The Ending of the Novel, Funny Boy

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Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

The last chapter of ‘Funny Boy’ is an epilogue to 1983 ‘Black July’. This can be considered as a deviation of Selvadurai’s narrative style which he has followed so far. This structure keeps the reader’s curiosity, suspense and eagerness to proceed with the text. Here Selvadurai provides historical evidence for the fact that the riots of 1983 were led by government sponsored groups.

Although this chapter is listed as an epilogue, it is actually an integral part of the novel, essential for understanding Sri Lanka’s history and Arjie’s retrospective narrative voice in light of the other chapters. However, as a series of journal entries, this chapter is also narratively distinct, because it is the only one that Arjie narrates during the action, in the present tense. This contributes to his sense of urgency but also forces readers to fill in the gaps between entries. It also helps account for Arjie’s decision to narrate his past: he notes here that, when overcome by fear and anxiety, he naturally gravitated toward writing to find solace. Readers may already know that July 1983 was when the Sri Lankan Civil War began; regardless, Arjie
immediately realizes that the family’s longstanding fears of violence in Colombo have finally come true, and they know this could have profound consequences for their future.

After learning about Amma’s personal flaws, moral conflicts, emotional history, and judgment errors throughout the book, Arjie easily sees through her attempts at feigning normalcy. Given his knowledge of the unpredictability of violence and memory of visiting Somaratne’s village, Arjie can no longer trust that Amma will protect him—he is now old enough to know better and recognize that nothing can guarantee the family’s safety. While their fear stems from others’ possibility of treating them as homogeneous representatives of an ethnic group rather than complex human individuals, their faith in neighbors suggests that their interpersonal relationships with those around them can serve as a humanizing force to counterbalance against the reductionism of nationalist violence.

The government declares a curfew, which is a relief, but they soon learn why Sena Uncle really did not arrive. A clerk from Appa’s office, sent by Sena, tells them that Sena’s van was commandeered for the petrol. The clerk also says that Tamil shops have been set on fire and the police and army simply stood by or even joined in the looting. The streets were full of abandoned cars and gunshots were heard. Sena had to watch as his van was taken away. The thugs lit a family in their car on fire.

Arjie cannot stop thinking about this family. His parents tell the children about an escape plan they have ready, which will have them leave through the back garden into their neighbors’ garden and then hide in their storeroom. Amma has removed her jewelry and Appa has sent the neighbors their bankbooks and birth certificates. The waiting is terrible and Arjie just wishes the mob would come and put things in motion. He is writing by torchlight. No one can sleep. The next entry is from thirteen hours later. Their “lives have
completely changed” (288). Arjie writes that he fell asleep against his will but is woken up by his mother, who says it is time to go. They carry out the plan, climbing the ladder and going into the Pereras’ backyard. Arjie can see the mob’s flares coming closer. The family hides in the storeroom. To their horror, they can hear the mob setting their house on fire. The next day they see that almost everything is gone. No one wants to cry for it because if they start, they will not stop. They also learn their grandparents’ house has been burned, and Arjie does cry for that. A group of men come by collecting funds for a sport meet, and, worried they
might be the people who called, Sena Uncle gives them money. He thinks the call was “simply a way of extorting money” (295). Curfew is lifted for a few hours so people can buy food, but supplies are already low. A lot of people have been visiting them to make sure they’re okay, but the visit that makes Arjie most happy is Shehan. Arjie realizes for the first time Shehan is Sinhalese and he is not, but his feelings do not change. Lakshman Uncle calls from Canada to ask how they are and says they should emigrate. Appa agrees to get the children passports when things calm down. Appa later learns his hotel was attacked and severely damaged,
but no one was hurt. The president addresses the nation and expresses no regret for what the Tamils have endured, and no condemnation for the thugs. Appa is angry at himself, asking how he could have been so blind. He decides they will go to Canada. The next morning, visitors keep arriving and Arjie can only feel tired, restless, and claustrophobic. He wishes he could sneak out and see Shehan.

