Issues of Diaspora in Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies

Jackie Large '05, and Erin Quinn '04, English 365, Northwestern University

Although not all of the stories in Interpreter of Maladies are set in America, all of them deal with characters in diaspora of one sort or another. Very few essential characters in the book live in their original homeland, and, if they do, the represent the first generation in their family born into a Western culture. Thus, most of the characters in Interpreter of Maladies must cope with living in the diaspora in some sense. The following questions look at the ways in which Lahiri deals with issues of diaspora and its effects on identity and character.

"Interpreter of Maladies"

In "Interpreter of Maladies," Mr. Kapasi is leading an Indian American family around India. The Das family intrigues Mr. Kapasi as "The family looked Indian but dressed as foreigners did." Despite the familiarity of the Das appearance, Mr. Kapasi comes to learn that this family is as foreign as his other clients.

What responsibility comes with living in diaspora? What does the Das family have a responsibility to interpret and communicate to Mr. Kapasi and their older generations?

In "Interpreter of Maladies," the idea of an "Imagined Homeland" takes on a new meaning. How does the Das family, all born in America, fetishize and imagine India? What evidence is presented to support the fact that the Dases fetishize what is technically their homeland?

What multiple meanings can the word "interpretation" take on? How are they applicable to Mr. Kapasi? To the Das family?

"Mrs. Sen's"

In "Mrs. Sen's", a woman moves with her husband out of India to the United States and is put in charge of taking care of an eleven-year old American boy. Mrs. Sen tries very hard to become accustomed to the ways and customs of the United States but she can not escape from the fact that, in her words, "Everything is [in India]" (113). Everything Mrs. Sen has known or loved is in India and we see the effects of her displacement in her actions.

Mrs. Sen is assumed to be about thirty (112) but she is portrayed as acting much older; is this a function of her displacement in America? In what ways does Mrs. Sen show the extent of her discomfort with her new "in-diaspora" identity?

"The Third and Final Continent"

The young male narrator of "The Third and Final Continent" is most certainly in diaspora, and becomes comfortable in his new homeland (making the decision that it is his "final" continent) only after evaluating his experiences with the 103-year-old Mrs. Croft. The narrator describes Mrs. Croft as "ancient and alone" -- her life the first the narrator mourned in America (197).

What initially unnoticeable effects does Mrs. Croft have on the narrator and his first experiences in America? What effects does he have on her?

Postcolonial India OV Diasporas literature

Last modified 7 December 2002