Dr Paul McDonald, expert on humour and author of Fiction from the Furnace: A Hundred Years of Black Country Writing (2002), will be participating in the symposium Black Country Landscape in Literature, Thursday 6 November 2014, at the Arena Theatre, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The symposium is part of the Arts Council funded festival, Black Country Echoes. For further information and to book tickets, click here.
Dr McDonald’s talk is entitled ‘Being Brown in the Black Country: Comedy, Dialect and British Asian Identity in Meera Syal’s Anita and Me’.
Anita and Me is the story of an Asian girl’s search for identity in the Black Country. This semi-autobiographical bildungsroman is set in the 1960s and examines the legacy of post-War immigration in the UK from a comic perspective. It focuses on the consequences of immigration for the Asian settlers, the Black Country community and, particularly, for the second generation protagonist, Meena. The latter’s position is a familiar one: faced with a clash of cultures, Meena seeks psychological integration and a valid sense of self. Her dilemma is manifest partly at the level of language. Where Punjabi represents her ethnic heritage and the demands of Indian culture, the Black Country dialect is associated with peer group recognition and adolescent transgression. My paper will discuss the significance of this linguistic/cultural conflict, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between language, culture and humour. I will argue that modes of humour – from crude carnival to sophisticated wit – take on a symbolic role in the novel denoting alternative responses to Meena’s predicament. Ultimately humour is presented as an ‘answer’ to the problems faced by the protagonist – it offers an effective, albeit ambivalent perspective on her dilemma, simultaneously underscoring and qualifying the book’s assimilationist message.
About the Speaker
Dr Paul McDonald is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Wolverhampton where he runs the Creative and Professional Writing degree. He is the author of 15 books, including three Black Country based novels: Surviving Sting (2001), Kiss Me Softly Amy Turtle (2004), and Do I Love You? (2008), and three collections of poetry The Right Suggestion (1999), Catch a Falling Tortoise (2007), and An Artist Goes Bananas (2012). His critical work includes books on humour, American literature, narratology, and one of the few scholarly works on Black Country writing, Fiction from the Furnace (2002).