In to explore the concept of identity.

In the poem “An Unknown Girl” by Moniza Alvi, the speaker uses the structure of the poem, metaphorical language, and visual imagery to explore the concept of identity. Moniza Alvi chose an unconventional structure for her poem “An Unknown Girl” to explore identity. The poem is centered on the page, rather than the standard left alignment. This is to show that she has merged her western and Indian identities by the end of the poem. Alvi also uses free verse as contrast to a rhyme scheme, as Indian poetry is natively free verse. She is therefore using the poem as a means of exploring her identity. The structure of the poem has key lines repeated. “In the evening bazaar”(1), “an unknown girl” (3), “is hennaing my hand” (4) are all examples of this. These first line is repeated to emphasize a foreign aspect of life. The second line makes the girl seem like one of many, and is symbolic of the west’s generalized view of cultures. The third line is an embrace of western and foreign culture as the act of a tradition is described in a western term “henna” as opposed to “mendhi”, which is the traditional term. These three lines tie into the structure of the poem, as the first part of the poem is geared toward Indian tradition, the second part is the west’s view and impact on India, and the third is a merge of the two cultures. Overall, the structure of the poem Moniza Alvi uses metaphorical language to explore identity in “An Unknown Girl.” The speaker states “I am clinging / to these firm peacock lines / like people who cling / to the side of a train” (32-35) as a venture into the Indian side of herself she explores during the poem. The latter part of the phrase (34-35) implies desperation, and risk. The speaker does this to display that she is worried about how merging her two identities will work out. She also uses the phrase “soft as a snail trail” (41) to describe the act of the henna. Moniza Alvi uses visual imagery to explore identity in “An Unknown Girl.” The speaker uses the phrase “new brown veins” (27) to describe the physical look of the henna. This asserts the speaker’s newfound personal cultural connections with India, as she is defining an Indian tradition as part of her. This can also be interpreted as the speaker merging her identities: flowing her western blood through her newfound “brown veins”, whereas brown may define the typical skin tone of the culture.