Ayub Khan-Din’s Play “East is East” in the Frames of Marxist Literary Criticism
According to the Marxist theory on the literary criticism, each piece of literature is a reflection of a specific stage of historical development. Literature is a product of ideology and refers to specific social class. It should involve social or political tendency of the time. Speaking about Ayub Khan-Din’s play, written in 1997, it reflects the social model of Pakistani immigrants living in Great Britain in the 1970s; their social interaction with a different culture, loss of national identity, and alienation within their own families.
Ayub Khan-Din’s personality is quite important for the analysis of the play. He is a British-Pakistani actor, playwright, and director. He began writing plays in the 1990s. The play East is East is a reflection of his own childhood concentrated in the protagonist, a boy named Sajid. Sajid’s parents are the reflection of Ayub’s own parents. In his article “East Is East: The Play I Almost Didn’t Write,” Khan-Din confesses that the play is autobiographical and it was easy for him to write, because his father was a Pakistani chip-shop owner, while his mother was a Roman Catholic born in England. “There were 10 of us kids (although we’re amalgamated down to six in the play), and we were as scrappy and defiant as the play shows, but we were all terrified of my father”, – he says (Manzoor).
To continue, the social class represented in the play is the Pakistani immigrants in Britain in the 1970s. Historically, their position in the British society was vague. The British were actually waiting for them to come back home after the end of the war between India and Pakistan over the independence of the East Pakistan (Manzoor). Pakistanis, as well as other Asians, were treated as strangers in Europe. The main social issue Khan-Din raises is the problem of immigrants in another country.
However, the issue is much deeper than the economic and social inequality. It spreads on the psychological area of the immigrants and leads to another mass psycho-social issue, such as multiculturalism. Some critics think that the play is a sublimation of the author’s anger at his father, who was a despot and a hypocrite at the same time. George Khan as a play character appears to insist on the Pakistani traditions and building marriages with Pakistanis only, despite the fact he does not observe those traditions himself and his second wife, Ella, is a British.
The mentioned hypocrisy and despotism based on the George’s obsession of insistence on the Pakistani traditions lead his children to resistance towards them. It is not the nationality that humiliates them, but their own father. It is obvious from the very first stage that the character of George is complicated. His language, deeds, and the way he communicates show it:
ELLA. No, you’re all so perfect over there aren’t you.
GEORGE (wags his finger at ELLA). You not bloody start with me again Mrs or I send bloody invitation to Mrs Khan number one, in a Pakistan. I say, ‘Come bloody quick, second wife give me bloody troubles. (Khan-Din)
In addition, he always names his own children “bastards” emphasizing on their half-British half-Pakistani origin. One may note that, despite the social issue of immigrants’ inequality and multiculturalism raised in the play, the main conflict focuses on the different problem, which is hidden within the family.
The central conflict of the play is a conflict of generations, based on the prevalence of new tendencies upon the tradition. The author raises the issue of globalization, connected with the widespread waves of immigration all over the world in the end of the 20th century. These problems within the family were the truthful phenomenon for many immigrants, who faced the loss of their national tradition and identity after they had moved to another country.
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George, the father from the play East is East is disappointed that his children consider themselves British rather than Pakistani, because the conditions of their life and social environment different from what they could have had in their native land impacted them on the opposite of the family influence (Khan-Din).
For Khan-Din, national tradition loses its value in the face of his father’s hypocrisy and despotism. Sajid, as Khan-Din’s reflection in the story, does not rebel against the whole Asian culture or national tradition, as it seems to be during literal reading. He rebels against his father’s pseudo-virtues. However, his identity is much influenced by the British culture and society, and even though, he can identify himself neither as a British nor Pakistani.
Here arises a deep psychological problem – self-identity. It is easier to cope with the world around when a person realizes his/her origin. Sajid, as well as the rest of the children, does not think of himself as of a Pakistani, denies traditions and religion. At the same time, they do not accept another traditions and religion – the British one – as if they were native.
According to the Marxist literary criticism theory, the essential part of any literature piece is its audience. East is East is a great example of Anglo-Pakistani literature. The language of the play is quite complicated, as the speech of the characters contains a lot of grammar mistakes, and many words are misspelled on purpose to express the tint of the real Anglo-Pakistani family of the 1970s. The characters are close to reality, especially to those social groups of the same class.
At the same time, it raises the eternal philosophical questions, such as conflict of generations and despotism in the family. Ayub Khan-Din says that the Anglo-Asian theatre should not be limited to Asian-only audiences (Khan-Din), as it has a dual history. In addition, the play seems to be a mainstream for its time, but it is still being staged. It happens not because the content appeals to specific classes or races, but because it is a piece of art which raises questions and provokes thoughts connected not only to the immigration or multiculturalism issues.