Textaufgabe - Aufgabe I "A week in December" by S. Folks
Hinweis: Die Prozentangaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.
You are on the committee of a British publishing house which is about to print a collection of texts on conflicts in multicultural Britain. The target audience is advanced school students in Germany and Britain. The jury therefore consists of journalists and students of your age living in Germany and Great Britain. Some stories and excerpts from novels have already been chosen, including Hanif Kureishi’s "My Son the Fanatic." A further text could be an excerpt from the novel A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks. You have been asked to write an article in which you recommend whether to include Faulks’ excerpt. Your article will be posted on the jury’s internet platform.
1. Before writing your article, you
- describe the situation and the thoughts of the protagonist
- analyse the narrative perspective and its effect on the reader.
2. Write the article justifying whether the excerpt should be included in the text collection on conflicts in multicultural Britain. Consider whether the text
- lends a valuable insight into the mind of a young Muslim ‘fanatic’ in Britain
- provides useful material for lively class discussions
- is a suitable addition to a collection which already contains “My Son the Fanatic.”
Describe the situation and thoughts of the protagonist.
In the excerpt from Sebastian Faulks’ novel A Week in December, published in 2009, Hassan al-Rashid, a Scottish Muslim studying at a London university, has recently been drawn into radicalism and is willing to participate in a terrorist plot (cf. introduction lines).
Hassan travels on the Circle Line train of the London tube (cf. l. 1) on a Sunday (cf. ll. 12/13) in order to obtain the parts necessary for building a bomb (cf. ll. 4/5).
While he watches fellow travellers, including a young couple publically displaying affection, a “black-skinned youth” (l. 12) and some tourists (cf. ll. 6-9), the protagonist senses that the youth might be looking for trouble, and thus makes sure to avoid eye contact with them (cf. ll. 9-11).
During the ride, Hassan reflects on his observation that Christians seem to have lost their faith, that they have given up on God and behave hypocritically without realizing it; he even uses the offensive term “kafir” to describe his fellow travellers (cf. ll. 12-23).
The protagonist believes that, with the exception of some people from his mosque, the members of his radical group and himself, the rest of the world is “deluded” (cf. ll. 24-26). As a result, Hassan feels bewildered by people outside his Muslim group, who, according to him, have given up on truth and the hope of redemption (cf. ll. 26-30). He can’t accept that people lead unfaithful lives and “let eternal life slip through their fingers” (l. 17), thus giving up their “salvation” (l. 27). Furthermore, he believes in life after death as a “truth” (ll. 29/30).
At the end of the excerpt, Hassan returns to planning his steps for purchasing the parts necessary to build a bomb: He plans to buy the components in smaller amounts and from different places all over London in order to avoid being remembered by a cashier (he is also aware of CCTV); he even already has a plan on how to get the component of the bomb which was causing him the most problems (namely hydrogen peroxide) (cf. ll. 30-38). The excerpt ends with Hassan getting off the train.
Analyse the narrative perspective and its effect on the reader.
Sebastian Faulks chose the narrative perspective of a third-person limited point of view, which still allows the reader to follow the situation through the protagonist’s eyes.
This can be seen in examples such as “Hassan could sense…” (l. 9), “It was Sunday, Hassan thought” (ll. 12/13), “How very strange they were, he thought, these people” (ll. 16/17), “most of them, he knew, still more or less believed” (l. 19), “The conviction … was one that grew in Hassan every day” (l. 24), “he viewed everyone he knew as deluded” (l. 26), “It was perplexing to him…” (l. 26), “he was puzzled by…” (l. 27), “he was aware that…” (l. 32), and “the only thing he was having trouble with ... But he had a plan” (ll. 37/38).
The focus on Hassan’s thoughts enables the reader to look into the protagonist’s head: S/he gets sufficient insight into the character and his thoughts, and is thus drawn into his way of thinking and his radical perception of his fellow travellers; we get to know Hassan’s motives for turning fanatic in the description of his world view, especially his religious fanaticism, and for his disgust with hypocritical behaviour (cf. ll. 12-30).
The use of Hassan’s judgmental words, particularly his currently acquired word “kafir” (l. 16; cf. l.18) as well as expressions such as “Christians … blasphemed, drank and fornicated” (ll. 19/20), expresses his anger and growing disgust, and lets the reader participate in his mindset and world view.
Another effect of the narrative technique applied by Faulks is that the reader can relate more easily to Hassan’s perception of people: As mentioned in the first part of this task, he can’t accept that people lead unfaithful or hypocritical lives (cf. ll. 18-22), how they “let eternal life slip through their fingers” (l. 17) and thus give up their “salvation” (l. 27). The protagonist believes that, with the exception of some people from his mosque, the members of his radical group and himself, the rest of the world is “deluded” (l. 26). Furthermore, he believes in life after death as an evident “truth” (ll. 29/30).
