How Successfully Does The Writer of ‘An Unknown Girl’ Present Her Feelings About The Country She Has Visited?
The writer, Moniza Alvi, has picked the perfect setting in the poem ‘An Unknown Girl’ for the narrator to explore her thoughts and feelings about her Indian birth culture- an Indian bazaar. Probably like Moniza who has dealt with getting to know her Pakistani birth culture after being raised in the UK, the Indian narrator has grown up away from her birth culture. Thrown in the middle of the Indian bazaar where everything is unfamiliar and strange to her much like her cultural identity. The writer has the narrator confront her culture head on forcing her through the process of emersion to come to terms with her culture and eventually embrace it as being an essential part of her identity. By finding connections between her western culture in which she was probably raised and this foreign eastern culture, the narrator develops strong feelings of longing to get to know her birth culture more. From the start of the poem, it is clear that the writer is effectively communicating the narrator’s feelings of disconnection with her eastern heritage. The repetition of the word ‘unknown’ effectively summarises her contact with her culture; it is something foreign to her. Her first thought of disconnection is the main feeling in her mind. The fact that through-out the poem she keeps repeating ‘evening’, which is usually a time when people are asleep and dreaming of important things in their lives, further highlights that her culture has been hibernating within her waiting for someone to wake it up. Presently her culture only exists in her dreams; it is not a reality in her daily life. The title ‘unknown girl’ suggests that her own identity is a stranger to her; she does not fully know herself as she has cut off an essential part of anyone’s identity; her birth culture. At the same time, the repetition of ‘unknown girl’ through-out the poem creates a chorus-like effect that effectively draws the reader’s attention to the fact that it is the ‘unknown girl’ who is hennaing her hand that will wake up the eastern culture within the narrator. The unknown girl represents what her culture is to her: foreign. Unlike the narrator, this ‘unknown girl’ has embraced her culture which is shown by the fact that she is ‘hennaing [her] hand’ which is a traditional eastern art and is wearing traditional ‘satin’ clothes. As the narrator gazes at this girl during the long process of hennaing her hand, she probably has begun to wonder why she has not embraced the eastern heritage like this girl has. She is perhaps feeling a little timid about getting to know her culture though this unknown girl as the unknown girl ‘steadies’ her hand. In the first steps towards getting to know her culture, the narrator begins to see some beauty within this eastern culture. The writer effectively shows that the narrator now sees a clear link between her eastern and her western culture and realises there is beauty in both. Through the use of a metaphor, she compares the beautiful art of henna flowing elegantly on her hand to that of the traditional western art of ‘icing’ a cake. Icing a cake is naturally beautiful and artistic as well. This girl helps her to recognise that the Eastern traditional art of hennaing her hand since it is like ‘icing’ a cake is also a beautiful art-craft that obviously takes skills as the unknown girl is doing it ‘deftly’ and is, therefore, an art to be admired. Yes, she does recognise her culture and the beauty in it, but at this point she only associates it as belonging to the unknown girl only. The repetition of the third person pronoun ‘she’ and ‘her’ highlights that her culture is currently outside of her and only belongs to the girl hennaing her hand. It hasn’t yet seeped into her yet; the remains of her culture that the unknown girl has begun to give her at this point only exists on the outside- on her hand. Later on, she...
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