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Conflict Of Modern Vs Traditional Culture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5432 words Published: 4th May 2017

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The system of immigration is of sole importance in the US national development. The country mainly stands on immigration driven transformation throughout the history. Looking back in history, large scale immigration took place in 1970s and process continues till date. The twist of 21st century brought about many changes in the world. The immigration system of US has taken a sharp turn. Much important is the incident of 9/11 and the period following it.

Immigrants, after having spent decades of their lives in alien environment being away from home and native culture, come across many problems. The problems vary according to their nature, from social to cultural and economic to political; all problems mainly arise due to lack of assimilation and primary focus on separatism.

Assimilation demands merging of American immigrants into a new culture and adopting their way of life. Most first generation immigrants naturally stick to their mother country’s values and norms. For this particular reason they face identity conflict on cultural level. The conflict also arises when the immigrant originally belongs to a culturally dominant group in the mother country and finds him/herself as a minority in the host country. If their cultural identity is rejected by the host society, he/she returns towards his/her native cultural identity.

Culture is an indispensable factor of conflict and its resolution. ‘Cultures are like underground rivers that run through our lives’ [1] it shapes our ideas, perceptions and judgments of self and other.

Asian- literature primarily addresses the concept of race.

Problem Statement:

The conflict among US immigrants about cultural assimilation is mostly expressed in South Asian American novels. The South Asian American novelists Mohsin Hamid and Jhumpa Lahiri portray some of cultural conflicts; for instance modern and traditional culture. Generally, American society perceives Asian immigrants’ culture as traditional and considers their own culture and way of life to be modern in nature. So it is to be analyzed how such conflicts are presented by both the novelists in their works The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Namesake.

Research Questions:

On what basis the conflict of modern vs. traditional with respect to Pakistani immigrants is presented in the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

How Mohsin Hamid defines modern and traditional culture?

What according to Jhumpa Lahiri is modern and traditional culture?

How in The Namesake the clash of culture is presented with respect to Indian culture?

Are there any similarities in the way both novelists define the cultural conflict?

Objective of the study

The objective of this research is to study how conflict arises between the native and host cultures of immigrants. And to provide the variables on the basis of which the novelists have defined modern and traditional culture in their novels.

Significance of the study

The significance of this study lies in providing an in-depth analysis of the conflict that has emerged in pre and post 9/11 era with respect to The Namesake and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.


The study of conflict is based on qualitative analysis of cultural conflict in both the novels. It is based on theory of assimilation (model of Separatism). Separatism, Methodology is based on consultations from primary and secondary resources. Primary source is the text of two novels and secondary resources are research papers, print media, internet articles and critical commentaries of various critiques.

Organization of the study

Conflict of modern vs. traditional culture in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Conflict of modern vs. traditional culture in The Namesake.

Comparative analysis of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Namesake.

Literature Review

Culture means growing sum of “knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions” [2] possessed by a particular group of people. It implies that culture revolve around various parameters ranging from dress code to particular political affiliation.

Humans cannot flourish well in homogeneity; diversity is a key term in cultures. Conflict automatically arises with diversity among nature and culture of people.

The economy of US has been dependent on manpower from across the globe in the form of immigration. Dating back to history; starting from seventeenth century slave trade till date; immigrants have been the mainstream of US economic system.

Immigration, however, played a key role not only in making America’s development possible but also in shaping the basic nature of the society. Immigration has given rise to problems of assimilation of one group into another from different backgrounds. People always come from varying cultures, nations, and carry differing identities; they cannot completely merge with each other. The differences always arise and cause issues of identity among people. [3] 

Since ‘each of us possess several different identities of varying degrees of complexity, personal, social’ [4] ; the inner desire to preserve the identities may not receive the same level of acceptance by the host society. This situation ultimately ascends cultural conflicts like identity, name, etc.

Huntington in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order presents his theory of clash of civilization as he believed that clash amongst nations is based upon culture. He writes:

Edward Said in his book Orientalism is of the view that occidentals considered orientalists especially Muslims to be barbaric, insensitive and inferior to Anglo-Saxon race thus presenting the clash of civilizations.

The hyphenated literature of America records such clashes. The Chinese exclusion in 1882 and the bigotry against Chinese immigrants in US are recorded in the following poem.

The similar kind of discriminatory behavior is also portrayed by Meena Alexander in her poem. The extract below narrated the story of bigotry against Asian immigrants in the US where equal opportunities were not available for them

Another critic Denna also comments upon the novel in the following words.