However, the author would have chosen a first person narrator if the only desired effect had been to let the reader see the world through a fanatic’s (and soon-to-be terrorist’s) eyes. By using the third-person limited narrator, Faulks creates yet another effect: The reader is urged to find their own viewpoint. Because of the third-person (instead of first-person) narrator and the semi-formal register (the language is kept rather matter-of-fact despite Hassan’s judgmental vocabulary), the reader is kept at a distance; s/he doesn’t get too involved in Hassan’s thoughts nor does s/he identify with him. As a result, objectivity is still maintained, even though Hassan’s subjective and judgmental view is portrayed. Despite the orientation to Hassan’s thoughts, the reader can distance him-/herself from his theories and his rather radical world view.
All in all, the third person-limited point of view creates both the effect of allowing the reader to see through the protagonist’s eyes, while at the same time distancing him-/herself from the radical thoughts which are thereby portrayed. Faulks thus chose the best possible narrative technique to both involve, and at the same time possibly shock, the reader with Hassan’s fanaticism.
When deciding on the question of whether or not a work is worthy of being included in a collection on conflicts in multicultural Britain and whether it is advantageous to do so, we have to bear in mind both the relevance of the text for the target audience as well as its added value in comparison to other texts already included in the collection. For the given excerpt of Sebastian Faulks’ novel A Week in December, both of these apply: It is most suitable for the target audience, and offers a fantastic addition to Hanif Kureishi’s short story, My Son the Fanatic.
The novel centres around a previously well-integrated young British Muslim who is taken in by Islamism, and is thus highly relevant for the topic of the collection. In the chosen excerpt, the protagonist Hassan is travelling on the Circle Line train of the London tube (cf. l. 1) on a Sunday (cf. ll. 12/13) in order to obtain the parts necessary for building a bomb (cf. ll. 4/5). The reader is offered an insight into Hassan’s perspective, the world view of a true religious fanatic who can’t accept that people lead unfaithful or hypocritical lives (cf. ll. 18-22), who “let eternal life slip through their fingers” (l. 17) and thus give up their “salvation” (l. 27). The protagonist believes that with the exception of some people from his mosque, the members of his radical group and himself, the rest of the world is “deluded” (l. 26). The reader is provided with a glimpse of a different and fanatic world view, one which is highly engaging.
Faulks offers enough detail to shock the reader by describing the fanatic’s world view (e.g. the salvation idea mentioned above) without being directly judgmental. By using a third-person limited narrator, Faulks chose the best possible narrative technique to both involve, and at the same time possibly shock, the reader with Hassan’s fanaticism. The excerpt is skillfully written so as to allow the reader limited participation in the terrorist’s thoughts and motives, yet maintains the necessary distance to allow the reader to form his/her own opinion. Especially with critical young adults as a target group, this is a well-suited approach. Therefore, the excerpt allows for many lively discussions.
At the same time, the language and content level is suitable for the target audience. Even learners of English as a foreign language at an advanced level can discuss the text in their English classes. Firstly, it offers an insight into a terrorist’s mind. Furthermore, it can be compared to other materials studied in class, such as Hanif Kureishi’s works – especially his famous short story, My Son the Fanatic, also included in this collection.
The method used of looking into a bomb-maker’s head makes this excerpt a suitable addition to the ‘outside perspective’ of Ali’s father in My Son the Fanatic, as it shows more of the terrorist’s/fanatic’s world view than the short story does. Hassan’s thoughts present a new level of insight on the topic, complete the second-hand information given about Ali concerning fanatics’ motives, and possibly even offer a further explanation for Ali’s behaviour.
In addition, Hassan’s case is more extreme in one sense, as the excerpt leaves less room for interpretation: He is definitely a fanatic who is willing to act on his fanaticism by building a bomb, while Ali’s “fanaticism” might just be “all talk” or, as is the case with many teenagers, just the symptoms of a confused phase. Due to the fact that we only learn about Ali through his father’s perspective, we can’t know how radical he really is and how far he is willing to take his fanaticsm in the end. In contrast, A Week in December offers a true focus on fanaticism; relationships don’t seem to matter in this excerpt, and the only person of relevance is the fanatic himself. As a result, the excerpt represents a direct approach to the topic at hand: fanaticism and terrorism as a result of multiculturalism.
All in all, I highly recommend the given excerpt from Sebastian Faulks’ novel A Week in December to provide added value to a collection of texts on conflicts in multicultural Britain. It offers not only an engaging and even shocking insight into a terrorist’s thoughts, but also helps young adults to see the connection to British multiculturalism in the clash of beliefs and norms between religious fanatics and the average Brit. Last but not least, it consequently forces the reader to form his/her own opinion; an important – if not the primary – reason for publishing a collection of texts for young adults.
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