Identity and Culture in Presents from My Aunts in Pakistan

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IDENTITY AND CULTURE IN ‘PRESENTS FROM MY AUNTS IN PAKISTAN’ The poem, ‘Presents from My Aunts in Pakistan’, appears to be about a young girl, half English, half Pakistani, talking about clothes she received as presents from her aunts, who live in Pakistan. What the poem is really exploring, though, is the poet’s views on Pakistani and English culture and how she fits into one, both or neither of these cultures. A society’s culture is made up of many things such as the food we eat, the music we listen to and how we dance, as well as our traditions to name just a few, but clothing is also a very important part of a society’s culture. In this poem, the poet uses clothes as a symbol to represent both the Pakistani and British culture. I aim to examine the poet’s use of imagery to express what she thinks, how she feels and what she really desires, as well as why she feels the way she does about her identity and culture. The poet uses images of clothing to express how she feels about both the Pakistani culture and British culture. She begins the poem by describing the presents she has received: “a salwar-kameez peacock-blue and another glistening like an orange split open.” These vivid and colourful images are rich in connotations and appeal to several of our senses: the sense of sight, smell and taste. The first salwar-kameez refers to one of natures most beautiful and majestic of all birds, the male peacock. This image gives the impression that the Pakistani culture is outwardly very showy, grand and beautiful in its richness and variety. This idea is further developed through the image of the orange, as the colour of the orange appeals to our sense of sight. Orange is a warm and vibrant colour that makes us think of warm, sunny days in summer. It gives not only the idea of warmth but also joyfulness. The image also appeals to the sense of smell. You can almost smell the scent of the orange as the words are read and for many people the smell of an orange is very pleasant. The smell makes us imagine the taste of the orange’s sweet flesh. These images give an overall impression of just how much the poet admires the richness of the Pakistani culture. She sees the culture as rich, joyful, vibrant and beautiful. At the same time, she recognises that not everyone sees the Pakistani culture the way she does. Her “salwar kameez didn’t impress the schoolfriend” who “asked to see” her “weekend clothes”. Clearly, the poet’s view of Pakistan is personal to her. The clothes, symbolic of Pakistani culture, meant nothing to her friend. Despite the poet’s admiration for the Pakistani culture, however, we are told that what she really desires is the British culture; she “longed for denim and corduroy.” This appears odd considering the wonderful imagery she uses to describe the Pakistani culture. After all, neither denim nor corduroy is described using the richness of imagery used for the Pakistani clothing. Indeed, in sharp contrast, the way they are presented is quite dull and boring with no exotic imagery. However, the denim and corduroy, whilst not presented as beautifully rich and vibrant, they still carry deep and interesting connotations which express her view of the British culture. Both these fabrics are known to be warm to wear, hard wearing and practical, down-to-earth, rather than showy garments, which are suitable to be worn for most everyday practical pursuits. It suggests that whilst she may admire the Pakistani culture, she views the British way of life as more practical, down-to-earth and more suitable to everyday living. Indeed, the lifestyle she herself longs for. Although, she longs to be wholly a part of the British culture, the poem suggests she is being prevented from doing so, always being pulled back into the Pakistani culture and the people she holds responsible for not allowing her to fly free to seek her own place in the world are her aunts from Pakistan. This idea is conveyed through the...
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