Similarly Pakistani-American novelist Mohsin Hamid in his novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist also presents the situation of Pakistani immigrants in US by plotting the story in the backdrop of 9/11 attacks. Manish Chand, a critic quotes

According to Irfan Khawaja, the protagonist of the novel suffers from cultural and identity conflict, as he is of the opinion:

Chapter 2

History of Cultural Conflicts in US

Immigration from earliest settlement to the present:

Being a country comprised of immigrants, United States of America from its earliest to the present settlers have copious amount of ethnic, religious and cultural multiplicity. The earliest settlers brought about homogeneity as many comprised of white race and were religiously Protestants. But as the decades and centuries passed, Asians, Europeans and South American immigrants poured into the United States. Gradually the difference began to emerge. These differences primarily became apparent on religious, ethnic and racial level as these immigrants ranged from Catholics to Muslims and Hindus to Buddhists.

United States developed as an industrial nation after the arrival of European settlers that started at the end of fifteenth century. Population rise, battles on land, industrial revolution, and religious persecution were some of the reasons to make people leave their homeland. [5] 

The earliest immigrants from British Isles migrated to North America and brought with them the mainstream culture which still resonates and dominates in American way of life. Nevertheless, it was Spaniards who first formed the permanent settlement which is now called as Florida in 1565.

British developed the new land with the help of American Indians at first at Virginia colonies in 1607. They rated them as an inferior race having traditional and barbaric culture. They viewed them as slaves and tried to suppress them but remained unsuccessful. After realizing that they could no longer use them as slaves, they used corrosive means to move them off the area which settlers wanted for themselves.

On the other hand Spaniards used different methodology with the red Indians by integrating them in to their community and exploiting their labor. [6] 

Along with British and Spanish settlers, black landowners from West Indies also played a part in bringing African immigrants to US. Slavery soon became the main solution of problem of manpower in developing American lands especially the South where economy depended on rice, indigo and tobacco. [7] These immigrants were a result of forced migration and were required to work on hard conditions without their choice; it was one of the largest population displacements in the world history. The culture of African immigrants in US has received pejorative connotation as whites presumed their culture to be sophisticated and a model to be followed by the World. The clash of cultures later emerged out in the twentieth century.

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The period between 1815 and World War I is significant in bringing about the greatest wave, an estimated 30 million, of European immigrants to the new land. The largest group was Irish, who became prey to British land laws and potato crop failure, in the mid nineteenth century. Germans constituted the second-largest group among European immigrants; most of them were middle class artisans and landless people who migrated due to Industrial upheaval in Europe During the epoch from 1890 to 1924, immigrants from Italy, central Europe and Russia started settling into the US.

The late nineteenth century in the United States is marked by immigration restrictions. Some state laws did not allow illiterate and anarchists to step on their soil. The need of restrictions arose as many believed that the culture of newcomers is spoiling the whole essence of American culture and way of living.

The turn of twentieth century and World War II brought about immigrants from Asia, Mexico and the South America.

Cultural conflict and Legislations:

The major cultural conflict in American history is mostly associated with African immigrants and their struggle to retain their own cultural identity with reference to their native land. Their struggle is marked by violence, peaceful protests, establishment of certain organizations like NAACP.

The time span of this struggle starts with the establishment of James Town when Africans were brought to the New world solely for economic purpose and their status were nothing but slaves. They were not even considered as human beings but mere as property, the beings that are devoid of any emotion whether pleasure or pain. For that particular reason, they were transported in inhumane conditions through transatlantic route. Sometimes they were chained around their necks and were given food after several hours. These conditions resulted in the deaths of so many Africans on ship and their dead bodies were used to be thrown in rivers. On their arrival to the New World they were sold and they were departed from their families. Langston Hughes, a famous African-American poet narrates the similar incident in his poem The Negro Mother.

After being sold, the slaves were put on mostly cotton, tobacco and potatoes plantation. Some of the slaves tried to show resistance regarding religion and culture and the remaining were put on so severe conditions that they could not think of anything else but pain.

