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The Decline of the West

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1280
  • Category: Values

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Financial collapses changes the way of living for millions of people all over the world. In the short story “The Decline of the West” written by Hanif Kureishi in 2010, Mike and his family are represented as victims of the 2008 financial crisis (also known as the Global Financial Crisis). Mike and his family lives in a materialistic world in the modern western capitalistic society, to which they have lost the regularly known family values as for example love, trust and presence. Thereby the short story questions, which values in life are the most important, and also it deals with the individual collapses during the loss of these values.

“The Decline of the West” is primarily about Mike. He is a 45-year-old father and husband. He is married to Imogen, and together they have two sons, Tom and Billy. They live in a big five-storey house outside London. Mike is employed in the financial world, which cause that he works very late every day, and therefor it has been necessary to hire an au pair. But one of Mikes following problematics by hiring an au pair is, that the au pair is a much more reliable person in the house and for the family, than he is. And blindly he admits, that he envies her of being with his family, when he cannot. Because of his almost non-existing appearance at home, he has a complicated relationship to his family, which causes a lot of conflicts.

The short story is written in 3rd person narrator limited to Mike. This means, that the reader is introduced to Mike’s thoughts and inner feelings. This of course contributes to a moderate insight in their family life, because the reader gets to know nothing about what Imogen, Tom and Billy thinks and feels. The personal perspective also affects the reader to empathize with Mike, because he clearly is portrayed as a neglected husband and father. Imogen, Tom and Billy are, according to Mike, filled with ungratefulness, greediness and vanity. They have interminable requests for new material things. They know, by experience, that Mike earns the money to buy them whatever they want, whenever they want. “Everyone should have what they want whenever they want it”1, he says. But does he mean that? When he call himself “The Delivery Man”2, it is not with the attention to make them request for even more, but with the attention to make them realize, that he will not be able to get them whatever they want forever. Obviously Mike feels like he can never satisfy them, which influences his longing for being a good father and husband.

Even though Mike rarely sees his family, he has an idea of their family life being unproblematic and with no worries. But this appearance is about to break, when he gets fired and he is left out with a debt of two years income. This makes the firing a severe blow and his earlier contribution to the family as the money-maker, is now ruined. He knows that his family wants to improve material things all the time, and that makes his high income an important factor. Therefor he is afraid to tell them, that he has been fired, because he know that with no high income, they might not be able to keep up their appearances and eventually they will have to move out of their house.

Mike is afraid of letting his family down, because he wants the best for them. But still they do not respect him. Particularly the oldest son, Tom, because he does not feel like, Mike have done anything for him. “Are you joking? You’ve done nothing for me”3 he says. Billy’s feelings about Mike are a little bit different, but still he only likes him, because he knows, that he is able to buy him whatever he wants: “I like you sometimes, Daddy. But I want guitar lessons”4, he says. Obviously this is rooted to materialism, because with materialism comes greediness, and visibly Billy shows greediness when he is asking for guitar lessons in such a direct way.

The title “The Decline of the West” can be connected to the economical decay and the moral degeneracy in the modern western society. With a view on the economical decay, the title is noticeably a direct reference to the economical problems in the western capitalistic world. Capitalism is an economical system, with the attention to do and achieve everything in terms of money. In the capitalistic society it is only possible to survive, if you work your own way up the carrier ladder. With a view on the moral degeneracy, capitalism, as mentioned, leads to materialism. And materialism thereafter leads to vanity and greed. They are all victims of materialism, which paramount their lives. Even though Mike does not long for new material things, he still is the one earning the money, because he knows, that he somehow can buy his family happiness, if he fulfills their requests. In their family there are no hints of intimate values such as love, trust and presence. The just mentioned regularly known family values are overshadowed by the western world’s dominating focus on money, success and image.

At one time the electric power goes out, and all sound and light in the house are suspended. Mike goes down to the basement, but on the staircase, he looses his footing and for a second he thinks, that he will fall down and break his neck. And for a very short moment, he consider just letting himself fall down the stairs and hopefully die: “How easy it was to fall, and how tempting it was – suddenly would be best – to die!” But he grabs the rail in time to come down with no damages. Down in the basement he stands surrounded by a mess of broken children’s toys and paint cans. He is surrounded by materialism and so he realizes, that he is not satisfied with what he has. He realizes his loss of happiness. Mike’s enlightenment happens when the electric power is off, which means it happens with no interruption from society. Simultaneously the symbol of enlightenment is in complete contrast to the blacked out basement. But when he finds the lever and the power goes on again, “their awful world started up once more (…)”5, and nothing has changed.

Money and success creates an image outwardly, which leads to different opinions and prejudges. Mike is complete aware of that, and therefor he dreams of, like millions of other people, a good and well-structured economy, which indicates high status. But because of that dream, all of Mike’s attention is given to his reputation. He wants to create an exact reputation, and he will do almost everything to obtain that. Therefor all his consideration is drawn outwardly, and he forgets to look inside him and consider, what he wants. He cares more about what other people might or might not think of him and his family, instead of caring about himself. Most importantly he forgets to focus on and care for his family, which results in broken personal relations. And broken personal relations to ones partner and children cannot be rescued with money. It is not like economy, which can be calculated in numbers and stocks; personal relations are about love, trust and presence. But then again, which values in life are the most important?

Money and a generally liked image, which results in outer success and a high status in the society, or on the other hand, love, trust and presence, which results in happy and healthy personal relations and inner success?

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