If you know the tale of Antigone, then you also know the basic plot of Home Fire, as Shamsie stays faithful to Sophocles’ play. Even the names of her characters pay homage to the play (Isma = Ismene, Aneeka = Antigone, etc.)! The wonderful thing is how Shamsie updates this story to the modern day, and frames it around the British Muslim identity. She explores what it means to be a British Muslim, dysfunctional family relationships, terrorist organizations, political protests, fatherhood, and how these things intersect.
You might be saying to yourself: isn’t this a blog that focuses on women and motherhood? And you’d be right! However, with Shamsie’s Home Fire it is important to discuss the roles that fathers fill in our lives, and in the lives of their sons. Especially as it is a large theme throughout the novel. Thus, this post will be taking a rare turn to explore fatherhood and the influence that fathers (and father figures) exert over their children.
Parvaiz and Eamonn are alike in many ways. They both feel like they’re living in their father’s shadows, they’re naive to how the world works, they’re babied by their families, and they’re both loved by Aneeka.
Eamonn’s father, Karamat, has been elected Britain’s Home Secretary – an esteemed political position that Eamonn is assumed to aspire to. Eamonn, however, is not so sure of his future. He understands that people expect him to be just as successful as his father, if not more so, but he has already given up on that dream. He says, “We want to be like [our fathers], we want to be better than them…Obviously, I worked out long ago that such an attempt would be futile” (37). Still, Eamonn looks up to his father immensely and often looks to him to act as his moral compass.
Karamat has tried to protect Eamonn from the hardships that society has placed upon them for being British Muslims. In doing so, he has severed Eamonn’s connection to Islam and made him naïve to the racisms of the world. Karamat knows this: “My fault…I’m the one who never wanted you to know what it feels like to have doors closed in your face. To have to fight your way in,” (113). When Eamonn realizes how much his father has kept from him, and how his father values politics over morals, he feels distant from him. “You’ve lost your son too,” (268) Karamat’s wife laments when Eamonn goes against his father’s wishes by joining Aneeka in her protest. Karamat comes to this conclusion far too late, for the harm has already been done.
Parvaiz’s relationship to his father is more tangential. He never actually knew his father, as he died before Parvaiz was born. His father was a terrorist, and this has clouded Parvaiz’s existence due to the racist assumptions that his whole family should be surveilled and that he would follow the same path. The sad thing is, Parvaiz does follow this path – but we can assume it’s not for the same reasons.
Farooq, a surprising father figure, used tales of Parvaiz’s father to manipulate him into joining a terrorist group located in Pakistan. The reader can infer that these tales are largely false, and that Farooq is telling them to build Parvaiz’s father up as a mythical figure to aspire to. Farooq even claims that he changed his name from Adil Pasha to Parvaiz in order to be closer to his son on the battlefield. Parvaiz is primed to accept these lies. He “had always watched boys and their fathers with an avidity composed primarily of hunger” (129). He yearns for this ghost of a relationship. The strong relationships he has with his sisters cannot substitute the father/son bond for him. When Farooq says, “You’re strong enough to bare this. You’re his son, after all” (141), we see how much he is relying on Parvaiz’s need to be close to his father. Just like Eamonn, Parvaiz eventually realizes that his father, and his father figure, are not the great people they claimed to be. Farooq leaves him in the dust once they get to Pakistan. Parvaiz’s father could’ve visited his family while in the terrorist organization if he wanted to, but he simply didn’t care enough. Just like Karamat, Parvaiz realizes his mistake too late. He tries to escape, he tries to go back to the loving arms of his sisters, but the world will no longer let him.
Fathers have such a hold over their sons, because their sons are raised to believe that they must eventually surpass them. Isma sums it up best: “For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition” (37). Women don’t have a choice but to grow up, but men get to decide. In the end, Eamonn and Parvaiz got to decide what to do with their lives once they left their father’s shadows. It is by some twist of fate that they both die by those decisions. But Antigone is a tragedy, after all.
Shamsie, K. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.