In her anthology of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri depicts individuals, mostly from Indian backgrounds, struggling with changing life-styles. Many of her characters are either culturally or socially displaced which leads to communication difficulties, secrets and dysfunctional relationships and a general dissatisfaction with life.
Whilst many of their personal “maladies” arise because of cultural and social displacement, many of their problems are typically universal. By highlighting a wide spectrum of problems, Lahiri explores the universal effects of loneliness and estrangement.
Many of her characters poignantly struggle with an overwhelming sense of displacement and loneliness, others are able to reconcile their cultural differences and accept the opportunities offered by the new place. Overall, Lahiri encourages readers to see the importance of compassion and tolerance which can help people integrate into new societies and overcome difficult challenges.
When living between cultures or between countries, Lahiri suggests that those who seek to cling rigidly to the past, are unable to make the necessary life-style adjustments that will protect them from homesickness and loss.
Contrastingly, many Indians have lost their connection with their culture; they become impoverished because they focus on superficial and materialistic values at the expense of spiritual and cultural values. In many cases, this leads to a loss of purpose and meaning.
Indian migrants cling too rigidly to their culture. They are often impractical and irrational and this makes it difficult for them to adjust to a new lifestyle and appreciate their new opportunities. Ms sens… Her inability to make important adjustments leaves her feeling constantly anxious; she is isolated and experiences a great deal of friction with her husband.
Many second-generations Indians are also socially dislocated because they do not relate well to Indian culture and customs. This alienates and isolates them further, making them bored, indifferent and rootless. Lahiri suggests that they fail to appreciate their culture and find little substantial to replace the rich cultural heritage. (Their lives lack meaning), Such dislocation is evident when the Das family visit India.
Lahiri uses the typical tourist symbols of the guide book and the camera to show how they are strangers in India. Their attitude of boredom and indifference to their culture depicts their estrangement. From the beginning Mr Kapasi relates to the family as “foreign tourists” and Lahira’s description of Mr Das certainly confirms his first impressions. He sports a “sapphire blue visor” and has a “camera slung around his neck, with an impressive telephoto lens and numerous buttons and markings”. The authorial inference is that these typical touristic trappings depict Mr Das’s interest in capturing the superficial and photogenic aspects of his culture. Indeed, this is evident when they visit Konorak sandcastle. Again the deeper significance of the wheels as the Hindu symbols of life and the lascivious behaviour of the women is once again lost on the Das family.
Contrastingly, many Indians are estranged in America and suffer from social and cultural dislocation because of their distance from their own culture. Many experience difficulties trying to assimilate into the new world.
First generation Indian-Americans are estranged in the new culture. Mrs Sens feels isolated university apartment, which is located “on the fringes of the campus” (112). It is unappealing, hotpotch and uninviting. The “mismatched remnants” of carpet pieces strewn over the floor symbolise the lack of warmth and community spirit for which Mrs Sen yearns. (symbols – driving experience)
In Interpreter, Mrs Das appears both emotionally and socially estranged as she struggles, as a mother and a wife, to find a sense of self in America. The illegitimate child, Bobby, functions as a symbol of this displacement, which becomes increasingly evident after the birth of her first child, Ronny. As a young parent, Mrs Das struggled with issues of social and physical isolation and soon becomes emotionally dissatisfied. She has very few “close friends” and no one to “confide in .. at the end of a difficult day”. She also lacks family support as her parents “now lived on the other side of the world” (lacked closeness with her parents). She is “always cross and tired”, which isolates her further from her friends and makes her susceptible to the sexual advances of Raj’s Punjabi’s friend.
INTERPRETER OF MALADIES
When the Indian American family, Mr and Mrs Das and their two children, visit India, it soon becomes evident that they have been culturally detached from their original culture. Both Mr and Mrs Das were born in America and their parents now live in Arkansol. Their daughter who holds a “doll with yellow hair” is visiting India for the first time.
Through their indifferent attitudes to ancient Hindi culture, the family has to a large degree lost their cultural identity – even their soul. Contrastingly, they seem to reflect all the superficial traits of their new culture such as the tendency of Americans to be arrogant, materialistic – even reckless. In particular, Mrs Das is self-serving and opportunistic and shows little regard for others.
