National Identity in Julian Barnes' England, England Essay

National Identity in Julian Barnes' England, England Essay

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National Identity in Julian Barnes' England, England

“The finest tax-deductible minds were brought in to address the Project’s Co-ordinating Committee. The French intellectual was a slight, neat figure in an English tweed jacket half a size too big for him; with it he wore a pale blue button-down shirt of American cotton, an Italian tie of flamboyant restraint, international charcoal wool trousers, and a pair of tasselled French loafers” (54).

Julian Barnes uses his postimperial novel, England, England, to critique what England, under Tony Blair’s administration, is moving towards – a recreated Britain, an all-inclusive nation with no appreciation of its history, except that which has been distorted in order be politically correct or somehow profit the country. Through this quote, it becomes evident that Barnes sees England grasping to be defined, not by its rich past, but by other nations – possible tourists, possible residents that may add diversity and, thus, a shift towards breaking old stereotypes and becoming a modernized nation.

When Sir Jack Pitman, England’s scheming tycoon, recruits the best of the best to assist him in creating his theme park of re-created English history, England, England, he calls in a Frenchman to do the job. Barnes juxtaposes this man’s nationality to the idea of the theme park: a Frenchman is assisting in the development of a project whose end entails complete Englishness. Barnes is showing the ridiculousness of Britain looking toward a new national identity but achieving it by becoming a “melting pot” of nations. Barnes is pointing out that while a nation should embrace all nationalities, it cannot simply erase its history to achieve that. Otherwise, it becomes like...

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..., Britain will lose a sense of her past, just as the Frenchman only retains minimal signs of his true nationality. Barnes is using the Frenchman to help show the British that it must be decided where to draw the line. A nation must evolve and adapt but never forget or lay aside its identity as its own nation. Barnes subtly asks the British where that line will be drawn. They must not allow themselves to take things quite as far as the Frenchman. They must still retain heritage, because, after all, where would they be without it? A nation is not a nation without its own culture, its own past, its own people. A trade-off must be made in order for Britain to modernize, and England must find the middle ground. Through his book, England, England, Julian Barnes reminds the British that while searching for a new national identity, they must not become non-national.

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