Social contrasts and gender boundaries create oppression and injustice amongst the characters in Shyam Selvadurai's Funny Boy. This injustice affects the composure and behaviour of the characters throughout the novel and it appears in every aspect throughout Funny Boy. Oppression emerges within the Chelvaratnam family, who are displeased by Arjie's "tendencies", and the likelihood that he will grow up "funny." Oppression also surfaces between the Sinhalese and Tamils with ethnic riots in Sri Lanka's society. Even when Arjie is not involved, he still manages to appear at the center of every oppressive and unjust situation.
Arjie experiences his first gender boundary when he is no longer permitted to play with the other girls during his spend-the-days. He is forced to conform to his family's' belief of normality. This is an interesting situation, because the fact that the only boy was the bride every time the girls played was never an issue to the other children. The only time Arjie's gender became an issue was when jealousy became a factor; he was forbidden to have any part of the girls' game, unless he took on the male's role. "That Her Fatness wanted me to swallow the bitter pill of humiliation was clear, and so great was my longing to be part of the girls' world again that I swallowed it" (30). This was Arjie's first direct experience, (but not to be his last) with a gender boundary. Even the setting in the novel is divided into gender territories, at the grandparents' house, the boys and the girls had specific play areas. "Territorially, the area around my grandparents' house was divided into two" (3). The front yard belonged to the boys and the back yard to the girls. "It was to this territory of "the girls," confined to th...
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... him nor is it changeable by his family any longer. The cultural spitefulness also transfers to the school yard between the Tamil's and the Sinhalese. A power struggle develops between the Buddhist and cruel, yet non-discriminatory school principal and the Sinhalese-chauvinist vice-principal; it is believed that Black Tie is associated with the harassment of the minority Tamil students by their Sinhalese peers.
Arjie's innocence and confusion make him such an appealing character. When the oppression he experiences from his family is added to his character, this makes Arjie even more engaging. The social contrasts between the ethnic groups in Sri Lanka and the difficulties experienced by Arjie are what truly make the overall presentation of the novel so enticing and powerful.
Selvadurai, Shyam. Funny Boy. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994.