The Decline of the West
Analysis and interpretation
In the year 2008 a huge and comprehensive financial crisis began. For some people it had almost invisible consequences, and for others it transformed their everyday life completely. Being used to making and spending money without having to worry about one's economics, a firing can put the world upside down and force a family into a less materialistic life, which they are not at all comfortable with. That's exactly what the protagonist, Mike, fears will happen to him, his wife and their two sons in the short story “The Decline of the West” by Hanif Kureshi, written in 2010. This short story is certainly about what consequences both a capitalistic and materialistic society can have to a family, such as how a world-wide financial crisis can influence and reflect the values of a family living in this kind of society.
The short story is told with a 3rd person narrator limited to the protagonist, Mike. Therefore the reader only knows about his feelings and his thoughts, not the boys’ or the wife's thoughts. Hence, the point of view is very subjective and that makes the narrator unreliable. The reader only sees the world through Mike's eyes and thus the reader is inclined to sympathize with Mike and his opinions, even though they can be wrong. For instance the reader perceives the boys as rude and ungrateful to their father's struggle to keep them materialistic satisfied. Maybe the unhealthy relationship is based on a lack of attention and love from their father, but the reader doesn't get that impression, because the point of view is limited only to Mike and his thoughts about the relationship. However, the family seems to agree that Mike is a hopeless husband and father:
"You've spoiled and neglected him, you ridiculous, foolish man. And now you expect him to obey you!" (ll. 134-135)
"You've done nothing for me." (ll. 64)
Mike appears as a man, who obviously doesn't get the respect and thanks he deserves. He perceives himself as a victim of the family's greed: "Just call me the Delivery man." (l. 147) The story might have been different if the story was told with a 3rd person omniscient narrator. Though the story is told from Mike's point of view, the author may have added some comments, which appear as they were a part of Mike's thoughts, but still seem too ironic and half-witted to be so. An example of that is: “Yet how could his family be considering despicable or guilty of this, when all they’d asked for was continuous material improvement?” (ll. 88-90). The reader is here given the impression that the author does indeed consider families like Mike's the guilty ones.
Mike as a person is first of all rarely at home, because he works so much to satisfy the family's greed:
"The au pair saw more of his house and family than he did." (l. 5)
Still it seems like he's living in a dream world, or have an unrealistic view upon reality. That shows when he's heading home after work with bad news, but still looks forward to hear the cosy sound of his wife's and sons' voices. He might have experienced their greed and ungratefulness plenty of times, but still he's lying to himself about how comfortable their family and home are. He’s completely wrong, and for instance a clearly example of the wife's disrespect and not all “cosy” manners, is the quote: "Is it attention you're after?" (l. 188), because it shows that she sees him almost as a child, or at least someone who's just making the family's money and nothing more than that. She's also not at all dressed up when he gets home, and he feels disappointed about that. Also she quickly disappears to take a shower when he arrives, and the youngest boy only shows the father attention to persuade him to buy him a new guitar:
"I like you sometimes, Daddy. But I want guitar lessons." (l. 74-75)
In other words there's a long way from what Mike thinks his heading home to, and the actual reality.
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