Our world consists of multiple cultures and ethnicities, which makes it difficult for people to understand a culture different from their own. The cultural gap between nations is deep and therefore western people, who are protected from many of the cruel facts of life feel scared and uncomfortable when these facts come too close, which is what the story “Loose Change” is about. The story is about local identity in opposition to ethnicity and focuses on the unfairness in which people in need of help is treated.
In the short story “Loose Change” we meet the female main character – the I-narrator – who is helped out by a foreign woman in the restroom at a gallery when she is in need of coins for the tampon machine. When she asks for help the foreign woman was the only one staying, while all the other typical Londoners left. The woman, Laylor is in story referenced to as “she” (1. 11), which implies that she has a certain importance for the main character and the whole story. The main character invites Laylor for a cup of tea, because she wants to give her the money back in some way.
At this point the main character assumes Laylor is an emigrant from Spain because of her accent. Once they arrive at the cafe they meet Laylor’s brother with whom Laylor has a discussing with in their native language. As the conversation develops between the women the main character is told by Laylor that she and her brother are political refugees from Uzbekistan and are now homeless in London. After the main character learns about Laylor’s situation she sees her from a different perspective. Even though the main character ponders how she could help Laylor and her brother, she leaves the cafe and Laylor on her own.
The story is set in the National Gallery of London where the women meet in the restroom this leads the main character to believe that Laylor is a woman from another European country who might be there on holiday or another similar reason, at least not to be a refugee from an Asian country and being poor and homeless. In The National Gallery one usually expects to meet upper-middle class persons and not poor art interested people. If the two women had met in the streets the main character would have realized Laylor’s background sooner. Through the story there is shown no development in the ain character, which is unusual seen in stories. The reason why she shows no development is because she suddenly chooses to leave Laylor alone and go back out into the cold where the story began. The main character stands in great contrast to the immigrant Laylor. Their differences show the divergence and differences of classes which might lead to prejudices towards other people from unfamiliar societies. The main character’s thoughts reflect her geographical and cultural unawareness “Uzbekistan, she said. Was that the Balkans? I wasn’t sure” (l. 58).
This shows that Uzbekistan is a country that has not captured her interest before, so it is possible for her to make her own prejudice and judgment of the foreign place and also the stranger Laylor. The portrait that Laylor likes in the gallery and the main character believes is dreadful, does for Laylor symbolize hope and dreams coming true. The fact the two characters have so different views on the painting symbolizes the differences between them and their two cultures. Since the main character is the I-narrator we hear her thoughts, points of view and inner conflict when she tries to decide whether to help Laylor or not.
She describes herself as a typical Londoner, an unapproachable person that does not make friends with strangers or even approaches them if absolutely necessary. She has grown up in a classic European city culture, where people have the tendency of minding their own business. She combines herself with a city culture, which involves being careless, rejecting and unfriendly. As a result of the unfriendly city culture the main character is not good at expressing her emotions. In the text she is feeling grateful to the helpful Laylor but this gratefulness she feels she keeps unexpressed.
Laylor is on the other hand good at expressing her emotions “The whites of her eyes were becoming soft and pink; she was going to cry” (l. 122), this tells that Laylor is about to cry and expressing her feelings. Laylor is described as cheerful and sympathetic since she is willing to pay for her share of tea even though she is homeless and do not have a large amount of money. Laylor also speaks so openly about her miserable background and reason for immigrating to England, which also shows the cultural difference between the two characters.
The narrator describes the women’s body language in detail which is helping the reader to notice the differences between the two characters. This exact body language is especially shown in the text where the main character tries to escape the answer of an awkward question by pretending to be preoccupied with finding something in her bag. “I was rummaging through the contents of my bag for a tissue, so it was casually asked” (l. 68). This has an imaginable effect on the reader and is a typical example on the characters different cultural baggage.
The text also consists of many adjectives describing Laylor and helping the reader understand how the I-narrator sees her and shows that Laylor is the pivotal point of the story. The main characters view on Laylor changes through the text and she goes from being curious and grateful to mistrusting and disliking Laylor, which the following sentence indicates “It was then I began to notice thing I had not seen before: dirt under each of her chipped fingernails, the collar of her blouse crumpled and unironed, a tiny cut on her cheek, a fringe that looked to have been cut with blunt nail-clippers” (l. 1). At this point in the text the main character realize that Laylor needs help and the fact that the roles have changed scares and irritates her. She goes from being the one in need of help to suddenly feeling obliged to help another person. This is similar to the development her grandmother experienced, who went from being a refugee herself to complaining and refuse to help other refugees who are in the same situation as she once was.
The title Loose Change illustrates the relationship between Laylor and the narrator, it symbolize the small amount of money that means nothing to the I-narrator compared to Laylor to whom the money is all that her and her brother have left. The main characters attitude towards the loose change indicates her arrogant view on Laylor. She feels superior to Laylor because of her unattractive look and describes her as something from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. This attitude towards Laylor is also stated in the sentence “Cupping her filthy hands round my bone china” (l. 04). She do not believe that Laylor is good enough to touch her priceless china, which leads to a general characterization of the main character’s attitude towards Laylor, as being arrogant and clearly think much higher of herself than of Laylor. Besides feeling superior it seems the main character is on some level is scared of what will happen if she brings this foreigner into her house. Therefore she constructs a theory that will give her a change to leave Laylor without feeling guilty and convincing herself that she is neither paranoid nor arrogant.
This theory is showed in the text “She had sought me out – sifted me from the crowd. This young woman was desperate for help. She’d even cunningly made me obliged to her” (l. 92). The I-narrator tries to convince herself that it is a conspiracy that Laylor has lured her into. She is characterized as self-centered both by the fact she is willing to receive help from Laylor but not give it and in the sentence “All Laylor’s grandchildren would know my name” (l. 133), which was stated after an unselfish consideration of how she could help Laylor, and shows she is self-centered since she by helping achieve something. Loose Change” is in general a story about the world’s injustice. It is a story that shows how the privileged Londoner gives up her original values and makes up excuses not to help a person very much in need of it. The narrator can be seen as a picture of the modern western people in general. The story questions the unfriendliness that the modern western culture has developed towards strangers and refugees. It reminds us that we are all in need of some help from time to time and we should be willing to give and receive the needed amount of help.