Americans considered the slaves to be devoid of any culture and religion but despite persecution, slaves managed to retain some part of their native culture. Though folktales, slaves were able to save their culture from perishing in United States. Apart from that, they crafted certain objects in accordance with the traditions of Africa

As there was restricted time of leisure allotted to slaves especially on Sunday, the slaves used to rejoice themselves through dance and music. They used to play variety of musical instruments and the music for them connoted both spiritual as well as secular meanings. But not many slaveholders were lover of slaves music as many considered especially in South Carolina, the beating of drum as the call for rebellion on the part of the slaves.

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When in 1776, America gained independence, the author of Declaration of Independence , Thomas Jefferson chose beautiful words to signify whtat the new country stands for in these words but the Constitution of United States and the practices spoke otherwise. Under the Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, while discussing about the representatives in the Government, give slaves the proportion of ‘three fifth’. It is interesting that the authors of the constitution has not used the word slaves, but the word ‘others’ has been used for them.

After the independence of United States, the South economy stated to boom because of slave. They were expensive and the number of slaves determined the status of the land owners. Apart from few landowners no one allowed slave the right to education and if slaves used to run away to some other place, it was the law that they had to be returned back to hi/her owners. On the other hand North was moving towards industrialization. In 1860, during the presidential campaign, the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln based his campaign on anti slavery slogan, which highly disturbed the South because they reckoned the slogan as an attack to their economic institution and warned North that if slavery would be abolished, then they would secede. In early 19th century anti slavery societies began to operate who called for the rights of slaves.

The campaign became so severe in late 19th century the civil war broke out in 1861 and lasted till 1865. The Civil War resulted in the abolition of slavery. Behind the abolition of slavery there were various actors that played their part to raise awareness that blacks are also human beings and should be given appropriate rights. Abolitionist used various strategies; one amongst them was the publication of anti slavery alphabet. Through alphabets, the abolitionist presented their point of view in front of white Americans.

Despite the end of slavery, it existed in the form of segregation; more specifically through Jim Crow laws. The laws made segregation legal from transportation places, to theatre etc. The Jim crow laws connoted that blacks are separte and could never assimilate or adjust themselves with the whites based upon their culture and mental capabilities.

In an effort to revive their culture, African- American started to publish their literature and thus laid the foundation of jazz poetry, jazz music, etc which has now become the hall mark of American culture. The epoch of 1920s is marked by Harlem Renaissance or is often referred as Jazz age.

After facing hardships of decades, it was Rosa Parks who when refused to give seat to a white American was arrested and it laid the foundation of Montgomery bus boycott which later became one of the causative agents of Civil Rights movement of 1960s. The leader of the movement, Martin Luther King Jr called for an end to racial discrimination and demanded the equal rights for the colored people. He called for non violent civil disobedience which compelled US Government to put an end to Jim Crow Laws. Martin Luther King’s sppech’ I have a dream’ is significant in this remark which calls for segregated free American society, where colored people would get equal chances of progress.

The history of ethnic and racial conflict is mostly recorded in parallel to the history of immigration in the United States. Moving in to a new society, the immigrant suffers from discrimination which varies in degrees ranging from verbal abuse to physical violence. This discrimination has to be experienced by the migrant if he/she wants to be recognized as Americans.

The Melting Pot theory formulated in eighteenth century is crucial to the understanding of cultural conflict in United States.

The basic postulate of melting pot theory requires all immigrants to assimilate into the American dominant culture. It laid stress on homogeneity on religious as well as an ethnic level. During the late eighteenth century, it is estimated that 99 percent of US population comprised of white Protestants. [8] They easily were able to assimilate themselves in white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) as there was uniformity among them in terms of ethnicity, religion, and race. [9] But for the migrant the whole story was upside down. They found it difficult to melt in to the dominant culture especially African immigrants with lower socio-economic status and color. They were assumed as mentally and physically inferior and their culture also became the victim of ethnocentrism. Similarly by the end of nineteenth century, it became questionable whether European immigrant of lower economic status could be assimilated.

Among immigrants, who were physically weak and were of lower economic status struggled hard to make their place in fast moving American society.

The American Congress, dreading foreign-born political reformists, passed the short lived Alien Act in 1798 to exorcise alleged spies. Although unwanted entering was controlled by local and state control on immigration; ‘the first major federal immigration legislation excluded prostitutes and convicts in 1875.’ [10] 

An alike display of persecution was observed against Asians on the West Bank. The gold rush of 1848 brought most Chinese immigrants to the country. Chinese came as individuals, not in families, since they intended to return back after earning significant amount of money. They primarily were employed to work on railroads as well on farms. The discrimination against Chinese included ‘accusations of vice and idolatry.’ They were considered inferior and a potential threat to Americans on economic level. For this particular reason, the bigotry against Asian also included use of violence. Native born Americans made use of legislation to remove this threat as Congress passed Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.it remain enacted till 1943.

