House of Tragedy The novel entitled, House of Sand and Fog was written by Andre Dubus Il and is based around the Behrani family who fled from their native country of Iran after the Iranian revolution. They found themselves in America living in an apartment way too expensive for their income. This forces Massoud Behrani to find a job without much training outside of the military this becomes difficult. Behrani takes two jobs one as a trash collector and the other as a convenience store clerk, both of which he is very ashamed of.
Despite his hatred for these jobs his wife, Nadi refuses to move into a smaller more easonable home. Nadi is traditional and believes that their family must keep their image even if they are drowning in bills. The pressure that is put on Behrani is what causes the world of tragedy this family gets involved with. Through their struggles the family finds a house to move into and is elated. This house became available because the previous owner, Kathy a recovering addict who’s husband recently left her was wrongly evicted.
This causes a war between the family and Kathy so serious that Kathy attempts suicide on the property twice, Behrani’s son Esmail being shot and killed, and finally the uicide and murder of Behrani and his wife. In this essay I will dive deeper into the relationships and reasons for the turmoil between these characters, and hope to create a better understanding of the meaning behind the tragedies. Behrani is a man that is dedicated to his family and hss made it very clear that he will do anything for them. In their home country of Iran he was a man of power and a part of the military, which made him very respectable.
He also has a very sweet and tender side especially when speaking of his children, “My daughter, Soraya, was married on Saturday and I feel lready there is a hole in my chest with her gone” (Dubus III 17). Behrani is a complex character, possibly the most complex of the book. In the beginning of this novel he seems like a man chasing the American dream. Of course he is not happy with the position he is in but he has hope that things will get better and he can give his family the things they have dreamt of.
There are days that he brings flowers home for his wife, conversations with his son about the future and how he should treat others, and the violence. Towards the end of the novel when Esmail has ied this sparked something in Behrani outside of his capabilities. The man that the reader is introduced to would not strangle another person and would not kill his wife, however he does. This complexity is what makes the novel so surprising and intriguing, without Behrani’s sudden turn to desperation it would be hard to understand that kind of depth. On the other hand, the most straightforward character of this novel would be Behrani’s wife Nadi.
She is a women scorn and resentful and you don’t need to hear her speak to know this. Behrani speaks about her, “Her eyes are wet and dar and I think how in our ountry she would never let me see her like this: no cosmetics upon her face, hair untended, still wearing what she slept in beneath a robe, doing what before only soldiers or women from the capital city did for us. (Dubus II 28). She is a woman who wears her feelings on the outside, just as she feels. When she is sad she doesn’t get dressed, when she is scared she trembles, and when she is happy she speaks with hope.
Aside from the novels obviously tragic turn there are many more themes from it that one should explore. An example would be the idea of immigration and the conflict between Americans and the immigrants that also occupy the country. This novel definitely highlights the separation between immigrants and Americans through racism, and assumptions by the American people. The Behrani family does not feel the need keep up their image in order to impress the American people; instead they are very concerned with the other Iranian’s thoughts about them. This is where the gap between the Behrani family and the Americans starts to come to life.
In a literary criticism written by Darcy Lynne Ark she explains Dubus’ work on a much deeper level, “Although Dubus’ work is nderstandably limited in its depiction of minority experience in America, there is certainly value in his attempt as a white male author to create a work that communicates the impossibility of a dominant culture’s integration of colonized minorities in contemporary American society.. “(Ark 2). What she means by his limited depiction is that this novel focuses on the struggles of this particular family, but that of course this issues can be expanded to every group of minorities throughout America.
The role of racism is large and apparent from the beginning of this novel. Behrani is treated differently in his jobs and is bullied by his co-workers; he is also not given the respect his was in Iran because apparently his colonel status doesn’t equate in America. The family’s desperateness to keep their image of comfortability is yet another way for them to fit in and not become the “typical” immigrants. This idea of what an immigrant looks like of course made by American’s who cannot understand or sympathize with the struggle it takes to start over in another country.
The separation between Americans and immigrants continues throughout this novel with Behrani’s talks ith his son about how Americans are lazy, and undeserving of their country. While Kathy the former homeowner has her fair share of racial slurs. This back and forth idea of hating Americans, and hating immigrants can only be described as ignorance on both parts. The conflict between Behrani and Kathy is filled with hatred, passion, and stubbornness from both characters. Kathy was definitely wronged by the county for the wrongful eviction but the actions she took to get her house back were anything but responsible.
Behrani has made it very clear to his son that his idea of Americans is not a favorable one. Behrani tells his son, “Remember what I’ve told you of so many Americans: they are not disciplined and have not the courage to take responsibility for their actions. If these people paid us the fair price we are asking, we could leave and she could return. It is that simple. But they are like little children, son. They want things only their way” (Dubus III 172). I must agree with Behrani when he makes this statement. The way the house was taken from Kathy was extremely unfair, however Behrani has bought it legally and fairly.
Kathy had many opportunities to deal with this in a ifferent way, instead she attempts suicide, waits out side the house, and stalks the family. These actions prove Behrani’s statement to be true. She acted like a child, and when things didn’t go her way she threw tantrums in order to gain attention. Of course Kathy never meant for the horrible outcome that her actions causes however they still lead to this point. Three people are dead, and two are scarred for the rest of their lives. The risk she took in doing such things created the turmoil, and chaos that followed.
Lester who fell in love with Kathy while trying to elp her was a married man with children. This goes on to hammer the nail in the coffin when it comes to Behrani’s idea of Americans. Lester is supposed to be a man of authority with the opportunity to help others; instead he prey’s on a woman in a desperate situation and uses his status to cause even more tragedy and loss. In a literary criticism written by Kirkus reviews, it states, “No villains here, but only precisely rendered proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions” (Kirkus 1).
This brings up the idea that both parties had good intentions nfortunately that is not enough to save them. Although this novel is full of hope and sadness it casts a light on the separation between Americans and the immigrants that make up a large majority of the population. Unfortunately this is the world we live in today. I hav assumption that Kathy and Lester acted like children. I do not agree that all Americans act this way however there is a sense of to agree with Behrani in his entitlement when it comes to sharing our country. I think an important to remember that this is a country made up of immigrants, from all over the world.
Not only should we accept one another we should celebrate the diversity of the people we are. The separation exposed in this novel although fiction is very real today, and in recent events around the world is even more relatable. Our idea of what should be is the real foundation of racism, and separation of races. AS Behrani explains his wife’s sadness he says, that her ideas of what should be have hurt her soul more than anything tangible has in their lives. Living with the attitude that only Americans know what America should look like is the greatest mistake we can make.