Samad Miah Iqbal is a first generation immigrant from Bengal and Archie Jones’ best friend. Samad is pretty much the complete opposite of Archie. He has a fiery temper, loves to be the center of attention, dark skinned man from Bangladesh, can be self-contradicting at times, a bit insecure and worries about his future constantly. Archie is none of those things. He is a white Englishman, easy going, sometimes a bit neurotic, self-loathing, and thinks that nothing can be determined without a flip of a coin. Archie and Samad met in World War II. Right from the beginning Samad shows us just how insecure he is in his own skin. This is a common theme for first generation immigrants. How does one hold on to their heritage and cultural values when they are so far removed from their home lands? Samad struggles with the feeling of being invisible and silenced as an immigrant in England. Samad carries this with him throughout and he lets it overflow onto his children. Samad sees Britain as his enemy and fears that if he allows himself to immerge in their culture would be a direct threat to his lineage. He continues to fight this battle throughout the story with himself, his children, his wife and even Britain society as a whole.
When Samad and Archie first meet in WWII Samad deals with racism from his fellow soldiers and Archie is a bit numb to it. One day Samad goes on to explain to his regime why he shouldn’t be stuck with them laying bridges and all. “I mean, I am educated. I am trained. I should be soaring with the Royal Airborne Force, shelling from on high! I am an officer! … My great-grandfather Mangal Pande … was the great hero of the Indian Mutiny!” (SMITH 74) Samad clearly wants to hand his hat on his great grandfather, Mangal Pande, made a hero by being the person who shot the first bullet in the Indian Munity. Though the English made sure that throughout history they discredited Mangal’s heroism. Samad said that the English would not give his great grandfather the credit basically due to racism. Samad defines himself principally by his relation to his great-grandfather like his one claim to fame, and he clings to that claim throughout the story.
Racism is something that Samad still battles as an Islamic man even though he stood side by side with the English during WWII. Samad is already accepting of this racism at such an early age and seems to accept the fact that this will always be something he has to fight against. He tells Archie to resist grouping all people from the East into one person. Samad tries to explain to Archie that there are millions of Eastern people with different opinions and beliefs and one should not be judged by the actions of others.
Samad Iqbal works as a waiter but dreams of wearing a sign, a large white placard around his neck that clarifies who he really is. “I AM NOT A WAITER. I HAVE BEEN A STUDENT, A SCIENTIST, A SOLDIER, MY WIFE IS CALLED ALSANA, WE LIVE IN EAST LONDON BUT WE WOULD LIKE TO MOVE NORTH. I AM A MUSLIM BUT ALLAH HAS FORSAKEN ME OR I HAVE FORSAKEN ALLAH, I’M NOT SURE. I HAVE A FRIEND—ARCHIE—AND OTHERS. I AM FORTY-NINE BUT WOMEN STILL TURN IN THE STREET. SOMETIMES.” (SMITH 49) He is very defensive about who he is and wants the world to know that he is valuable. Clearly Samad feels like he is invisible in England and that he is nobody to these people. I think at this point in the story most can relate to that feeling of invisibility, of not being treated like the person you were meant to be. That can be a terrifying place to be and Samad definitely feels like the only way he can be seen is by wearing a sign around his neck that explains to people who he really is. He does not want to be defined as a waiter from another country but as a person who has a family, goals and is very well educated.
Samad’s wife, Alsana, whom he fights with all the time about their children, her habits, religion, where they live and many other things, has become someone Samad is not proud of at all. Samad is a rigid traditionalist when it comes to his wife. He speaks to her in a very demeaning tone and looks down on her because of how she has changed. This is kind of hypocritical and more like a reflection of how Samad feels about himself. “Look how you dress. Running shoes and a sari? And what is that?”… “You do not even know what you are, where you come from. We never see family anymore—I am ashamed to show you to them.” (SMITH 166) Samad is ashamed of Alsana even though she is only worried about protecting her children. Samad thinks that his children would be better off in Bengal, but Alsana believes that her family’s lives would be in danger if they left Britain. She accepts the changes that need to be made but Samad is still firm in his beliefs. Samad’s behavior towards his wife is another example of his overwhelming unhappiness.
Samad’s sons Millat and Magid get caught in the middle of Samad’s guilt over his affair with Poppy. Samad is so angry with himself over what he has done and the shame he has brought to his family and Allah that he doesn’t punish himself but instead kidnaps his own son, Magid, and sends him over to Bangladesh. Samad is so obsessed by the idea that he is a terrible Muslim that he feels he is saving Magid from the same fate he has endured by sending Magid to Bangladesh. He doesn’t want Magid to suffer the same sad life that Samad has had as a failed war hero, husband, and Muslim. Samad complains to Archie about how he doesn’t know how to teach his boys anything and lead them down the right road because he himself has failed to do these things. Samad wants to make up for all his wrong doings by living vicariously through Magid. This plan doesn’t work the way Samad has planned because the second generation usually wants to atone for the lack of what their parents didn’t do. Magid wants to be an Englishman and that is what he becomes. Samad’s other son Millat becomes a rationalist and joins a group called KEVI. All of Samad’s plans for his children go up in smoke and he is once again ashamed of his downfalls, not just as a parent but for himself as well.
No person can have a pure racial identity in a world that is so mixed and intermingled. First generation immigrants like Samad and Alsana are proof that even when you try to stay completely true to your roots and make no room for anything else you will be disappointed because that is simply impossible to do. One has to allow themselves to keep a part of their heritage while mixing it up a little with new values and beliefs. Samad could never accept this and thought that he could fix the second generation of Iqbals by controlling his sons. The only thing is that as generations continue to grow, people do to. Magid wanted to be an Englishman because Britain had a big impact on his life and he was accepting of that. Millat was at first but in his rebellious teenage world where he could never get his father’s attention he decided to be the radical part of what Samad was looking for and it backfired. Samad encompasses a lot of what most immigrants go through; a fear of losing themselves and cultures, values and beliefs that were instilled in them as they grew up. The key is to find that balance between who you are and allowing yourself to evolve without feeling that guilt. Samad never could find that balance and that was his main struggle throughout the story.