|University of Oslo
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Hanif Kureishi is a charismatic and outspoken mixed-race writer who is not afraid to provoke an outcry through his work. He was one of the first writers to explore the situations of British Asians and, in several ways, paved the way for many other black, Asian and mixed-race writers who also wanted to communicate the experiences of their communities in modern Britain. In my thesis I explore two of the central issues in two of Hanif Kureishi s early works, the film My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and the novel The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), namely race and class. In these two works, Kureishi explores the issues of race and class in British society and how the two are connected. The thesis has a textual and contextual focus on Kureishi s early work, and connects important events and other elements from the period in which he wrote these two works, linking them in with Kureishi s exploration of the two issues. Kureishi s early work is imbued by his vision of a cosmopolitan Britain, in which distinctions of race, ethnicity, sex, gender and class have practically ceased to matter. Invariably, Kureishi finds his idealism hindered by the institutional functionality of racism, sexism and classism in Britain, as well as the rhetoric of multiculturalism. In My Beautiful Laundrette and The Buddha of Suburbia, Kureishi sets out to communicate the advantageous aspects of what has hitherto been categorically denounced as the detrimental processes of societal homogenization. In Kureishi s view, Britain is in turmoil, with the English themselves being forced by circumstances to make a choice between who they would like to be, and who they really are. The traditional Anglo-British identity has become untenably anachronistic. Its nationalistic representations are invariably out of time and place, and either evaporate or become increasingly inflexible in the current polycultural climate. Even though the middle classes flourished during the period of the British Empire, which ideologically de-classed English society by substituting race for class as the most significant marker of difference, the English middle classes suffered considerable degradation after the Empire had collapsed and class became a cultural marker once again. In Kureishi s work, racism is a subtle and complex phenomenon, but whatever its subtle disguises and forms, it is deeply divisive, intolerant of differences and opposes the common sense of belonging lying at the very basis of every stable civilisation. It can have no place in a tolerant, pluralistic society. However, it may be possible and is definitely necessary to create a society in which all citizens and communities feel valued, enjoy equal opportunities, lead fulfilling lives, and help create a collective life in which the spirit of civic goodwill, shared identity and common sense of belonging goes hand in hand with love of diversity.