeria in France by Paul A. Silverstein.

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In Shantytown Kid, Begag recounts how people live in ghettoes of modern cities and how children are raised under deplorable conditions and are forced to deal with the concept of “other France” (Keaton33) that results from being a part of a marginalized section of society. Begag raises some grave questions about why immigrants’ are considered different when they are the fallout of colonization of these “other” nations? Begag is able to get under our skin with his descriptions of life as a gone or young lad he had to live in a world all twisted and divided by invisible walls of discrimination based on his religion, language and race.

Written with humor the book tells us the story of a smart Arab boy who does better than his compatriots at school. Through the pages of the book we learn of the transformation of the shanty town boy to an intelligent and bright student who discovers through the encouragement of his teacher that he could be an Arab and still be recognized as being French. He slowly learns to accept his heritage and a sense of self worth and the determination to do well in life by becoming very educated. It is a chronicle of how even a single positive influence can turn a person’s attitude around and help him to integrate himself into the society that had at one time seemed so very partisan. His intimate knowledge of the shanty town milieu held him in good stead when he became Minister of Equal Opportunity in the French government and was able to further the cause of immigrant Algerians to be integrated into the mainstream life of urban France.

In the Shanty-town Kid Begag talks in detail about how the Maghrebi immigrants were forced to live on the fringes of French urban society. The shanties of wood and zinc could hardly be called houses and the sanitary conditions were deplorable. This was in stark contrast to the properly laid out cities of France. The health zoning codes had no relevance in these ghettos crowded with hovels that the immigrants still thought of as home. Begag uses the local lingo, a mixture of Maghrebi and Lyonnais French, skillfully in his novel to give it an authentic flavor. We are left to wonder, however, about the fate of hundreds of immigrants who unlike Begag did not get the opportunity to utilize their potential in a strife torn land. The book has a happy ending and we feel proud to follow Begag’s eminent career and feel justified in hoping that education, understanding, compassion and foresight will one day bring all the Frenchmen of Algerian or North African origin together and make the slogan of the French revolution “liberty, equality and fraternity” a reality.

In the book Muslim Girls and the Other France Trica Keaton has tried to explain the nature of national identity politics prevalent in France and the identity crisis the immigrants face while they struggle to be included in mainstream French culture and society. She writes “their incorporation into French society has not been seamless, but has involved confusion and pain” (Keaton 32) She has presented several case studies of immigrant Muslim girls who consider themselves to be French but have to face discrimination based on the perceived notions of immigrant mentality. Aicha was an immigrant Muslim girl whose parents had migrated from Morocco. She represented the duality that immigrant children displayed in trying to be accepted in mainstream French society. Aicha usually wore smart form fitting clothes, lipstick and high heels and smoked cigarettes when she went to school or any other place outside her home and neighborhood. She was gregarious, talkative and “aggressive” (Keaton 34) like any other teenage girl and was a bright student. She was keenly aware of the perception people had of immigrants in France and strove to explain the difference in the way she was raised by insisting that like most girls she could talk to her mother freely about marriage and things like that. However, her interactions with father were less candid and more restricted. She was not allowed to go outside her home after 6:00 P.M. in France but had been allowed to go on a five day tour of Italy! She had also chronicled in her diary that when her mother discovered that she smoked she kept it a secret from her father and admonished her about the health hazards of smoking. But her mother had not been so lenient when she heard that her sister had a boyfriend. She was angry and there were heated arguments with her sister and almost immediately afterwards her parents started to negotiate about her marriage.

The strange thing about Aicha’s situation was that no matter how forward she was outside when she was at home she became a completely different personality. She was demure and less talkative. Even her dress was different and she wore baggy clothes with her hair plaited neatly. Her father spoke French but not her mother and due to the want of fluent communication in French there were certain chores like going to the bank, post office etc that were assigned to Aicha and her sister. Aicha was confused about her true identity. She was born in a Muslim family but had no religious affinity. She wasn’t sure of what her true identity was. When in Morocco she was called French but when she was in France she was referred to as “dirty Arab” (Keaton 35). This shows the trauma that immigrant children are exposed to and how the awareness of “self” is confused and painful for them.