Mr Das who is often adjusting his “camera strap” appears to be the quintessential tourist and Mrs Das often gives an “impatient sigh” whilst touring. Lahiri uses the typical tourist symbols of the guide book and the camera, as well as their dress and behaviour and lack of linguistic knowledge, to show their cultural displacement.
This cultural difference is symbolized by their clothes. Lahiri notes that the “ family looked Indian but dressed as foreigners did, the children in stiff, brightly colored clothing and caps with translucent visors.” (44) Mr Das squeezed hands “like an American” and reads about the history of India from his guidebook, which shows his ignorance of Indian culture and customs.
Not only are they culturally displaced, but the main protagonists all misunderstand each other in both obvious and subtle ways. They are all dissatisfied, yearning for comfort and for satisfaction elsewhere.
The illegitimate circumstances of Bobby’s birth to a Punjabi friend create further barriers between Mrs Das and her husband which are compounded by her guilt and anxiety. The marriage of convenience has not delivered emotional relief to Mrs Das – rather the trials of motherhood led to greater isolation. She reveals to Mr Kapasi that she is “tired of feeling so terrible all the time. She has been “in pain eight years” and is searching for an easy solution to her guilt. She wallows in grief unable to find a way out of her emotional impasse.
Lahiri reveals that Mrs Das’ problems are compounded by her selfishness, her desire to be constantly pampered and her incredible disregard of human emotion. So absorbed is she in her own pain that she fails to realise that the disappearing shards of paper have deeply humiliated Mr Kapasi.
Many characters such as Mrs Das suffer are socially ostracised from their community and this manifests in emotional dislocation and depression.
There is a sense that Mrs Das is a young impressionable student at college, who depends upon her husband Raj because she is unfamiliar with her surroundings. She marries him out of a sense of convenience. Their lovemaking is detached and contrived with Raj insisting on “meaningful expressions and smiles afterward”. The birth of Ronnie further isolates her and her friends refrain from visiting. She becomes depressed, lonely, “tired and cross” and increasingly plumper.
Mrs Das seems to be estranged because of her pretentious or princess-like characteristics (her “tiara”) that that are incongruous in the dusty Indian environment. In particular she appears pretentious in her “large dark brown sunglasses with a pinkish tint” and her “frosty pink fingernails painted to match her lips”. Whilst the children are always eating gum, Mrs Das is often putting on makeup and attending to her appearance.
Mr Kapasi notes that Mrs Das seems indifferent to the Hindi love songs that are being played on the car radio. She does not react to the subtleties of the song, for “she did not express irritation, or embarrassment, or react in any other way to the man’s declaration” (46). Lahiri suggests that Mrs Das’s linguistic displacement exacerbates her inability to relate to her culture. Furthermore, she fans herself with a “folded Bombay film magazine written in English” which also suggests that she is unaware of her native language.
AS a third person narrator, Mr Kapasi relates his impression of Mrs Das and believes that they have a great deal in common. AS the “interpreter” of maladies, Mrs Das appears interested in his “romantic” job and she confirms that they have shared interests. If he is the tour guide, she takes students on a “trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York City.”
At first, Mr Kapasi is fascinated by the sophistication and other worldliness of Mrs Das. (43) As he relays the significance of his career to Mrs Das, he inflates the interest that she invests in his job. Perhaps this is because he is aware that “his wife had little regard for his career as an interpreter”, because the job reminds her “of the son she’d lost” “and that she resented the other lives he helped, in his own small way to save”. There is sense that his compassion arises from a deep sense of displaced loss. As an interpreter, Mr K works for a doctor and sensitively, seeks to interpret the needs of the Gujarati patients. He tries to interpret their pain and tell the doctor what they are feeling. For him, “the job was a sign of his failings.” He believes that it is a boring job, which reflects his boring marriage. He has noble dreams and aspirations.
He is burdened by the tragic death of his young son from typhoid. From this perspective, he believes that Mrs Das’s secret is “trivial” and “common” and could be cured by an honest discussion. For the first time, Mrs Das reveals that Bobby he is not her husband’s son. Rather he was conceived during a one-night stand with a friend who was en-route to London to work for a pharmaceutical company. It is evident that she is bored with her life and married her husband out of convenience. Mr Das was her only friend at a young age. She had become isolated and alienated during the trials of motherhood. “I’m tired of feeling so terrible all the time.””I’ve been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better, say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.”
