Themes In The Decline Of The West

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The Decline of the West

Financial crises affect the lives of millions of people all over the world. Although many families try their best to continue living their lives like nothing happened, recessions can have a serious effect on their day-to-day interactions, as well as their daily lives. In the short story “The Decline of the West” written by Hanif Kureishi and published in Collected Stories in 2010, Mike and his family represents a normal family whom have fallen victims to the 2008 financial crisis. Mike and his family lives in a materialistic world in the modern western capitalistic society, to which they’ve lost important family values such as love, trust and respect for each other. The short story questions, which values are the most
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We see the lack of respect, as well as the clear aspects of materialism. Billy, Mike’s younger son, is seemingly not yet completely lost to the same state of mind as his older brother. He still shows some love for Mike, yet he also knows that his father can give him anything: “I like you sometimes, Daddy. But I want guitar lessons”.
The title “The Decline of the West” is a direct reference to the economic decline, as well as the moral decay we see in the modern western society. Looking at the economic decline, it is seemingly linked with the economic problems experienced in the western capitalistic world during the recession of 2008-09. This theme is clear all the way through the short story, where Mike’s eyes are opened for the life style he and many others has led in many years. He considers whether the finance crisis is a punishment for this:
“[...] Nonetheless, like many people, Mike had also worried whether the present catastrophe was punishment for years of extravagance and self-indulgence; that that was the debt which had to be paid back in suffering. Yet how could his family be considered despicable or guilty of this, when all they’d asked for was continuous material
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At one point in the story, all lights suddenly went out and all sound were suspended. Mike goes down to the basement to try and fix this, but at the staircase, he slips and loses his footing. For a second he believed he was crashing onto his back and would break his neck. And for merely a short moment he thought: “How easy it was to fall, and how tempting it was - suddenly would be best - to die!” But just in time, he grabs the railing and steadies himself. Down in the basement, he’s surrounded by paint cans, broken toys, discarded purchases and bags of credit card receipts. He is surrounded by materialism and realizes, that he is not satisfied with all of this. He realizes how his family has fallen victim to the capitalistic and materialistic mind set shared by millions of people in the west. It was in the moment where the world was dark, that Mike had his enlightenment - the moment where he was away from any interruption from society. Suddenly, the lights appear once more, and the material world comes back to life full force, and everything continues as though nothing has changed. In a capitalistic society, you must work your way up the ladder, and as soon as the fame and money takes over, you risk falling. This is what happens to Mike, he spends a lot more money than he has, and his world
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