"She was as startled by her own agency as an infant who waves a clenched fist and strikes itself upon the eye" (pg. 4).
This simile is used at the start of the novel to foreshadow the events that will take place when Nazneen eventually has an affair after years of being passive and submissive. The simile compares her to a baby, which highlights how innocent and unaware Nazneen is. She leads such a sheltered and controlled life that even as a wife and mother, she is unaware of her own power. However, just as a baby inevitably gains more skills and grows up, Nazneen cannot be passive forever. This simile shows that even while she is delayed in her self-awareness, she will eventually have to learn to take responsibility for her own decisions and be an active participant in her own life.
"Pigeons turned weary circles on the grass like prisoners in an exercise yard" (pg. 33).
This simile appears in a description of London when Nazneen goes out by herself for the first time. The simile conveys that the city is not welcoming or beautiful to Nazneen; she finds it to be a cold and forbidding place. The comparison of pigeons to prisoners also works to show Nazneen's mood. She feels trapped in a life of futility, just as a prisoner can only walk in circles without actually being able to walk freely around. In this scene, Nazneen seems to have some measure of freedom, because she is leaving the flat to walk around by herself, but just as a prisoner is let out temporarily and then has to return, Nazneen's freedom is temporary. She will always have to return to her limited domestic life.
"All her chores, peasants in his princely kingdom, rebelled in turn" (pg. 40).
This metaphor is used to describe Nazneen's actions when she is angry at Chanu after he refuses to help Hasina. Nazneen does not want to openly display her anger but she needs to find an outlet for her feelings. As a result, she starts doing domestic tasks carelessly, or even purposefully causing disruption. This metaphor compares Nazneen's domestic sabotage to peasants rebelling against a king. The metaphor is important because it reveals the dynamic of power that exists in Nazneen's marriage. Chanu holds all the power and authority like a king, and in comparison, Nazneen is a peasant. She must be careful to only assert herself in cautious ways because Chanu is still very dominant.
"She was as still as a mongoose entranced by a snake" (pg. 84).
This simile describes the way Nazneen waits at the hospital while Raqib is ill. The simile conveys her silence and stillness, but it also hints at the dangerous situation. A mongoose facing a snake is confronting a serious threat, and this simile hints at the seriousness of the baby's illness. However, the simile reflects a specific defense strategy rather simple passivity. A mongoose is known to fight back against snakes, so this image evokes an animal quietly preparing its strategy. Likewise, Nazneen is not going to simply accept her son's fate, and she is prepared to fight for him.
"The sequins looked like fish scales" (pg. 158).
This simile is used to describe a sequined vest which Nazneen tries on shortly after she begins to work and meets Karim. She is entranced by the vest because it is flashy and revealing, representing clothing she would never wear in her daily life. It also reminds her of figure skating costumes. However, Nazneen's response to the vest quickly shifts from desire to disgust. She compares the sequins to fish scales, something common and perhaps even distasteful. As someone used to cooking and preparing food, fish scales are a common nuisance for her. The simile reveals that Nazneen is still ambivalent about her desires, and quickly suppresses longing when she starts to feel it.
Brick Lane Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Brick Lane is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.