He believes that she is unnecessarily dramatizing her guilt and it is minor compared to the life-and-death sufferings of his own patients, who are “unable to sleep or breathe or urinate with ease”. She refuses to be held accountable and becomes infuriated that he suggests that it is not “really pain” but “guilt” that overwhelms her. (66).
Mrs Das immediately suspects that he could betray his patients. He could deceive the doctor and misinterpret the pain. “The patient would never know what you had told the doctor and the doctor wouldn’t know that you had told the wrong thing. It’s a big responsibility.”
Mr Kapasi is the only one who notices the “slip of paper” that flutters away in the breeze. There is a sense that he is truly dejected, and that what particularly demoralizes and disappoints him is her indifference. She is not only careless, but she is ignorant of Mr Kapasi’s interest and enthusiasm in her. Previously he had imagined that they would further their shared interests through their correspondence. With regards to Surya’s beauty, “perhaps they would discuss it further in their letters”. He imagines that this correspondence will help him fulfil his dream, “of serving as an interpreter between nations”. So the scattered piece of paper buries his life-long dreams.
He recognizes the signs of an unhappy marriage – “the bickering, the indifference, the protracted silences.” And starts to fantasise about a relationship with Mrs Das, especially when she asks for his address so that she can send him the photos.
Typically Mrs Das eats puffed rice, as a symbol of her preference for sterilised and manufactured western food, in contrast to boiled rice and curry. At one stage, she continued walking “oblivious, trailing grains of puffed rice”, which attracts the attention of the monkeys and endangered Bobby’s life. When they found him, there were a dozen monkeys that were “pulling at his T-shirt with their long black fingers”. This not only shows her ignorance of the wild animals in her own culture. This indifference symbolizes her attitude as a parent. Bobby is a symbol of the lack of intimacy and compassion between Mr and Mrs Das. When she makes love with the stranger, she reflects upon the “expertise she had never known”. She highlights the superficial nature of her relationship with Mr Das when she comments on the “meaningful expressions and smiles Raj always insisted on afterwards”. Perhaps it is not surprising that Bobby is set upon by the monkeys as a sign of his estrangement from his culture and from his own family.
Mrs Das’s flippant attitude towards Mr Kapasi, which is revealed when his address “fluttered away in the wind” not only shows her careless attitude towards others but also the weight of the secret that has become a burden. That Bobby is illegitimate also shows her flippant and careless attitude towards her marriage – as well as her boredom in her domestic environment.
It is the same boredom that crushes Mr Kapasi.
The Konarak sandstone temple is a celebration of life and is dedicated to the “great master of life, the sun”. It is a moment of considerable patriotic pride for Indians as it depicts the monumental victory of the Indian Ganga dynasty King Narasimhadeva the First against the invading Muslim army. The temple is in the shape of a chariot which has 24 giant wheels symbolising the wheel of life. He realizes that the “wheels are supposed to symbolise the wheel of life” and depict “creation, preservation and achievement of realization”. It is a wonderful celebration of life that was created in 1243. It also depicts the women as sensual and erotic.
Lahiri uses the Konarak sandstone temple as a symbol of the estrangement of social relationships as well as of cultural disintegration. The Das family’s response to India and in particular their visit to the temple is typical of their cultural dislocation.
The temple now consists of “rubble” so it is impossible to enter: this is a sign of both the degeneration of the culture and the breakdown of human relationships. Mr Das interprets this very important cultural and historical site in India through his guide book, which shows a superficial and elementary appreciation of culture. As they read the explanations, Lahari shows just how much they have become alienated and dislocated from their history. They marvel at the “half-human” and “half-serpentine couples” without any deeper knowledge of the significance of the Hindu culture. Eventually Mrs Das is forced to recognise when they visit the hills at Udayagiri and Khandagiri that “this place gives me the creeps” as they retreat to the hotel and back to their superficial comfort zone.
