Study Guide

The Orange Houses Foreignness and the "Other"

By Paul Griffin

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Foreignness and the "Other"

One of the things that terrifies people about Fatima in <em>The Orange Houses</em> is the fact that she's foreign. Not only that, but people suspect she's a terrorist. Why? It's not based on her actions or personality—nope, this is strictly about her appearance. The fact that she wears a headscarf makes people wary of her, even though she's one of the nicest, most generous, and bravest characters in the book. So though it's true what they say—you can't judge a book by its cover—people judge away anyway, writing Fatima off just because she doesn't look quite like them.

While Fatima comes from another country, though, don't think she's towing the otherness line alone. Nope, Jimmi as a vet and an addict resides decidedly outside the mainstream, and Mik with her hearing difficulties—and difficult relationship with hearing—also remains at the periphery. While this is sort of tough to realize, what the book accomplishes is a pretty detailed portrait of the outskirts, calling readers' attention to just how many people society casts out.

Questions About Foreignness and the "Other"

  1. How does The Orange Houses deal with racial difference? Why do we never learn where Fatima is from? How does that play into our opinion of her?
  2. Does Fatima's foreignness connect to Mik's hearing impairment in any way? How are they both "the Other"?
  3. Why is immigration a hot-button issue in the book? What is so concerning to everyone about turning Fatima in? 

Chew on This

In <em>The Orange Houses</em>, foreignness matters more than personality and principles.

In <em>The Orange Houses</em>, foreignness only matters to people who don't know the characters—true friends see beyond superficial differences.  

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