During early 20th century Japanese immigrants entered US initially; soon they allegedly took away most jobs by providing cheap labor. The number of Japanese entering US was limited by the “gentlemen’s agreement” signed between US and Japanese governments in 1907; ultimately all Asians were prohibited from entering US by the year 1924.

Racial profiling was not limited to work places but students at college campuses and religious places also suffered from bigotry.

The conflicts based on culture and race which demands ‘their life-styles’ be accepted and given space in the society are prevalent till date.

The increasing number of undocumented and illegal immigrants residing in US paved way to another wave of Nativism during 1980’s and 1990’s. Most illegal immigrants came from Mexico, Asia, Latin America and Caribbean. It was assumed by Americans that these people were taking away job opportunities and hence became a burden on economy of US.

Local political and social movements generated national demand to restrict immigration in late nineteenth century. The Ku Klux Klan’s actions were strict against “foreigners” as well as against African Americans. Eastern and Southern Europeans were easily recognizable due to their appearance and traditions, which made them easy targets of bigotry.

Congress allocated quotas for immigrants comprising of complex sets of rules about national origin, most of which helped northern Europeans in the Immigration Act of 1924. President Harry S. Truman deviated from this policy when he granted asylum to European refugees who fled World War II. Quota system was revised to control immigration in McCarran-Walter Act (the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952), it also sustained marginalization of immigration from Asia. The Immigration Act of 1965 finally ended national origin to serve as basis for system of quotas.

After the incident of bomb shelling at Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese were “hauled away” by the FBI; restrictions and bans were placed on people of Japanese descent to be expatriated from US devoid of the fact that they had acquired US citizenship. They were caught and sent to internment camps. It gave an air of Japanese being captives of US forces. All the metaphors of “freedom and liberty” that were pure American phrases did not apply to Japanese immigrants in US.

Immigrants to the United States, have adapted to the new culture despite of their many cultural diversities; they have been displaced from the familiar lifestyles and having to settle in the alien life and the new circumstances. After assimilation, the new comers assume themselves as Americans; the situation becomes ironical when these assimilated groups start to doubt more recent immigrant groups as a threat to “American way of life.”

By the turn of twenty first century, September 11, 2001 attacks on World Trade Centre and Pentagon terribly affected the lives of Asian immigrants in the United States most specifically, Muslims. Many of the immigrants became the target of bigotry, harassment, and hostility. In the year 2004, the council on American-Islamic relations processed a grand total of 1,522 incidents where immigrants complained of ethnic and religious profiling. Hence 9/11 has served as a catalyst for producing a cultural conflict among Asian immigrants. The religious differences are also contributing to this problem. The 9/11 incident, has brought this conflict to height and has proved American society a failure for multiculturalism.

Chapter 3

Cultural Clash in The Namesake

The Namesake is a remarkable autobiographical tale of the novelist. Jhumpa Lahiri, being brought up in Bengali-American family, shares immigrant experiences and all the underlying conflicts; she states about writing the perfect inscription in an interview:

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London, and bred and matured in Rhode Island (US); thus attaining an immediate familiarity with “living two lives in one”. This distributed life made her much sensitive to “the intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new.” [11] She has been successful in concisely portraying her diaspora experiences in a collection of short stories; Interpreter of Maladies (which won her the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2000). Similarly, once more catching the attention of literary world, through her first novel The Namesake; she

Houghton Mifflin Company published an interview of Jhumpa Lahiri , she expresses about The Namesake: ” the novel is definitely about those who are culturally displaced or those who grow up in two worlds simultaneously”.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake conveys clash of cultural assimilation; where first generation of immigrants natively belong to Bengal, India and are seen as traditional people loving their motherland and her culture. They don’t assume America as their own place; but their son Gogol is born and bred in United States and he carries an opposite approach as that of his parents. Gogol is uncomfortable with his own name which carries in itself a whole history of his father’s association with an author; he himself understands his name neither his friends outside the home and this becomes a source of tension for him. He also feels distress over his parents’ Bengali rituals and rites that they occasionally practice. Such things become a source of inner battle for Gogol.

