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Yasmin Bahat

Engelsk Aflevering


The Decline of the West

It is important for everyone to have some sort of meaning with life. Without meaning, without values and without happiness life becomes a grey and gloomy experience where flashes of colors are scarce. It is important to live the life you love and love the life you live, if not life will fly by without making an impact. This problem is the theme in Hanif Kureishi’s short story “The Decline of the West” first published 2010 in a collection of Kureishi’s stories. The theme is how the main character Mike is lost in some sort of existential crisis where values such as materialism and capitalism are overshadowing everything else in his life. Furthermore, the story portrays the dysfunctions of Mike’s family and we follow the father’s time-consuming, tiring and tough struggle for giving his family what they demand. The story shows how a life where greed, vanity and paychecks is a flawed and shallow life. The story takes place in the outskirts of London in the small family’s rather luxurious five floor house with a garden and off-street parking. The story plays out in our modern society and lasts approximately one hour. At first, the setting is described fairly positive, inviting and lavish. Mike looks forward to “opening the door into the warm hall, hearing the voices of his wife and children, and seeing the cat come down the stairs to rub itself against him.” (p. 1, ll. 2-3). With this quotation from the story the mood seems warm and happy, but this quickly changes and everything about the setting becomes negative. The atmosphere is unpleasant and that is due to the distant and cold relations between Mike and his family. Moreover, there is a sort of “fake” feeling in the setting of the story. This fakeness can be seen through descriptions such as: “hyper shiny elegant dining-room table” (p. 1, l. 29). This particular setting, with all the negative energy, is important for the story because it illustrates all the problems this family has. This family puts so much energy into appearances and materialism that they have lost sight of the real things in life. This is shown through this excerpt from the story: “Family life could appear chaotic, but theirs was finely organized, with every hour accounted for. As well as attending private schools, his sons had, as far as Mike could recall, tennis, Spanish, piano, swimming, singing and karate lessons, and they frequently attended cinema, the theatre and football matches” (p. 3, ll. 77 -80) Mike truly believes that everyone should have what they want, and all his family want is material things. It is because

his eldest son loathes him because he is never home and never has time for his family. While heading to the basement problem Mike slips: “For a second he believed he was crashing onto his back and would break his neck. When everything goes dark inside the house it is Mike’s job to fix it. Additionally. l. 87). just die!” (p. 3. For example the eldest boy Tom fights with Mike and says: “Fuck off. Through Mike’s point of view the reader gets some insight into how the modern western society’s capitalism has ruined his family and how materialistic values destroy the existence of real values in life. ll. mocking even. and for the first time it becomes clear to him that the financial crisis.Yasmin Bahat Engelsk Aflevering 25-02-13 of this dominating material hunger that the setting of the story is symbolic for all the problems this family suffers from. and how tempting it was – suddenly would be best – to die!” (p. from whom the third person point of view is limited to. 37-39) The bills symbolize the vanity and greed that come with materialism. but it also symbolizes some sort of crash. 99101) He has realized just how deep he has fallen. His wife is distrustful. evil old man. 4. The capitalistic world has grown stronger than Mike and his family. 117) His son is angry at his father. ll. Mike starts to realize that it has ruined his family. because he has not given him anything other than material things. At some point. We learn that Mike comes home early with the news of his firing. it is as if he is altered while glancing at three 20 dollar bills his wife has laid out for the cleaner: “How had he never noticed what a sardonic little Monica Lisa smile the blinged-up monarch wore. just how much he has missed in his wild hunt for 2 .” (p. 3. which makes the whole situation ironically sad. He just gave all the wrong things. distant and distracted. Throughout the story we follow Mike. because it demonstrates the journey and the change that Mike undergoes. the use of this particular point of view is clever of Kureishi. Mike grows wiser and wiser as the story progresses. The dark symbolizes the darkness of material things. How easy it was to fall. It is the first time that Mike notices this and it is quite a significant discovery for Mike. The ideology of capitalism and the belief that money can buy happiness made Mike work hard in order to give his family all the material things they could wish for. his personal crisis and his family’s crisis are “punishments for years of extravagance and self-indulgence. and he does not even understand that all Mike tried to do was give and give and give. The consequence of this is his relationship with his family. He begins thinking about his lifestyle in a different way than before. 2. The story’s point of view also helps shedding light over the family’s problems. ll. as if she pitied the vanity and greed the note inspired?” (p.

something where vanity and greed are not the most dominating aspects of life. The understanding the readers get due to the point of view is also strengthened with the title of the short story. 5. All in all. because Mike and his family deserve more than what capitalism has given them. The decline of the west is not only the crash of 2008. 173-175). seeing the wicked smile of Queen Elizabeth II and nearly choosing to give in to the darkness he understands just how vainly. the point of view gives a greater understanding Mike’s development and the consequences of leading a too charmed life. These realizations are not all negative. which initially brought a lot of consequences for millions of people.the materialism and choosing the light. It seems that Mike has gained some bravery after his experience with fighting the dark . because they make Mike understand that there are other things than the values of capitalism and he looks forward to spending some quality time with his youngest son Billy. Capitalism is the reason for the decline of the West and Mike understands how it now affects his family deeply. He chooses light. He feels defeated and for a small moment he thinks it might be best to die. which is how the western capitalism has failed. but we now know that Mike has grown smarter and he understands the consequences of the decline of the West.Yasmin Bahat Engelsk Aflevering 25-02-13 money. Mike is the only one who understands this. We do not know what will happen when Mike finally tells his wife about the “shitty thing” that happened at work. The title shows the reader what Mike slowly realizes while the story progresses. but also how the western values of materialism have ruined this family. but in the end he chooses life. This is exemplified in this quantitation from the text: “Since capitalism was cracking under the weight of its contradictions as the Marxists had predicted – neither the communists nor Islamists being responsible for its collapse” (p. ll. After losing his job. greedily and wrongly his family live their lives. “The Decline of the West” is a reference to the Wall Street crash in 2008. The interesting aspect of this story is that we experience how the decline of the west affects an English family. 3 . The family has gotten so used to the way of capitalism that they have become greedy and vain. Perhaps he will even be capable of turning this sad materialistic life into something more.

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