These symbols contrast starkly with the emotional and sexual lives of the main characters. Both the Das’s and Mr and Mrs Kapasi lack physical intimacy, as a sign of repressed and depressed lives. Mr Kapasi notes that the spokes in the chariot-like wheel of the temple depict sensual, erotic women. The erotic pictures also contrast with the modern-day oppression of Indian women within their own culture. Lahari suggests that the erotic nature of sexual encounters has been frozen in time. The “countless friezes of entwined naked bodies” is foreign to Mr Kapasi’s own marital relationship. Mr Kapasi reflects on the fact that he has never seen his wife “fully naked”. Even when making love she “kept the panels of her blouse hooked together”. (58) Likewise, the illegitimate child , Bobby, is also a sign of the sexual problems in the Das household.
Mr Kapasi’s favourite statue is the Surya which also captures Mrs Das’s imagination. Surya is full of beauty and power. It enables Mr Kapasi to imagine a mutual dialogue based on understanding ; their productive relationship based on their different lifestyles. The Surya would provide the basis for communication and would serve as an “interpreter between nations” (59) He imagines a fanciful embrace with Mrs Das which would be a sign of enveloping the two different lifestyles, but Mrs Das already moves away.
Likewise Bobby also becomes a symbol of the lack of intimacy and compassion between Mr and Mrs Das. When she makes love with the stranger, she reflects upon the “expertise she had never known”. She highlights the superficial nature of her relationship with Mr Das when she comments on the “meaningful expressions and smiles Raj always insisted on afterwards”. Perhaps it is not surprising that Bobby is set upon by the monkeys as a sign of his estrangement from his culture and from the family.
Also their attitude of boredom and indifference to their fascinating culture depicts their estrangement. Typically Mrs Das eats puffed rice, as a symbol of her preference for sterilised and manufactured western food, in contrast to boiled rice and curry. That the
In particular, the puffed rice attracts the attention of the monkeys, which shows her indifference and ignorance of the wild animals in her own culture.
Lahiri satirises Mrs Das’ desire for easy solutions, which is a sign of her estrangement from India with its life and death struggles to which Mr Kapasi is attuned owing to his role as “interpreter of maladies”. Mr kapasi feels “insulted” at her preoccupation with her common, trivial problems.
Mrs Das appears outsider even in her marriage
Her flippant attitude towards Mr Kapasi, which is revealed when his address “fluttered away in the wind” shows her careless attitude towards others. Also she is burdened with her secret. That Bobby is illegitimate also shows her flippant and careless attitude towards her marriage – as well as her boredom in her domestic environment.
The treatment of Bibi Haldar
Lahiri’s poignant depiction of Bibi Haldar suggests we tend to exclude and isolate people who are different or who do not conform to stereotypes. Possessed by an “incurable illness”, the 29-year-old Bibi Haldar has unpredictable “fits” which are difficult to control. She was taken by train to kiss the tombs of saints and martyrs. She has consulted doctors and homeopaths, ayurvedics and allopaths and still the ailment continues to baffle the community. She often becomes unconscious, which leads to “shameless delirium”.
Bibi Haldar is stigmatized and marginalized. Haldar’s pregnant wife believes that Bibi will contaminate the foetus. “She says I’m contagious like the pox”. Bibi has an undefined illness that cannot be identified. It “baffled family , friends, priests, and palmists” and resulted in a range of irrational acts to try to tame a rather perverse and odd disease. (158) The spread of contagious fear takes hold and undermines her ability to belong to the community. This leads to anxiety and deepens Bibi’s sense of alienation from the community.
Bibi Haldar not conform to typical “feminine” stereotypes, and becomes the target of suspicion. Haldar’s pregnant wife believes that she will contaminate the foetus. “She says I’m contagious like the pox”. So profound is her desperation that the narrator states that “none of us were capable of understanding such desolation”. In very short sharp simple sentences, the narrator conveys the horror of her disease. “She shook. She shuddered. She chewed her lips.”
