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Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies sample essay

The Third and Final Continent is the last short story in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies; and is probably the most memorable one. A newly married young man makes his way from India to England and then to the US where he is making arrangements to call his wife from back home. Lahiri’s tone from the very beginning sounds distant, but equally engaging, her style is painfully simple; and the structure of the story is as clear as the title. Lahiri gives an account of one man’s journey through three different continents.

The story becomes captivating from the very first paragraph. She describes the narrator’s experiences in England where he lives with other “penniless Bengali bachelors all struggling to educate and establish themselves abroad [1].” But our protagonist is offered a job at M.I.T and decides to settle down in the U.S. Here is when the story truly picks up momentum.

Even with her simple style, Lahiri has also employed a strong underlying sense of humor. On his way to America, the narrator discovers that “President Nixon had declared a national holiday: two American men had landed on the moon [1].” The line is almost comical; the narrator is most uninterested in one of the greatest achievements in American history. Lahiri succeeds in describing America through the eyes of a foreigner to a new land. The narrator’s experience in America is a totally alien. Lahiri describes the new life and world around him in great detail, giving long descriptions of the food, clothes and the general attitude of people.

And then the story moves on to Mrs. Croft. The relationship that follows is humorous yet endearing and heart-warming. In fact, here is where Lahiri’s genius lies. Mrs. Croft and the narrator come from two different diverse cultures and lives, yet no culture, race or color seem to come in between their friendship.

Lahiri also brings forward the custom of arranged marriages, largely prevalent in India. “I regarded the proposition with neither objection nor enthusiasm. It was a duty expected of me, as it was expected of every man [1].” Even though he does not know his wife when the two get married, they begin to understand each other slowly. In fact, their first moment of understanding is in Mrs. Croft’s parlor, where the old woman calls Mala “A perfect lady [1].”

“I like to think of that moment in Mrs. Croft’s parlor as the moment when the distance between Mala and me began to lessen [1].”

The style and structure of Lahiri’s story are effortless and straight-forward. The words used too are simple. But it is exactly this simplicity which makes the story so close to life. The narrator’s tone is so disengaged from the story that it seems like a bland narration. Yet the events in that narration are so moving and heartening that it makes the reader feel like a part of the story.

The forms a deep bond with his wife, initially, a complete stranger; and through the two the reader can see and experience the pain of losing one’s cultural identity and heritage. Their son is completely Americanized and has no interest in his Bengali roots. They wish that would “eat rice with us with his hands, and speak in Bengali, things we sometimes worry he will no longer do after we die [1].”

Lahiri ends the story beautifully, describing the narrator’s journey through life in a few simple lines – “Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination [1].”

Works Cited:
Lahiri, Jhumpa, The third and final continent, retrieved from http://www.dequinix.com/a/continent.php

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