Culture in Saint Chola

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ENG 111
Sarah Faulkner
Culture and Identity in “Saint Chola”

In the majority of stories we read, authors use literary elements such as setting, plot, or point of view, to try and illustrate their ideas and views, such as political views. In our short story unit, we have read many stories whose authors each define culture using different literary elements like the aforementioned ones. In “Saint Chola”, K. Kvashay-Boyle uses literary elements such as symbols, character, setting, and language, to develop cultural ideas about not only one culture, but three different cultures. She develops ideas about Muslims, Americans, and the sub-culture of junior high students in America. While developing ideas about these three cultures, Boyle also shows us a character’s journey on the path of self-discovery as she figures out how to identify with each culture and how she will define herself. “Saint Chola” is a short story about a young Muslim-American girl from India who is going to school at a junior high in Los Angeles during the time of the Gulf War. During this time, there was discrimination in America towards Muslims because of the war. The main character, Mohammadee, who refers to herself by the more American-sounding name, Shala, is Muslim and deals with discrimination both in and out of school due to her culture. She spends most of the story trying to decide how she is going to identify herself and along the way, we learn about the different cultures she’s identifying with; Muslim, American, and junior high culture. Muslim culture is very prominent in “Saint Chola”. One way Boyle defines Muslim culture is through the use of symbols. The most significant symbol used is the hijab. A hijab is the scarf that Muslim women wear to cover part of their face and neck. Shala begins to wear her hijab to school, but gets teased for wearing it. Kids try to pull it off of her and a parent at a Girl Scout meeting even says to her, “Um, excuse me but this is a feminist...
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