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The Decline of the West

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Opgave A ‘The Decline of the West’ is a short story written by Hanif Kureishi in 2010. It deals with the modern western capitalistic society and the affection it has on family life. The text questions the ethic aspects of the capitalism. In the short story, the materialistic values conquer personal relations. We are introduced to Mike who comes home from work where he has been fired. He is used to working late and therefore has a complicated relationship to his family whom he rarely sees. Mike has a debt of almost two years’ income which makes the firing a severe blow. The family wants to improve their material things, and that makes a high income an important factor. With no income, Mike knows the family will not be able to keep up appearances, and eventually they will have to move out of their five floor house on the outskirts of London. His two sons, Tom and Billy, already want to live somewhere else because most of their classmates live in bigger places. They are used to the upper class lifestyle with their parents working all the time and the au pair being the most regular person in their home. This creates an unhealthy and complicated relationship between the family members. The children are used to getting anything they want, but they have never understood why and how that is possible. They do not respect their father, particularly the oldest son, Tom, because he does not think his father has done anything for him. What he does not understand is that if Mike does not work, they would not have been able to buy all the material things the boys want. But the feeling of being neglected by your parent is still something the boys feel, even though they do not understand the reason for it, and it is what makes the basis for the complicated relationship. Some of the consequences of capitalism are shown in this short story. After a row with his oldest son, Mike is in the kitchen when suddenly all the lights go out. It is a break from the material world he lives in, all electronic devices stop, and reality hits him. He slips on the stairs to the basement where the fuses are, and for a very short moment he is thinking of just letting himself fall down the stairs and hopefully die. When the lights come on again, it is

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exactly the same material world as before, everything continues as though nothing has happened. In a capitalistic society, you have to work you way up the carrier ladder, but if you are not careful and spend your money well, you can fall harder than you ever dreamed of. This is what happens to Mike, he spends a lot more than he actually has, and therefore his world collapses without an income. That happens all the time and all over the world to many, many people, companies, and countries. He is used to only having his job to concentrate on, now he is forced to relate to the situation on the home front. In the basement, he sees a light, even though he actually sees the dark. He does not have a revelation but the opposite thing, he sees a way to escape all his problems, not solve them. With capitalism comes materialism; with materialism comes vanity and greed. Mike understands that when he looks at a £20 note, but he is not completely aware that he is a victim of capitalism. He does not understand what world capitalism has to do with his little family. He knows the world finance has an influence, but he does not understand how much of his everyday life connects with the capitalistic society. It is everything from average income, market store prices, house prices, unemployment, to interest on loans. And all of this is what has brought Mike in this situation in the first place, so he would be able to buy anything he wants for himself and his family. Mike’s wife, Imogen, is not affected by the capitalistic society in the same way as Mike. She values charity, even for a low payment, and it shows she cares more about people than money. The boys, Bill and Tom, listen to their mother in a whole other way than with Mike. She cares for them, helps them out with their homework, and she shows understanding towards their frustrations with their father. In that matter, she is on the boys’ side, and she does not want to help Mike out with the boys. The small family of Imogen, Tom, and Billy have their own lives together as well as separately, but they communicate every day. Whereas Mike has only had his job to focus on, he has neglected being a role model for his sons and failed to really take any interest in what they are doing. He wants things his way as in his office. In the family, he is just the money-maker, nothing else, and that makes it difficult to change habits when Mike is suddenly forced to stay home.

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Mike does not want a hard-working wife; he wants a wife who spends time at home, which is quite conservative attitude to women in the 21st Century when this story takes place. Mike lives in the past compared to his wife, and he experiences the same problems on the home front as many men before him. The main character in this short story is Mike, whom the 3rd person narrator is limited to. He becomes wiser during the story when he notices Queen Elizabeth II’s smile on a £20 note. It becomes clearer to him that capitalism, materialism, vanity, and greed are combined, but he still does not understand completely what is going on in the financial sector of the world and the big impact it has everywhere. It affects him and his small family more than he can understand and he does not understand the reasons for them being a victim of something that has happened far away from his everyday life. The title of this short story is ‘The Decline of the West’. It refers to the Collapse of Wall Street in 2008 which has changed the way of living for millions of people all over the world. Its biggest impact has been on Western society in Europe and North America where the financial sector has been able to play its own game without interference. This text tells us a story about how the family has declined in connection with the aftermath of the collapse. They are actually the ones paying for a collapse they had nothing to do with!

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