Bibi Haldar’s loneliness and desolation are exacerbated because she does not appear to have a role in society. She is ignorant of social relationships. She does not conform to the stereotype of the mother / wife role. She had to be “coached” in wifely ways. She had never been “taught to be a woman”. She did not know how to attract a man. She is poignantly depicted as someone who is desperate for a husband, especially as this has been suggested as a possible cure. So desperate is her situation that not even the “lonely four-toothed widower … could not be persuaded to propose”. Ironically, as she becomes more aware of “proper” behaviour and clothes, this only serves to reinforce her difference. After she is coached in domestic matters, this does not ameliorate her plight. So profound is her desperation that the narrator states that “none of us were capable of understanding such desolation”. In very short sharp simple sentences, the narrator conveys the horror of her disease. “She shook. She shuddered. She chewed her lips. … “ (167)
Bibi Haldar’s physical withdrawal to the top of the stairs reflects her psychological estrangement – “her deep and prolonged silence – as well as her social ostracism because of the threat of contamination. At the “wife’s insistence”, she withdraws her camp cot and tin trunk, both symbols of her desperation, to the stairs and lives apart because the pregnant wife fears her indefinable illness. However, after the birth of her son, Bibi Haldar recuperates and becomes “cured”. The community rallies behind her and their support enables her to find a sense of place as a mother, and a storekeeper.
Identity and loneliness: Boori Ma is a desperate character who earns the sympathy of readers. Throughout the story, the readers’ sympathy increases significantly because she is blamed and persecuted for their troubles. She is presented as an outcast, who constantly sleeps on newspapers and has a hard life. She is ostracized because of her poverty stricken background. The writer builds up conflict and suspense because of the discrepancy between her former and present lives.
Identity: past and present lives intertwined: Boori Ma sweeps the stairwell. Her voice was “brittle with sorrows”. She thought about her losses since her deportation to Calcutta after Partition. She told a lot of stories to comfort herself. – stories about prior wealth.
One day while she was out the building was robbed and they blamed Boori Ma. They asked Mr Chatterjee to consider their arguments. He realized that you could never trust Boori Ma’s stories as always. One could not tell what she was up to. However, because the building had been renovated and looked so much newer they decided that they needed a “real durwan”.
Social relationships: The Dalals treat her contemptuously calling out of the taxi when they leave that they will bring her back a “sheep’s hair blanket”. Among the residents, she is the only one who loyally bids them a safe journey (80)
Relationship with other people in the building: They treat her as a liar and blame her for the theft. They distrust her … Social relationships and alienation: They betray Boori Ma and toss her out on the streets with her bucket and rags. “She shook the free end of her sari, but nothing rattled.” She is absolutely destitute and has been betrayed by the occupants of the building. They did not give her the least bit of kindness after her years of service.
Physical setting: she is constantly retreating to the top of the attic; – which is a symbol of isolation and separation (her outsider status). She lived now a poorer life on the roof top and grew restless and disillusioned. She spent her savings on small treats in the market.
Theirs is an unstable, dissatisfied and tense relationship. Mrs Dalal has many grievances. Before they got married, she was promised a lot. But she did not get any of these things such as a fridge and a phone. Yet Mr Dalal brings her two basins. This precipitates much argument between them. She still “cooks on kerosene”.
Mr Dalal is preoccupied with status; he boasts about his possessions, authority and better status. He is a manager and expects to impress others. No one seems to have much respect for him in the building.
In the portrayal of Mrs Sens, Lahiri captures an image of Indians who suffer from a sense of social and cultural dislocation in their new homeland. Many experience difficulties trying to assimilate and try to cling to Indian traditions, which represent the increasingly nebulous concept of “home”.
Whilst his father lives “two thousand miles west”, Eliot’s mother searches for a babysitter to keep her 11-year old son “safe. He has been cared for by several babysitters in the home, before his mother engages the services of Mrs Sens. Neither Abby or Mrs Linden were ideal babysitters. A young student, Abby refused to give Eliot any food “containing meat”. Lahiri uses this refusal as an indication of a problematic emotional bond. Mrs Linden was “fired” when his mother found whisky in the flask. Lahiri uses the whisky to point to a dysfunctional relationship whereby Mrs Linden works on her crossword puzzles and Eliot “played on his own”. Neither babysitters establish an emotional connection with Eliot and according to his mother, their sole purpose is to keep the 11-year old boy safe.
Eliot’s mother approaches Mrs Sens who advertises on the supermarket board, but from the outset her inability to drive distinguishes her from the previous babysitters and means that she cannot look after Eliot in his home environment.
