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Textual Analysis of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows

by Abeera Arshad
Texture Analysis of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows

Textual Analysis of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, This Research paper seeks to find out the reason and after effects of war upon political and cultural identities of the characters of Burnt Shadows. Particularly it focuses on a female protagonist, who regains and relocates herself in a world of war and terror. It also shows the identity crisis and the effects of migration throughout the text.

This study connects us with the world of post-world war and post-9/11 attacks while showing the hope of a new life. It discusses the situation of Identity loss and war in many different locations throughout the world including
Pak-Indo partition. We also have seen the blend of eastern and western cultures.

The blend of two communities, two cultures and two identities due to the effects of war and colonialism is called hybridity by Homi. K Bhabha. This research textually analyzes the ideas and thoughts of Kamila Shamsie which she discussed in Burnt Shadows. It highlights the causes and effects of war, andhybrid identities in the text and questions the resultant circumstances of this war and attack.

Keywords: Protagonist, War, Terror, Migration, Hybridity, Colonialism.

Textual Analysis of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows Introduction

The reaction to colonization that emerges from the pen of post-colonial writers is called post-colonialism. This paper discussed how people were treated in colonialism and how it became the cause of war and violence. How hybridity occurs in a culture. When colonizer’s colonized a society or a community the “colonized” start to resist, Colonizers loot their lands to occupy the natural resources and it will become the cause of war and violence. The present paper critically intends to research the element of war and identity crisis in the novel.

  • Hybridity represents the transfer of two cultures at the same time. Amalgamation of two different identities and their customs is called hybridity. After colonization native people had to follow the rules and regulations of their masters and they had been knotted in between two cultures which become the reason for hybridity.
  • This paper deeply evaluates the relationship between the British and Indian subcontinent at the time of partition through the text of the novel. Before the partition, English people came to India and ruled over them. Sajjad Ashraf, a hybrid character in the novel representing India, and Hiroko Tanaka is a Japanese woman who has come to India due to the attack of wars in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the death of his beloved. The relationship between these two characters well-defined the effects of war on the world.
  • This content puts out some central questions that will be the focus of this research paper: How is war portrayed through the character of Hiroko Tanaka? How the theme of identity loss or multiple identities portrayed through the character of Sajjad Ashraf?


The research paper is written using the qualitative research methodology by using the textual analysis of the novel Burnt Shadows. It is written from the point of view of the post-colonial narrative. Specifically, it is written about a post-colonial element of war and hybrid identities.

The data of the present paper is descriptive and narrative collected from the different articles as a secondary source. Burnt Shadows itself is used as a primary source for main references and for a better understanding. Furthermore, qualitative objects like definitions, explanations, and considerations are used to analyze the data and mark a better understanding of the paper.

Theoretical Frame Work

Textual Analysis of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, The paper deeply discusses the element of postcolonial theory. e.g. war and hybridity. The post-colonialism in the novel by Shamsie has constantly related to the character, story, and setting of the novel. But in this research project, the postcolonial elements of the theory are specifically discussed through the specific setting of the plot and the actions of the characters throughout the novel. Postcolonial theory has many elements like orientalism, the concept of other, and nativism and metropolitanism but this research work filled the gap of works on war and violence.

Literature Review

After world war 2 the whole world was horrified, as the war ended but people were still afraid of being killed. Hiroko Tanaka move towards India because war influenced his life in a dangerous way “these wars influenced upon the lives and identity of people and especially on the life of the protagonist of Burnt Shadows, Hiroko Tanaka” (Qadri et.al, 4991). Hiroko Tanaka lost his fiancé in the war and she had passed through mental trauma.

There were bloodshed and slaughter. The psychological effects of war and bombing terrified her and made her travel out from the city of war and horror. The fear of being killed and the sorrow of the death of her fiancé made her break the barriers of cultural differences.

She had a shadow of that bombing on his soul psychologically as well as physically by having a scar of three birds on her back, as Farheen Akhtar Qadri says in his article “She lost her family and lover, Konrad in the war of 1945 and got three bird-shaped scars on her back” (Qadri et.al, 4991). At the same time, India was under the rule of the British Raj, and Indians were colonized by them. The British government suppressed the identities and cultures of Indians and enforced their cultures on them which became the reason of the identity crisis for Indians in their own lands. Swaira Bibi says in her article “After colonization, native people had been knotted between two cultures. The same case was with Indians. When English occupied India, they ruled India cruelly and crushed people under their feet” (Bibi et.al, 19).

The relationship of Sajjad Ashraf and James Burton is thoroughly described in the novel. Sajjad was the clerk of James Burton in India. Sajjad is not more than a puppet in his own country by Burton. He had to dress like them. He had to speak their language and do what they wanted to do by him. Sajjad is portrayed a hybrid character knotted in between two cultures. The identification of these elements through the main characters of the novel Burnt Shadows is well defined the post-colonial approach of the writer Kamila Shamsie.


The rulers and the ones who are under the rule of someone their relations always portray the relation of a master and a slave. The colonizer’s act like masters and the colonized one’s treat like slaves. Colonizers think that they have better civilization, culture and sources of livings and act as they want to learn these thinks to the colonized. But their actions not defined them this way. They treated them brutally and considered them the worst creature on the planet.

When the colonizers start to order the colonized one’s to merge into their culture. It will become the reason of resistance, war, violence, ethnicity and identity loss. This same happens when India was under the British Raj. The English men think that they have a better culture and civilization.

Sajjad Ashraf and Hiroko Tanaka both showed cruel story in them. Sajjad’s family, his dream of becoming a lawyer all got vanished in the partition. He lost his motherland. Hiroko who had suffered the bombing of Nagasaki through countable persons who were saved had a scar on her back. This scar reminds her the hell she suffered. Shazia Babar says “The scars are a personal reminder for her and a symbol of her great loss” (Babar, 114).

Hiroko moves India with a broken heart and unintentionally falls in love with Sajjad Ashraf. Sajjad Ashraf and Hiroko got married and moved to Turkey from Delhi. When Sajjad returned to Delhi he could not even cross the border due to his religion. Because Indian subcontinent had been separated into Pakistan and India and Sajjad had no place in Delhi due to his religion as he was a Muslim. Hiroko and Sajjad have a son Raza Later who also suffers from the identity crisis due to his multiple cultural identities. Kamila Shamsie represents these elements in the every section of the novel for making it more interesting post-colonial narrative.


Textual Analysis of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, Burnt Shadows is a novel of migration, disturbances and negotiations. It deals with many issues regarding the different culture in the whole world. But if we simply look at the life of a multi-cultural husband and wife it will take us to the background horrific and violent story of their life. It will lead us to the start and an end of so many miseries and sufferings of war which causes their identity loss. Hybridization of many characters has been portrays in this paper and how they suffered through the violence of bombing and bloodshed.

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