Forbidden Clothes by Jamila Gavin
In Forbidden Clothes by Jamila Gavin we have the theme of freedom, obedience, conflict, identity, tradition, culture, rebellion, respect, friendship and acceptance. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Gavin may be exploring the theme of freedom. Nasreen feels free when she is with Louise. She is able to dress as she likes and to wear make-up. Something that she is not allowed to do in your own community. She is bound or hindered by tradition yet she wants to rebel against it when she can. In order to feel like a young teenager who has the world at their feet. Instead Nasreen is culturally stifled by her parents and her community. Knowing that by the age of sixteen she will be forced to marry a man that she has never met before and who will expect her to be an obedient housewife. If anything there is a real conflict in Nasreen’s life and she feels guilty about how she is acting. The reader aware that Nasreen feels uncomfortable going against her parents’ wishes. This may be important as despite her rebellion against her community. Nasreen still respects her parents’ traditions and faith.
It is also possible that Gavin is suggesting that with freedom comes a price and that price for Nasreen is feelings of guilt. There is no doubting that she loves her parents however the lure of freedom and an ability to express herself as she sees fit is too strong or overwhelming for Nasreen to adhere to her parents’ traditions. Louise’s character may also be important as she acts as the tool or device which enables Nasreen to express herself. If anything she boosts Nasreen’s confidence and reassures her that everything will be okay. Having this type of support is important as it allows for Nasreen to explore her own identity. She knows that she is a young Muslim girl with her parents having expectations of her but she is also learning to be independent of her parents. Even if it does mean that she is continually beaten by her father for her actions. It might also be important that Mrs Khan allows for her husband to beat Nasreen as some critics may suggest she is blindly following the traditions that she herself grew up with. Playing the dutiful and submissive wife and accepting everything that Mr Khan does to be right.
How Gavin lays out the story may also be structurally important. She uses ten sections (or episodes) to which the reader is able to follow what is happening to Nasreen. At all stages the story is moving forward till it reaches its conclusion. However many readers may not like how the story ends or may be surprised by the ending. One would expect Nasreen due to the fact that she likes to be free to stay at Louise’s house. However as soon as she reaches sixteen she burns all her western clothes and returns to her parents. It is as though Nasreen is accepting that she has a path to follow and that path is in line with the culturally accepted traditions of her parents and community. If anything Nasreen after experimenting with western ideals is rejecting these same ideals. Her rebellion is over and she will marry a man she has never met before because it is accepted by the community. Which leaves the reader suspecting that Nasreen has chosen suppression over freedom. However at the same time the reader is left feeling as though they must respect Nasreen’s decision.
What is also interesting about the end of the story is the fact that Nasreen is determined to take the course of action she takes. She does not hesitate. Something that had previously caused doubt in her mind (when talking to the Head teacher) is no longer playing on Nasreen’s mind. Something that is again clear by way of the fact she burns all her western clothes. Nasreen embraces her parents’ traditions even if the reader might find it confusing. She is allowing herself to be controlled but the respect she has for others like her parents and those in the community override any personal feelings that Nasreen might have on the matter. Which leaves the reader respecting Nasreen’s decision and hoping that everything will work out for her. She has had a chance to explore her identity and has chosen to live her life in a traditional manner. One that honours her parents and the community. Rather than Nasreen losing out in life as some might suggest. She has through her own bravery made a decision that reflects on who she feels she is. A young Muslim girl who lives in a western society. Despite all the challenges she has faced Nasreen has remained true to herself.