Mrs Sens feels isolated university apartment, which is located “on the fringes of the campus” (112). It is unappealing, hotpotch and uninviting. The lobby is “tiled in unattractive squares of tan”. Inside Mrs Sen’s apartment, there are “mismatched remnants” of carpet pieces which are strewn over the floor. Furthermore, “drum shaped lampshades” are still “wrapped in the manufacturer’s plastic” The furniture tends to symbolise the lack of warmth and the community spirit for which Mrs Sen yearns as well as a feeling of temporariness. However, Lahiri does emphasise the covered nature of the apartment which tends to reflect Mrs Sen’s sense of decorum and her customs.
Despite the makeshift nature of the apartment, Mrs Sen offers tea and “butter biscuits” as sign of her hospitable nature. (In this regard, she is more welcoming than Abby who disdains the meat.) There are indications in the apartment that Mr and Ms Sens still adhere to certain cultural traditions such as the wearing of “flip flops” rather than shoes in the house.
Furthermore, Lahiri suggests that both Mr and Mrs Sen refrain from any show of emotion and appear as if they are only “distantly acquainted”.
Her struggle to maintain her Indian identity is evident in her dress and culinary habits. She prefers to wear her Indian sari, “patterned with orange paisleys”, which, Lahiri suggests, is out of place on the “drizzling August afternoon” when Eliot and his mother make their visit. Eliot is struck by the exposed nature of his mother, who appears to be obviously uncovered with her “her shaved knees and thighs too exposed”. Eliot’s mother appears distant and inhospitable as she refuses the “biscuit each time” and prefers to jot down some cursory notes about Mrs Sens’ baby-sitting experience.
Mrs Sens yearns for a sense of home. Eliot realises that she still calls India “home” because of its emotional associations. (By “home she meant india”.) The “blade” becomes a symbol of the hospitality of the Indian women who are always providing food to their families. Mrs Sens always smells of curious mixture of “mothballs and cumin”. The “mothballs” suggest that she has is trying to protect some of her Indian goods in storage, whilst the cumin draws attention to her love of cooking. She finds it difficult to make adjustments and is alienated. She yearns for the community spirit she has left behind in India, where they all sit together “laughing and gossiping and slicing 50 kilos of vegetables” 115. At home – only have to raise voice and everyone will come – another difference. At home “they sit on an enormous circle on the roof of the building” preparing the food through the night. The circle symbolises the sense of community as the women “chatter” through the night.
Lahiri uses antithesis to suggest that Mrs Sens is bothered by the absence of noise in her new apartment. She admits, “I cannot sleep sometime in so much silence”. This is reflected in Eliot’s home. His mother and he are often home alone and do not go out. They are excluded from the neighbour’s party, and on the mother’s day off , “they didn’t go anywhere”.
Lahiri uses antithesis to depict a difference between Eliot’s home and Mrs Sen’s home. The loneliness that seems such a part of Eliot’s lifestyle is often described as typically American. During the evening, the mother usually smokes a cigarette on the deck of the beach house, leaving Eliot alone to finish the pizza. Eliot’s mother lives independently, and she expects the same from their children. (There is an expectation that Eliot will put his mother in a nursing home. 131)
Lahiri describes Mrs Sens obsession with safety, to foreground her care. This acts as a contrast with the accident that occurs towards the end of the story. She makes Eliot sit quietly while she chops the vegetables; during one moment he discards the waste and he feels as if they are doing something secretive together. He feels as if he is “disobeying some unspoken rule”.
For Mr Sens, food is part of her personality and her culture. It is her nature to offer Eliot’s mother something to east when she picks him up. It is always a tasty dish; however, Eliot’s mother pretends that she is not hungry and does not like the taste. She gives excuses such as the “late lunch” at work and at home, she has wine, cheese and bread and orders pizzas for Eliot. Eating the pizzas is presented as an American cultural trait which Lahiri juxtaposes with the food-making desires of the Indians who slice 50 kilos of vegetables during the night.
The fact that her clothes still smell of “mothballs” reflects her desire to preserve her cultural traditions, while her constant search for the whole fish show her reluctance to adapt her culinary habits. She puts “vermilion” in her hair – a sign just like a wedding ring. 117 When she is upset – throws her saris on the floor – shows her dissatisfaction – never worn any of them. “they think I live the life of a queen – “ (125) – repetition… prejudices/bias – They think I live in a palace”.
