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Funny Boy as a Buildungsroman novel

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai is a coming of age novel based on the theme of LGBT representation through English literature.The plot of Funny Boy revolves around the early years of little Arjun Chelvaratnam aka Arjie, who undergoes the realization about his true sexuality during his formative years. Buildungsroman novels explore the character’s premature years where they go through physical and moral transformation. The German word ‘Buildungsroman‘ means ‘novel of education’. So it can be estimated that such novels contain a prime character who is generally a young one, gaining knowledge and education in his/her early years. In Funny Boy, Arjie is in the midway of childhood and adolescence when he realizes certain secrets about his life. He realizes about his homosexuality when he befriends another queer boy Shehan in his boarding school.

In this novel, Arjie is referred to as a ‘Funny Boy’ because of his queer behavior. Even though he didn’t understand well about the reason behind the elders’ conduct during his childhood years, he finally gains the maturity to realize it. Homosexuality was considered as a taboo in the society back then, hence the elders regarded him as ‘Funny’ which meant to be a joke in the society. Arjie spent his childhood evaluating this confusion before he could attain maturity to fully accept the truth.

Amazon.com: Funny Boy: A Novel: 9780062392985: Selvadurai, Shyam: Books

In the first chapter, we come to know about Arjie’s tendencies when the author describes his wish for participating in the Bride-Bride game with his girl cousins. When Arjie is exposed in front of the elders while being drapped in a saree, he is strongly criticized by them and humiliated by calling him Funny.

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In the second chapter, Radha Aunty returns back from the US. Arjie befriends her as she allows him to play with her jewelry and makeup. Radha Aunty, who is engaged to Rajan Nagendra develops feelings for the Sinhalese man Anil. Arjie witnesses all these while absorbing so many truths about life including the riots between Tamils and Sinhalese.

Similarly, through every chapter Arjie witnesses something that shakes him with realization. He attains psychological maturity throughout these chapters about the way the lives of the people around him are shaped and how they affect him.

The Buildungsroman traditionally ends on a positive note, though its action may be tempered with nostalgia and emotional damage. Funny Boy ends on an emotional note when half of his family is burnt to death in the riots. He flies to Canada with the remaining family members leaving his motherland behind.

A Buildungsroman typically refers to a ‘coming of age’ of a naive character who seeks answers from his/her life in the course of the novel. In this process the character explores the diverse variations of life. The main goal of a Buildungsroman is attaining maturity, and in Funny Boy, Arjie finally achieves it towards the ending chapters. In the beginning chapters, Arjie is confused about his feelings and urges, when he gets criticized by everyone. At that age, Arjie fails to understand the actual reason behind such criticism and humiliation, because of his sheer innocence. However, when he goes to the boarding school, he starts to understand the actual reason behind his physical urges. He meets Shehan, who helps him realize about his homosexual truth. In this chapter, Arjie gains maturity and the ultimate of Buildungsroman is fulfilled.

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