This study aims at examining the portrayal of London by different generations of women writers, who see place and nation with an eye of otherness. The study demonstrates how leaving their homelands and immigrating to London enables these women writers, specifically the first-generation writers, to portray London through the lens of a new level of racial, class, and gender understanding and awareness. The women writers whose works I discuss here - Jean Rhys (Voyage in the Dark), Doris Lessing (In Pursuit of the English), Buchi Emecheta (Second Class Citizen), Joan Riley (Waiting in the Twilight), Monica Ali (Brick Lane), and Zadie Smith (White Teeth) demonstrate that there is a break between the London most contemporary people imagine and the London that really is. Their real experiences of the city reveal an antithesis and an image contradictory to that of their imagination. Moreover, London is represented as a place over-determined by imperial history and power hierarchies. London becomes socially and economically an oppressive place.
I argue that discussing cultural changes across different generations and in different historical moments helps map the shifting situations in different eras, and give a better understanding of how concepts like otherness, cultural difference, and hybridity have been experienced and conceptualized at those historical moments.
The discussion of the novels raises questions about the position of non-western immigrants, and specifically women, in the metropolitan city; whether their position there
is really one of empowerment, and whether academic theories adequately take into
consideration economic conditions and historically imposed forms of oppression; racial,
colonial, and sexual.
Examined in the light of Edward Said’s concept of “otherness” and Homi Bhabha’s concept of “hybridity,” the novels reveal that the experience of immigrants in London is still characterized by binarism and inequity. The repetition of the same ending for the characters discussed across generations leads me to conclude that non-western people have been conditioned by their difference and otherness, a status that eternally relegates them to a position of marginality. Discrimination and racial prejudice are still practiced, and they have been carried on unchallenged across generations. In this way, I argue that these novels represent a challenge to Bhabha’s assumption that immigration is an enabling state. The “Third Space” is a reduced space: a space of ambivalence and disorientation. Demonstration of hybridity does not help create new identities. The hybrid individuals become indecisive about their identity. None of the major characters in the novels, even the second-generation characters, succeeds in negotiating between opposite poles.
It is concluded that within the world portrayed in these novels, it is impossible for the Other, hybrid or not, to fully integrate into Western society, as displayed by the constant struggles and attempts made by the second generation. They remain the Other, marginalized, never the centre, as the British culture is unable to embrace other values as the new British identity.