Mr Sen reimburses the mother of the month’s payment and it is as if the arrangement is purely financial to the mother. The mother said that she was ‘relieved” that he was not going to Mrs Sen. She did not appreciate the care and love that Mrs Sen showered on her son. Compared to Mrs Sen, Eliot’s American mother appears emotionally disengaged Eliot looks out at the “gray waves receding from the shore”. The “gray waves” reflect his sense of dissatisfaction; lack of happiness; his grey moods. He is alone; he is a “big boy” but there is a strong lack of family and community.
Lahriri suggests that even though he might appear to be independent, his life is lonely, empty and there is a sense of sadness that he lacks a caring family. The mother phones to ask about his welfare but the conversation is remote; the mother appears distant and there is not a strong sense of concern for his feelings and emotional wellbeing.
Finally, the waves possibly remind Eliot of the fish that reminds him of Mrs Sen and her strong sense of kindness, hospitality and care.
Despite Bibi Haldar’s condition and sad sense of alienation from her relatives, the neighbours do not reject her but offer her help as well as respectful attention. They ostracise Haldar and boycott his store in solidarity towards Bibi, because of his unjust and discriminatory treatment of her. Also, as is typical in Lahiri’s stories, they leave food which symbolises reconciliation, hospitality and a sense of citizenship. When Bibi withdraws they leave plates of rice and after the birth of her baby, they leave plates of hot semolina and raisins. A hallmark of their assistance, they also show her how to care for the baby and support her in her endeavour to run the store and become self-sufficient.
They help to re-integrate into their community and give her support. They ostracise (exclude/ isolate) Haldar and boycott his store in solidarity towards Bibi, because of his unjust and discriminatory treatment of her. Also, as is typical in Lahiri’s stories, they leave food which symbolises reconciliation, hospitality and a sense of citizenship. When Bibi withdraws they leave plates of rice and after the birth of her baby, they leave plates of hot semolina and raisins. A hallmark of their assistance, they also show her how to care for the baby and support her in her endeavours to run the store and become self-sufficient.
Also, as is typical in Lahiri’s stories, they leave food which symbolises reconciliation, hospitality and a sense of citizenship. When Bibi withdraws they leave plates of rice and after the birth of her baby, they leave plates of hot semolina and raisins: “We took turns leaving her plates of rice and glasses of tea” (171)
A hallmark of their assistance, they also show her how to care for the baby and support her in her endeavours to run the store and become self-sufficient.
Likewise, Mala and the narrator in a Third and Final Continent also overcome their sense of estrangement that has arisen because of the circumstances of their arranged marriage and their foreignness in a strange country. When they both laugh for different reasons at Mrs Croft’s house, there is a growing sense of familiarity between the couple. Significantly, Mala’s laughter makes her glow, and although the narrator’s is not as loud, nevertheless they both share a moment of intimacy. Lahiri comments in her simple style, that this moment in Mrs Croft’s parlour helped to lessen “the distance between Mala and me”. The narrator knows that her death will one day “affect” him because he is now confident that he will learn to love her and share his life with her. (son as a symbol of their new life together. )
Significantly, if Lahiri opens her anthology with a story featuring the “still born child” as a symbol of the breakdown of the relationship, she ends with Third and Final Continent, which features the successful integration into American society of the narrator’s and Mala’s son. He is studying at Harvard University and he looks forward to an independent future. “He will graduate and pave his way, alone and unprotected”. The narrator tells him, “If we have survived on three continents, there is no obstacle we cannot conquer”. To keep in touch with their culture, they often drive to Harvard to give him rice and to “eat with their hands” and to encourage him to speak Bengali
Lahiri suggests that positive communication is essential (and empathy are) to rewarding and fulfilling relationships. Often those who are able to overcome their emotional distance and who can share secrets and intimate moments are more likely to enjoy long-lasting and deep relationships. Significantly, the narrator and Mala begin to reduce the strangeness between them and share moments of great intimacy. Para-linguistic features (body language) are important to the breakdown of boundaries and Mala’s laughter in Mrs Croft’s studio which is loud and kind helps to bring the two partners together. Eventually, she becomes part of their shared narrative as they tell stories together that include key moments of their past. (196)