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A Crisis of Values

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A crisis of values
With the recent financial crisis, many private economies in the Western world have been affected. Families have had to face the fact that they can’t keep up the life style they have grown accustomed to. But could the recession be a wake-up call, an opportunity to see things in a different light and change disadvantageous behaviors? In his short story, “The Decline of the West”, Hanif Kureishi puts this theme on the agenda. After losing his income, a family father realizes that his family is highly dysfunctional and that his family members value his money more than anything else.
The main character is a 45-year old man named Mike who works in corporate finance. Together with
Imogen, his reproachful and discontent wife, he has two sons of 15 and 11 years. Mike sees himself as a hard-working man and works at least 12 hours a day. He has provided his family with a nice house in a good neighborhood, an au pair and all sorts of material goods, but still no one is happy. The story is told from
Mike’s point of view which gives us an insight into his feelings and thoughts about himself as a provider for the family, “I paid for this with my time, intelligence, and the education the state provided me with” (ll. 18-19). We get the impression that Mike sees himself as a good man who gives and gives while his family is never satisfied, “As the boys liked to point out, other children at their school lived in bigger places; their fathers were bosses of record companies or financial advisers to famous footballers…” (ll.24-26). Mike’s view of himself is in sharp contrast to the negative image of him we get from the dialogue in the short story and especially from his son Tom, “What have you ever done for me?” (l. 62). Even his wife seems to be on their side and doesn’t support her husband in any way, “You’ve spoiled and neglected him, you ridiculous, foolish man. And now you expect him to obey you!” (ll. 134 -135). Because of the short story’s point of view we get the impression that the boys and wife are completely unreasonable and ungrateful.
The main character has certain expectations of what his family life should be like. He admits that his au pair sees more of his family than he does, but still he looks forward to coming home after a long day. However, the reality that faces him when he walks in the door is far from his picture perfect dream: The others have already eaten, the boys are playing a violent video game and his wife trudges around in sloppy clothes. The family seems not only unhappy but extremely greedy. No matter what they have, they always want more.
Even Imogen acts as a spoiled child, even though she is privileged enough not to have to work and only does charity work to “appear generous” (l. 139). She doesn’t take her husband seriously and seems very unrealistic when it comes to money. Mike tries to remind her of the financial crisis, but she mocks him,
“Ha! Any excuse to let people down” (l. 149).
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The short story paints a looming picture of today’s family values in the Western world. The title, “The
Decline of the West” can be interpreted in this context. Sure enough the most obvious meaning of the title is a reference to the financial crisis, but there is another way of looking at it which might be more interesting. The grotesque overconsumption and extreme focus on material goods in the Western world might have done serious damage to fundamental values in our societies. We forget what is really important in our everyday lives and only focus on having the latest gadget and keeping up appearances. Mike’s family is an example of this tendency and the title might therefore refer to a decline in traditional values like solidarity, intimacy and emotional rather than financial security.
Mike seems to have lost control of his life and feels that everything is hopeless now that he has lost his job.
An example of this is when he links the security issues of 9/11 to financial security (l. 45). He is not afraid of terror, but of losing his current income. Even though he has a healthy family and lives in a nice neighbourhood, he is very quick to think of leaving this world altogether in order to escape financial troubles, “How easy it was to fall, and how tempting it was- suddenly would be best – to die” (ll. 100-101).
He has no idea what else there is for him to do now and he even looks down on those of his colleagues who are thinking of changing to a completely different profession just to make ends meet, “Mike, at forty-five, had no idea what he would do. First he had to lose everything” (ll. 72-73).
The short story, “The Decline of the West”, sheds a critical light on the values of the Western world, its materialism and possibly wrong priorities. It depicts a family which truly has a crisis of values, but doesn’t even realize it yet. Although the reader is left with the feeling that Mike must have a revelation, the main character himself doesn’t seem to reach this conclusion. Instead, he seems despairing and depressed.
Having to exchange a luxurious life style for a middle class existence then seems a chaotic task rather than a welcome opportunity to change track.…...

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