Discrimination in Dubus’ “House of Sand and Fog”

Sociocultural issues that immigrants face in the United States remain numerous and very challenging to address despite the rise in public awareness. In his novel, Dubus provides a thought-provoking commentary on the nature of racism and discrimination in the U.S., depicting the life of an Iranian refugee in his House of Sand and Fog. By portraying racism and bigotry as the phenomena that affect Behrani both as a victim and a person whose decisions are guided by stereotypes, Dubus shows the complexity of the subject matter and the forces that shape it as he descends into hatred and despair.

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The issue of racism remains implicit yet persistent throughout the novel, with subtle hints of the challenges that the protagonist faces being scattered across the narrative. One of the critical instances of discrimination and prejudice applied against Behrani occurs when others refuse to perceive him as the owner of his house until he claims it directly: “She said she’s the owner” (Dubus 160). Thus, Behrani is forced to encounter instances of discrimination and racism, whether implicitly or explicitly, on a daily basis due to his ethnicity.

However, the character is far from being an innocent bystander, too. Behrani is quite prone to racism himself, primarily due to the persistent stereotypes that he accepted along with other aspects of his culture: “I look over the pig’s head of Mendez – he stares at me with the table eyes” (Dubus 22). Furthermore, he is unwilling to yield even after being integrated with a more diverse environment. While his opinions change as he faces numerous instances of racism and ethnic prejudices, yet his initial stance on the subject of race is far from being impeccable.

In addition, Behrani has to cope with a significant amount of racism around him, both from his family members and his new community. Behrani’s wife, Nadi, also seems to have a distinct air of ethnic superiority over certain people at the beginning of the novel. For instance, in her argument with Behrani, she vocalizes her disdain for Gypsies and Arabs: “She did not come to America to live like a gypsy, but I did not come here to work like an Arab!” (Dubus 54).

Moreover, apart from the pressure of racial biases in the confinement of his own home, Behrani also has to experience racial preferences in the new community. However, this time, they are directed at him, with Les calling him a “sick bastard,” even though in his mind (Dubus 511). As a result, the character faces a complex moral dilemma, yet ultimately yields to drowning his pain and hatred for others.

Choosing the latter option, Behrani gradually experiences personal growth. The character arc of Behrani is twofold, with him developing resilience toward discrimination and facing his own biases being the leading destination of his journey. The death of his son becomes the pivotal moment in the novel, as Behrani loses his hope and the will to live, which is signified later on in the book with four poignant words: “The colonel was dead” (Dubus 745). Thus, Behrani refuses to develop the strength and resilience needed to withstand the pressure of racial stereotypes and, instead, reverts to the idea of incessant hatred, which leads to his demise.

Portraying Behrani both as the side affected by discrimination and the one who succumbs to stereotyping, Dubus purports the complexity of the problem of racism and provides an incentive for a social change. The author points to the presence of cultural differences that cannot be overcome currently and insists that these differences can be used for both sides to benefit and learn from each other’s experiences. While being rather dark and somber, the novel also offers a glimpse of hope in regard to managing the problem of discrimination and racism in American society.

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Work Cited

Dubus, Andre III. House of Sand and Fog. Kindle ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Work Cited

Dubus, Andre III. House of Sand and Fog. Kindle ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

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