Are We What We Buy and What We Consume?: Crisis of Identity in Hanif Kureishi’s The Decline of the West

Ali Gunes


This paper explores in Hanif Kureishi’s short story The Decline of the West the harsh economic recession or what he calls in the story “a financial crash” and its inevitable crippling negative impact on the social life in general and on individual life in particular, especially in the wake of the collapse of Wall Street back in 2008, which has obviously changed the way of living for millions of people across the world, specifically in Western societies in Europe and North America. In so doing, the paper is divided into two parts. In the first part, it debates that the capitalism as an economic system has radically transformed not only the traditional commercial and financial system, but it has also given rise to the construction of consumption culture, which has eventually altered the ways people across the world used to live, together with their perception of life and identity. This view of identity has closely been related to personal happiness, satisfaction, comfort, and freedom, along with the social status and prestige in one’s life. As the second part of the paper argues, however, this view of identity has faced far-reaching crisis in the wake of the economic downturnsince 2008 asrepresented in the life, view and identity of Kureishi’s fictional character Mike in the story after he is fired from his job in a bank. Having lost his job, Mike finds himself financially unable to keep his personal material comfort and satisfaction, meet the demands of his family andmaintain his social status and prestige as in the past. Hence his sense of self and stability falls apart; he loses his soul, as well as his vision of “the future” and eventually wants to “die” to rid of his psychological frustration and chaos.


Capitalism; consumer culture; materialism; financial crisis; identity

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