Immigration is a common practice in the present globalized age. People from across the world change places and face different languages, cultures, and everything that is new to their lives. One common situation that they all face is natives’ unwillingness to accept them; this also applies within the country or within small states. Gogol, the protagonist, is unable to understand the account behind his name, when his father tries to explain. At one stage in his endeavors with his self, he isolates himself from the rest of his family to get rid of traditional culture; but he returns to his home after death of his father and adopts the rites that he used to practice. As a result of all this conflict, with his identity, he loses his girlfriend.

Gradually, Gogol turns back to his parent’s culture and family, he finds himself attracted to a Bengalese girl that his mother introduced him to. He gets married to her; where it seems the story has finished happily, but that is not the case. Moushumi, who is a shy Bengalese young lady, after getting away from strict and traditional environment of her parents’ house seems to enjoy the freedom of married life and loses interest in him and builds an affair.

The Namesake gives an insight into the lives of immigrants to United States, the cultural and identity crisis they find while assimilating into the new society. [12] 

The Gangulis, although live in United States but they socialize and live away from American culture as far as parents are concerned. Ashima wears traditional clothes and speak their native language. But once the children are in school, she observes American occasions like Christmas, but that too is celebrated in her Bengalese circle of friends and serves her home-based foods.

Gogol, seems in trouble all the time because of his inner conflict. He always detests Indian culture and wants to keep an American identity; as a result he doesn’t even refrain from leaving his parents’ home and abandon his relationship with family.

Issue of cuisine

The trouble regarding the cuisine also surfaces when Ashima realizes the difference of Chicken being butchered in the two countries i.e., India and America.


Gogol while assimilating into the land of his dreams, America, he wears American styled clothes. On the other hand when he visits India, he wears Indian clothes. This means that he has not abandoned both the identities. Yet at the same time he is confused regarding the choice of his apparel.

Difference of Perceptions regarding various countries:

The plot contains the best travelling experiences of characters regarding India, America, Paris and Venice. Each person assumes the places differently, from escape to home and freedom to failure To the children of first generation immigrants, on the other hand, their parents’ native place seems old fashioned and outdated. Their lives become collaged between Indian and American rites as they face troubles with their selves in becoming Indian or Indian-American. As a result this conflict ends when in Europe where they can easily cut their connections.

The people live, share and celebrate even the minor events collectively in India, but the situation is different in United States. As the character of Mrs. Jones reveals that she lives alone and sees her children and grandchildren rarely; this is “a life that Ashoke’s mother would find humiliating.” [13] In America, the Ganguli children are raised up as Americans, and want to celebrate events as their fellows. For instance, Gogol celebrates his fourteenth birthday in two different ways, one traditional Bengali and other American.

The wedding of Moushumi and Gogol is also an example of clash between traditional and modern values. Their parents plan the whole event in their way and perform various customs that none of them understands. Gogol’s friends on the other hand design and plan the whole event of marriage personally.

The difference between traditional and modern values is also evident in Gogol’s divorce from Moushumi. Since Ashima thinks, “Fortunately they have not considered it their duty to stay married, as the Bengalis of Ashoke and Ashima’s generation do.” [14] In her view, the pressure to settle for less than “their ideal of happiness” has given way to “American common sense.” [15] Surprisingly, Ashima is pleased with this outcome, as opposed to an unhappy but dutiful marriage for her son. [16] 

In The Namesake, characters make constant contrasts between India and America, between tradition and modern way of looking at things, and so on. First generation immigrants like Ashoke and Ashima consider American ways as alien and foreign but to accommodate to pleasure of their American born children, adapt to certain occasions like Christmas. Second generation immigrants like Gogol and Moushumi, who are now Indian-American, feel alien in both the countries. They seem misplaced in their parents’ homeland as well as the land where they are born and bred.

Gogol faces another cultural shock when he becomes aware of immolation tradition in the treatment of dead bodies. It becomes haunting for him to think that unlike his American tradition of burying the bodies in grave, his body will be burnt after death.

Estrangement and alienation:

The theme of alienation, of being isolated in a distant land, is dominant in the whole novel. During her period of first pregnancy, Ashima was anxious to raise the child in a foreign land, ” a country where she is related to no one, where she knows so little, where life seems so tentative and spare.” [17] This alienation is mainly due to her inner conflict of fast and modern life of US and her traditional simple life back at home. At child’s birth, she feels alone and helpless and considers his birth, It is unlike the customary gathering of whole bunch of people around the lady and c


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