Out With the Old, In With the New

by christinahall2

by Christina Hall

To assimilate is to absorb, integrate, adjust, include, or adapt a new way of thinking, acting, or living.  Often it is the ideas, values, and or ways of life of a culture (the dominant culture) that are taken up by another.  It is a process that was accelerated during colonization, and kept alive through globalization.  It can be used as a tool to escape or to belong; it can be forced on the unwilling or welcomed with enthusiasm.  It is a word wrought with contradictions…out with the old, in with the new.

Our early teens are formative years when youth can be found searching out new ways in which to assert their independence within their worlds.  It is also a time when many children disregard against what their parents or elders have taught them and look to redefine themselves with the popular, dominant culture.  It is a process we came across with Tambu in Nervous Conditions, and it comes to us again with Matilda in Mister Pip.

In these novels, both girls choose to bring the colonial culture into their lives; Tambu seeks it out through education, as does Matilda.  In both cases their mothers are the embodiment of the culture they are trying to escape from, yet feel tied to by duty.  For Matilda it is her mother’s mental bullying that pushes her to turn to the story of Pip, and his England:

“…she returned to her other preoccupation, testing me with the names of relatives and fish and birds from our family tree.  I failed miserably.  I could think of no reason to remember them, whereas I knew the name of every character I had met in Great Expectations…[they] were more part of my life than my dead relatives, even the people around me.” (75)

Her mother’s stubborn resistance to Mr. Watts and his teaching of Great Expectations, eventually becomes a source of embarrassment for Matilda as the novel progresses:

“My mum was so eager for us kids to know what she knew, but she didn’t know how to plant it in our heads.  She thought she could bully us into     knowing what she did.  Did she notice that whenever she got onto God and the devil, every kid’s face dropped?” (80)

Her mother’s vain attempts in teaching her important and valuable knowledge, in fact only works in pushing her daughter further away, and into dreams of a far away land and a new life.

I think it is interesting that assimilation of the colonial culture is looked at in distain by the majority of adults in the works we have looked at, except in The God of Small Things where it is actually aspired towards.  It starts with Pappachi’s goal of Anglicizing the family, and continues with Baby Kochamma forcing the twins to speak English.  Also interesting is the twins denial of the dominant culture; they’re rebellion is to continue speaking the traditional Malayalam.

Questions to ponder:

1.    If the Dolores had not tried to force her traditional knowledge on Matilda, and had not been completely adamant in her dislike of everything having to do with the white man’s world, do you think Matilda would have been as enraptured with the story and other world of Great Expectations?

2.    What other forms of assimilation can we see portrayed within Mister Pip?

3.    –  Does the act of assimilation always have an element of force connected with it?

–  Is something always ultimately lost when someone is assimilated, or is there a gain?

–  Is it possible to be free from assimilation in today’s global world?

(Do not feel like you need to limit yourself to Mister Pip in the answering of these questions)

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4 Comments to “Out With the Old, In With the New”

  1. I think Matilda would still be enraptured with “Great Expectations” even if Dolores had not felt a strong resentment towards the white man and his teachings or if she hadn’t forced her traditional knowledge upon Matilda because Matilda had a genuine interest in who Mr. Pip is and what his world is like. She is curious about cities she had never seen and weather conditions she had never experienced (as well as her fellow classmates). Most of all, she is very interested in Pip and his behavior. She also has some sort of fascination with Mr. Watts. None of this interest would be less evident if Dolores was not unpleasant (in Matilda’s opinion and us readers’ opinions) to Mr. Watts, Mr. Pip, and ultimately Matilda herself. However, perhaps Matilda would be more inclined to care about God and prayer and whatever else her mother wanted her to care about because it would be easier to care more about her mother and want to be with her more. But that would not cause her to care any less about Mr. Pip and Mr. Watts.

  2. Mr. Watts’ handling of Great Expectations represents an assimilation of its own. He adjusts and adapts the novel to fit into both the understanding of the children and the context of their world. We find out later that Mr. Watts leaves out certain parts of the story and even goes as far as to omit some characters, while emphasizing others. In this case, I think more is gained than lost with the novel’s “assimilation.” Had the novel been presented to them in its original form (perhaps the proper, original version) they may not have taken what they did from it. Connections with themes and the possibility of escape that the novel provided may have been harder to accomplish without Mr. Watts’ adaptation of the story.

  3. In response to question 3, I don’t believe that assimilation is always the result of some force but something is always lost. Assimilation is the merging of cultural traits from previously distinct cultural groups, and with easily accessible information on the internet and western media available worldwide, this is something that may happen voluntarily. For example, western values may be spread due to someone choosing to watch American movies. With new values or cultural traits there is a loss of the old ones and possible cultural tension or confusion. I don’t think that there is any way to be free of assimilation in today’s global world and for this reason it is crucial for cultures to continue to educate youth about their own culture and support cultural programs. The loss of culture and language is a very sad result of globalization.

  4. Personally I would not associate assimilation so strongly with “loss” or “force” per se, but maybe more of a mutation. Although assimilation does call for the change from one culture to another (out with old, in with new) I would say that most people do not forget their culture but rather play along with new ones (speaking from limited experience of course). Matilda’s rapture with Pip I think speaks more to her personal interest and natural intelligence as opposed to a defiance of her mother. She loves her mother who is all she really has in her war torn world (although this isnt always so clear in the book, lacking embellishment as it is)but is craving new worlds and experiences just as any child does. Curiosity will dominate over most forms of suppression, at least to some extent.

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