A Guide to the Characters in The Buddha of Suburbia
Bridget Moloney '05, Brian Orloff '06, Emily Weiss '06, Recent Asian Diaspora Fiction, Northwestern University Karim
Karim is The Buddha of Suburbia's narrator and protagonist. Karim grows up in the suburbs of London and later moves with his family to London proper. As Karim grows the novel follows him from his teenage years into his early 20s his own worldview changes significantly. Much of Karim's story is about identification, specifically being an "Englishman born and bred, almost" (3). Caught between "belonging and not," between his Indian heritage and desire to assimilate into British society, Karim invariably negotiates his hybrid identity (3); but his character seems to posit that there is a space for both identities. He accepts much of his Indianness but also appropriates the qualities of British teenagers, reveling in dominant London fashions. Like his ethnic identification, Karim's sexuality is complicated. He says that has no preference and will sleep with anyone, male or female, though his first really important (and defining) sexual experience is with Charlie. Karim's fluid sexuality positions him in a liminal role namely because he does not claim a homosexual/heterosexual identity nor an Indian/British identity exclusively; thus, he is consistently forced to negotiate between such binaries. Karim's early sexual experiences range from various encounters with Charlie to another, quasi-regular relationship with Jamila, his childhood friend. But their sex seems mechanical, to be more about satisfying carnal impulses and, perhaps, simple friendship than anything romantic, never mind emotional. Later, as Karim becomes involved in an increasingly upwardly mobile social circle, associating with the arts community and participating in theater, he begins a complicated sexual relationship with Eleanor, an actor. Karim truly loves her and describes their relationship, saying, "I'd never had such a strong emotional and physical feeling before" (187). For the first time, sex gains an emotional component, a marked difference from his prior sexual relationships. Karim's relationships are always compounded with an innate selfishness and reliance on the material, or, at least, a dismissal of ideology. He is solipsistic, apolitical and is primarily interested in succeeding but he is often plagued with a lack of motivation. Still, at the novel's end, when there is promise of success on the horizon, Karim treats his family to dinner and says "I began to enjoy my own generosity. . . I felt the pleasure of pleasing others" (283). Granted, this pleasure is fueled by materialism and money, but Karim transforms (or begins his transmogrification) from a totally self-involved space to a place of awareness and caring for others. Charlie
Charlie is Eva's prodigal son and the object of Karim's affection. Characterized by Karim as a heart-breaker, Charlie neglects Karim, "neither [phoning] since [their] last love-making nor [bothering] to turn up" (32). Charlie's only real goal is to become famousto be a rock starand to employ any method through which to succeed. Charlie adheres to every trend, be it musical or in the fashion world. Although Charlie's band begins to amass an audience and buzz, his overriding covetousness of fame and the burgeoning of the punk movementwhich Charlie capitalizes oninspires him to abandon the band. Joining the punk movement, Charlie was "on to new adventures," literally jettisoning those who helped him succeed (132). Charlie changes his name to Charlie Zero and becomes an international success and major punk star, moving to live in New York. While in New York with his touring play, Karim lives with Charlie and begins to understand the pressures of celebrity. Charlie attributes his international success to "selling Englishness" (245). His character represents how individuals can profit off of other's desires to consume something foreign. This is similar to...
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