Ethnic Conflict: The novel surrounds itself with the conflict between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority during the Sri Lanka riots of the 1980’s. Throughout each chapter, the tensions continue to rise and Arjie and his family become more and more directly affected.
- “‘What is a racist?’
He turned his chair and studied me. ‘Where did you hear that word?.’” (Selvadurai 59)
- “I began to listen carefully to the conversation of the adults to discover more about the quarrels between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. What i learned made me very uneasy because I realized these problems were not a thing of the past.” (Selvadurai 60)
Marriage: From films and love comics, Arjie is fascinated with marriage. On the spend-the-days, Arjie and the girls play bride-bride, and Arjie is always the bride. After Radha Aunty’s brutal attack on the train, she succumbs to her family’s pressure, and leaves Anil behind because he wasn’t a Tamil. A few months later, she marries a Tamil man named Rajan Nagendra, whom she did not love. Radha Aunty’s series of unfortunate events causes Arjie’s fantasy about love and marriage to be replaced with the reality of society.
- “I found my enthusiasm for The King and I ebbing. I couldn’t see the point of a play where the hero and heroine didn’t get married at the end.” (Selvadurai 53)
Sexuality & Gender Identity: Funny Boy is a coming of age story. As Arjie is becoming aware of his surroundings regarding the ethnic tension in Sri Lanka at this time, he is also becoming aware of his own sexuality.
- “I thought of what my father had said about turning out “funny.” The word “funny” as I understood it meant either humorous or strange, as in the expression, “that’s funny.” Neither of these fitted the sense in which my father had used the word, for there had been a hint of disgust in his tone.” (Selvadurai 17)
- “I would be caught between the boys’ and the girls’ worlds, not belonging or wanted in either.” (Selvadurai 39)
Acceptance (or lack thereof) : Shyam Selvadurai uses this novel to document Arjie’s struggle with accepting his own sexual identity and use this to provide guidance to those who still struggle to express this part of themselves.
- “Why cant he play with the girls?” she said.
“Why?” Amma said and started up to the car. “Because the sky is so high and pigs can’t fly” (Selvadurai 22)
- Selvadurai choses to dedicate Funny Boy: “To my parents, Christine and David Selvadurai, for believing that pigs can fly.”
Language: This theme is at the core of the Tamil and Sinhalese conflict. Throughout the novel, readers can see how their community becomes divided on the basis of diction and language. Arjie’s father believes that language helps to build a society, and that Sinhala will be the real language in future Sri Lanka. This is why Arjie, a Tamil, was placed in a Sinhalese school.
- “I was in a Sinhala class at school and my friends were Sinhalese. My parents’ best friends were, too. Even our servant was Sinhalese, and, in fact, we spoke with her only in Sinhalese. So what did it matter whether Anil was Sinhalese or not?” (Selvadurai 57)
Taylor Vaca and Maya Rovniak 2018