Migration and Identity in Contemporary Women's London Narratives

By:
Dr Susan Alice Fischer
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Few studies of literary representations of the city have focused on the particular experiences of contemporary women in the global city. Contemporary British women’s London novels reconceptualize women’s identity and, in the wake of postwar migration to London, redefine “Englishness.” Drawing on theories of urban spatial relations, postcolonialsm and feminism, this paper examines how three contemporary women novelists write about the experiences of migration to London.

In White Teeth, Zadie Smith examines how (post)colonialism and postwar migration have contributed to a redefinition of English identity. In Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee, Meera Syal details the experiences of daughters of Asian migrants and the ways they redefine their sense of identity in terms of their gender and ethnicity. In The White Family, Maggie Gee explores entrenched views of what constitutes “Englishness” in a white family and the ways their racism and sexism spill into the wider society, with devastating effects.

These authors show how their protagonists’ relations with London space are shaped, at least in part, by gender, ethnicity and class. The spatial practices that female protagonists find themselves engaged reveal the ways in which they are included or marginalized, and how these experiences contribute to a revised sense of “Englishness.”


Keywords: Contemporary Novel, Migration, Women's Novel
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr Susan Alice Fischer

Professor, English Department, Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York
Brooklyn, New York, USA

Susan Alice Fischer is Professor of English at Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York. She is Associate Editor of Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, a peer-reviewed journal published in the UK by Routledge. She is also Books Reviews Editor of Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, an online peer-reviewed journal. She is completing a book on the representations of London in the novels of contemporary women writers. Her recent publications include an interview with Andrea Levy and articles covering the work of such writers as Hanan Al-Shaykh, Joan Riley and others.

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