Brick Lane

Brick Lane Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Ice Skating (Motif)

Very early in the novel, Nazneen is intrigued when she sees ice skating on television. Throughout the years she lives in London, Nazneen comes back to motifs of ice skating, whether by watching it on television or trying on clothes and imaging herself as a skater. At key moments in her life, she also explores moving her body and imaging what it would be like to skate. Finally, at the very end of the novel, Razia takes Nazneen skating for the first time. Skating symbolizes Nazneen's desire for freedom and independence, and her hope of living a life where she can make her own choices. At first it seems impossible, but she gradually moves closer towards this goal. Importantly, when Nazneen finally goes skating, she does so while still wearing her sari. She is able to combine her identity and history with a new vision of being free.

Chanu's Trousers (Symbol)

When Nazneen briefly goes home to wash and change her clothes while Raqib is in the hospital, she feels empowered and triumphant. It seems like Raqib has fully recovered from his illness, and Nazneen feels proud that she has asserted herself and fought to save her son. Impulsively, she tries on a pair of Chanu's trousers. The trousers symbolize power, assertiveness, and the ability to make one's own fate. For Nazneen, it seems like these qualities had been limited only to men, but in this moment, she feels like she can also share in them.

Nazneen's Best Sari (Symbol)

On the day that Nazneen and Karim make love for the first time, she puts on her best sari. She does not know at the time that they will consummate their relationship, and cannot understand why she feels the impulse to dress up for no reason. The sari symbolizes the emergence of Nazneen's desire and femininity. Even though she tries to deny it, her attraction to Karim has awakened a new consciousness about her appearance. She feels aware of her body and sensuality in a way she has never experienced before. The sari symbolizes Nazneen's desire to no longer be invisible and passive, but to draw attention to herself and finally experience pleasure.

The Smell of Limes (Motif)

Whenever Karim is around, Nazneen detects a smell of limes. She associates this smell with him, and her desire for him. The scent of the limes becomes a motif whenever Nazneen is thinking about her lover. The motif evokes the sensual, bodily response she has to him, and it also reveals that she notices the smallest details about him. This motif also shows how Nazneen's attraction to Karim is associated with a time in her life when she was more youthful and carefree. Nazneen often reflects on how her early life in Bangladesh was much more sensual and vibrant: she can vividly recall smells, tastes, and colors. The association of Karim with the smell of a tropical fruit shows that he transforms Nazneen into the young, open-hearted girl again.

Plastic Bags (Symbol)

When Hasina writes about her life with James and Lovely, she mentions that James works for a plastics company, and also describes how the street in front of their mansion is littered with plastic bags. The business is threatened by a potential ban on plastic bags. The plastic bags symbolize wealth, greed, and corruption in Bangladesh. James is making a profit off of something that has destructive and ugly effects on society. His business allows him to live a wealthy life, but doesn't benefit society. Although Hasina doesn't give many details, her letters hint that James is eventually going to suffer the consequences of living a corrupt and greedy life.