Fatou is another Muslim girl whose case Keaton narrates in her book. Fatou is the fourth among sixteen children of a polygamous Arabic family from West Africa living in France. She is shy and self effacing and struggled to match up to the cultural differences between the environment she faced in school and the one that she found at home. Fatou, like most other immigrants, believes in Fancis Bacon’s aphorism “knowledge is power” (Keaton 37) and though she fares poorly in academics she is loathe taking up vocational track lest she miss her baccalaureate diploma that would ensure a proper job for her. She struggles with her general studies course but keeps it a secret from her parents. She is terrified that unless she has a regular education in French she would wind up doing low end jobs like other illiterate immigrants. Due to the restrictive environment in which she is raised she has practiced the art of secrecy almost to perfection. She keeps her home background a secret from most people. She is confused about the polygamous practice of Senegalese Muslims and is not concurrent with such a practice. She wants to be like other French girls who have only two parents in the family and usually have two children. In her home she shares her room with thirteen other siblings and has a step mother who she refers to as “aunt” in public. Despite her vehement protests that her parents would marry her off against her wishes if she failed in school, some of her teachers were not so sure. Fatou is confused by the laws in France where polygamy is illegal whereas in her religion polygamy is regarded very highly. She was disgusted by the meekness of women in her family and has a very confused and “chaotic” (Keaton 38) idea of family life.

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The case of Fatima is similar in many ways. Fatima is considered brilliant in her school as were her sisters before her and very well “integrated” with the French culture and came from a family well assimilated in the French society. However, in Fatima’s own words she is totally integrated into French society, speaks French and studies French history, yet when asked about her identity she says “France is my country…my identity is French of Algerian origin, of Muslim religion” (Keaton 40). The façade of polished and integrated family background was an eye wash as her father was chauvinistic and maintained double standards in his behavior towards his children. Whereas the boys had freedom, the girls had “curfew” imposed on them and had to be home before sunset and were not allowed to participate in any of the extracurricular activities, especially sports. Every precaution was taken to keep the girls chaste and suitable for marriage within the community. The irony of their situation was that in the land of their parents they were treat irreverently because they did not belong as they were française, a status that was denied them when they were in France and when in France they were treated badly because they were not française!

In his book Algeria in France, Paul Silverstein researches the cause of the racial and cultural divide that the people of France and that of greater Europe feel for the people of North Africa, particularly, from Algeria. He reminds us that the attitude of suspicion and discrimination against the Algerian community that lives in urban France was reinforced by some of the subversive activities that took place in France between the years 1992 and 1995. The involvement of Algerian Muslims in the bombing incidents in Paris and Lyons seemed to put the clock back to the situation of 9/11/2001baombing of the World Trade Center in the United States. These bombings and other subversive activities induced the French Government to target the Algerian community in the “anti-terrorist” (Silverstein 1) drive and start on the policy of racial profiling which subjected the North African immigrants to harassment in France. Silverstein dwells on the assimilation and integration of the immigrantAlgerians’ religious and cultural identities in the reconstruction of the French society and the everyday existence and the “transpolitics” of the immigrant Algerians in urban France. The separatist and sometimes racial policies have pushed the “Beur” population to the “periphery” (Silverstein 230) of mainstream existence in France. It is ironical that the migrants from North Africa had left their homeland in the hope of finding a better life in a secular France and that their children had to struggle against injustice to find equal opportunities in their adopted country.

The pressures of race, religion, culture and creed can marginalize entire segments of population and deprive bright and deserving people equal opportunities to shine and contribute positively to the society. The three works that have been compared in this essay show that the integration of a people into the socio-cultural environment of a nation state can only be aided by governmental policies and laws. However, the real integration of an alienated and terrified community begins in the day-to-day lives of these people. With understanding, encouragement and fair play the Algerian immigrant community can achieve the status and the promise of the good life they had dreamt of when they moved to France. With better representation they can be important resource in bringing about a unified and secular Europe and be “pivotal” (Sliverstein 230) in bringing peace and prosperity to the region.


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