CulturalValues Conflict in Interpreterof Maladiesby Jhumpa Lahiri
JhumpaLahiri, born in England, was the daughter of Indian emigrants. Shegrew up in Rhode Island, raised, not as an American, but an Indian.Literature to her was a natural calling owing to the fact that herfather and mother were librarian and teacher respectively. Lahiritells the stories about how Indians and Indian-Americans strugglewith the choice of culture through the Interpreterof Maladies.Their struggle involves the choice between the culture that theyinherited from their parents and the culture that surrounds them.Lahiri tells of how challenging it is for her understanding theIndian culture. In her own words, she admits that she is “lucky”that she is “…between two worlds…” Her reason is that she hasno idea what it means to have a “…distinct South Asian…”identity and therefore it does not interfere with her writing(Farnsworth 1). Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreterof Maladiesis a text that has cross-cultural themes capable of creating anopportunity for the comparison of the cultural values it represents.
Byuse of her Indian-American cultural background, Lahiri is able toexpress the issues of her own life through the plots and charactersshe creates. She is also successful in representing her culturalgroup in a balanced manner. In an interview with Farnsworth, shedeclares openly that Interpreterof Maladieswas her way of reflecting on the experiences that she, together withher parents, their Indian immigrant friends went through (1). Lahiritranscends cultural boundaries by using a collection of storiesrepresenting both societies (Farmsworth 1).
Itis possible to assume that the rhetorical aim of the book is todebate or convince the reader about the superior society. However, bywriting the book, Lahiri intends to present her readers with newlooks into the different cultures so that their cultural perspectivescan be transformed. Her stories reveal a different picture of thesocieties, some of which are usually hidden from the publiceye.
Using9 short stories, Interpreter of Maladies represent Indians’characters and descent living in America. There are plots within thebook that show a society of immigrants that is very diverse (Dubey14). For example, the characters in the story include children whoare striving to understand the mysteries of their life at home incontrast to their lives at school. Another category of the story’scharacters are the young adults who do not understand their status asAmericans and how they are connected to their heritage. The olderadults represented in the story are in continuous struggle with therealities of having to accept their new lives and let go of theirpast. The reaction to family, friends and foes by these charactersdiffer greatly. This is indicative of how Indian Immigrants havevaried personalities regardless of their shared ethnic background(Kennedy 17). The story challenges the previous stereotypes throughits focus on the diverse characters, plots and places that are withina similar cultural and historical context. Since Lahiri’sinheritance is in her genetic material, there was no way she couldescape it.
Theword “maladies” in the title of the book can also mean“troubles”. With regard to this text, the word as a part of thewhole title is used to describe a wide variety of things. The 9stories contained in the book are illustrations of different aspectsof the lives of Indian immigrants in America. Within every singlestory, the different characters, struggles, sacrifices and victoriesof the immigrants are portrayed. The troubles that they undergo inorder to survive are also recorded. The title, “interpreter ofmaladies” is also used specifically as a title to one of the ninestories in the book. Therefore, the phrase of the title has manydifferent meanings with regard to its use within the text (Noelle27).
Thestory with the title, “interpreter of maladies’ is about Mr.Kapasi. In the story, the man has the occupation of interpreting thesicknesses of patients in a given hospital. Mr. Kapasi gives sometour to some members of a family in which the mother and father arehaving a failing marriage. Mrs. Das, who is the wife and motheradmits to Kapasi that she conceived one of her sons with another man,not her husband. She requests him to help her with her malady whichis also her secret. The man explains to her clearly that he can onlyinterpret her malady, but cannot help in her guilt (Lahiri34).
Lahiribases her short stories upon her Indian heritage. Within the stories,she deals with the issues concerning diversity, alienation, identityand the challenges met by the culturally displaced people. She showsclearly how the first generation and, in many cases, secondgeneration immigrants are oftentimes afflicted by estrangement andisolation. However, she does not exclusively concern herself with theimmigrant experiences. She suggests in the title story by use of hercharacters that everyone in the society has ‘maladies’. In thisaspect, the story helps us to understand ourselves and others.Through her powers of observation and own experiences, Lahiri createsstories with the ability to take readers to a landscape ofimagination. This way, the readers are able to exhaustively exploreand expose the issues that undermine the wellbeing of all humanity(Noelle 21).
Allthe stories speak of individuals who are either Americans of Indiandescent like her, Indians in India or Indians in the United States.The stories can also be further divided into many distinct categoriesand associations (Kennedy 68). These distinctions are based on howthey relate to the Indian culture. There is a group of stories thatare based in India and only convey the stories of Indians in India.The stories within this group are “A Real Durwan” and “TheTreatment of Bibi Haldar” (Noelle 10). Within these stories, Lahiriexplores the Indian society and its elements that have withstood thechallenges of associations with other societies and cultures. Theelements she describes in the stories are those that have remainedunchanged. The characters like Boori Ma and Bibi Haldar exhibitcertain characters that are unique to the Indian society. Many ofthese characters have no possibility of existing in other places awayfrom India. Both of the women are subjected to repression by themores of the society. These repressive mores appear to render thewomen powerless. The two stories are interconnected with anotherstory that is set in India. That other story is about an Indian manwho had an encounter with a family that was American, but of theIndian descent (Lahiri 47).
Thedifferent maladies that trouble the characters of the story are onlyunited together in the title story, “Interpreter of Malady”. Thisstory illustrates the main theme that unites all the storiestogether. It also serves as a bridge the geographical separation thatexists between North American continent and the Indian side of theAsian continent. For example, even though the tourists in the taxi ofMr. Kapasi have behavior and mannerisms that appear foreign, theystill look Indian to him. The confusion suggests one of the majorthemes in the work of Lahiri, which is the disjointedness betweencultures. It is through this story that Lahiri shows how hernarratives are interconnected (Chotiner 1).
Thefirst-generation Indians are disconnected from American culture sincethey left their land of origin long ago. When she was still veryyoung, Mrs. Sen was made to look old due to her inability to adapt tothe American life. Hers is a complete displacement who only desiresto go back to India. She makes no attempt to adapt to the Americanculture. Another person in the story, Mr. Pirzada, spends his lifeliving in America but concerns himself more with the developments andnews of his homeland. Even though he lives in America, she has lefthis wife and children in India (Chotiner 1).
Mostof these stories revolve around relationships and marriage. Inparticular, they speak of how the Indian society is underpinned byarranged marriages. Even as most of the stories like “This BlessedHouse” and “Sexy” portray the struggle of the characters toadapt to the culture of America, these stories also dwell on theparticulars marriages and how individuals face difficulties inadapting to family life (Lahiri 3).
Thestories collected in Interpreter of Maladies are effective incommunicating the divide that exists between the different culturesand the challenges that the difference causes. From the story, it isevident that Indians have a great struggle in adapting to theAmerican culture. Their challenges are majorly in terms of theconflicts between their cultural heritage and the culture aroundthem. This divide stretches even to the family life includingrelationships and marriages within the Indian communities.
Chotiner,I. “Interviews: Jhumpa Lahiri.” The Atlantic. 2008. Web.
Dubey,A. Immigrant Experience in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies.Journal of Indian Writings in English. 2002. Print.
Farmsworth.Elizabeht Pulitzer Prize Winner – Fiction Interview. Online NewsHour. 2000. Web.
Lahiri,J. Interpreter of Maladies. Flamingo, Harper Collins. 2000. Print.
Noelle,B. Reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies as a Short StoryCycle. MELUS 29.3(Winter Issue). 2004. Print.
Kennedy,X. J. Literature.an Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing.12th Ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education (US, 2011. Print.