Rumors reach them that the Tamil Tigers have arrived, and then that they haven’t. The family worries about Ammachi and Appachi, who were supposed to be at Kanthi Aunty’s house a long time ago. To their horror, they find out the grandparents’ car was attacked and set on fire, and Appachi and Ammachi died.

Arjie receives his passport and it hits him that they are really leaving. It seems strange to go abroad under these circumstances. Appa will be coming later, as he has to settle things here. They will be living with Lakshman Uncle, which bothers Arjie since the idea of living in a foreign country off of the charity of others is not ideal. Appa cannot take his money out of the country due to government regulations, so it will be like they are starting over. Arjie visits Shehan and they make love for the last time. It is passionless and tentative, as if both of them were acting odd to stave off the pain. On his way home, he bicycles by his old house. As
the rain begins, he sees his house, stripped of every single thing including doors and windows and hinges and pipes. This shocks him, and he weeps for “the loss of everything that I held to be precious” (305). Finally, his tears stop and he gets up to go. He does not close the gate; what would be the point in protecting the house anymore? The rain begins to fall in torrents and he cannot help but look back one more time. He glimpses the house, then “the rain fell faster and thicker, obscuring it from my sight”

This section is told in real time through Arjie’s journal entries. Unlike previous chapters which are told through the perspective of an older Arjie recounting events from his past, here we learn about many of the events in real time through young Arjie’s voice. At this moment, all of the tensions between the personal and political come to a head. The country as well as Arjie have both irrevocably changed and lost their innocence. Arjie is on the precipice of adulthood; the rioting and fires burn two important symbols of Arjie’s identity and innocence—the murder of his grandparents severs Arjie’s ancestral ties to the country, and the burning of his childhood home prevents him from returning to his previous life and his earlier innocence.

The conflict is no longer abstract to Arjie, for it has come to his neighborhood, his family, his home. He can also no longer ignore the fact that Shehan is Sinhalese, and though they do not break up because of this fact (Arjie’s family is moving to Canada), they no doubt would have had serious issues. Their last lovemaking session is lacking in passion, indicating that the ties that bound them together are fraying.

One of the ways to read the text is as a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age story. Indeed, we see Arjie grow up physically and emotionally, confront difficult situations, learn who he is, and begin to develop a moral and intellectual framework with which to view the world. Yet, as some critics note, it’s not exactly a traditional bildungsroman, especially as it is a queer novel. Darryn Edwards explains that Selvadurai wrote a “queer counter-bildungsroman,” subverting the genre by “adopting the formula” but “forfeiting the outcome.” What Edwards means by that is Arjie comes to term with his queer identity and that estranges him from his family, but he also has the larger Tamil-Sinhalese conflict to deal with, which, paradoxically, brings him
closer to his family.

Another way Selvadurai disrupts the bildungsroman is the end of the novel: “The traditional Bildungsroman ends with the main character conforming to the greater society, often somber regarding their previous resistance, but Arjie removes himself from the Sri Lanka; the world he has made for himself cannot exist in the war-ravaged country. He’s already removed himself internally, now he completes the process by removing himself physically. Arjie recognizes that acclimation does not lead to fulfillment–or even guaranteed survival-
-so he does the opposite. Not only does he inhabit an imaginary, metaphysical space that is separate from the heteronormative culture that refuses to recognize his queerness, but he also moves outside of the society that rejects his Tamil identity.”

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One comment

  1. […] The last chapter of ‘Funny Boy’ is an epilogue to 1983 ‘Black July’. This can be considered as a deviation of Selvadurai’s narrative style which he has followed so far. This structure keeps the reader’s curiosity, suspense and eagerness to proceed with the text. Here Selvadurai provides historical evidence for the fact that the riots of 1983 were led by government sponsored groups. … (Read More) […]

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