The short story Interpreter of Maladies written by Jhumpa Lahiri explores a variety of themes. One of them is the need for intimacy. In particular, the author shows that this need can be partly explained by our willingness to speak openly to a person who will not be judgmental of our behavior, values, or morality.
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Secondly, this novella suggests that the desire for intimacy can sometimes arise because people want to find a companion who will feel compassion for them and probably raise their self-esteem.
Jhumpa Lahiri explores this issue by focusing on the relations between such characters as Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapasi. Overall, Jhumpa Lahiri creates a situation when intimacy is driven mostly by selfishness, rather then love or affection. This paper will show how the writer communicates this idea to the readers.
The writer employs several literary elements in order to convey this message to the reader. First of all, one has to speak about character development. Lahiri does not present a direct evaluation of Mrs. Das or Mr. Kapasi.
Yet, practically in every passage of this novella, Lahiri gives some minor descriptions which can tell us a lot about the inner world of these people. For example, she tells that “Mr. and Mrs. Das bickered about who should take Tina (their daughter) to the toilet” (Lahiri 2005, p. 185).
Secondly, she refuses to help her daughter with her manicure and asks Tina to “leave her alone”. These details suggest that she might be unhappy in her marriage. One can surely say that Mrs. Das feels alienated from her husband and children.
Yet, at the beginning we do not why she behaves in such a way. Similarly, the author shows us that Mr. Kapasi views his job as an interpreter as a “thankless occupation” which does not allow him to fulfill his potential (Lahiri 2005, p. 191).
These people are gravitated toward one another for different reasons. Ms. Das believes that she is the person to whom she can confess that she was unfaithful to her husband without having to justify or acquit herself. In his turn, Mr. Kapasi feels closeness to her because she expressed some interest in him and his work.
Character development is the main literary element that demonstrates that their alleged intimacy can be more attributed to egoism instead of affection. Therefore, it is not surprising that these people fail to develop any form of relationship.
The conflict presented in this short story has two dimensions. The main characters have to choose between their self-interests or self-esteem and the necessity to accept or tell the truth. For instance, Mr. Kapasi does not want to accept the idea that his career and his life are not as successful as he wants them to be.
This is the reason why he is attracted to Mrs. Das who finds him “romantic” (Lahiri 2005, p. 191). Nonetheless, he does not want to do anything that can improve the quality of his life. Similarly, Mrs. Das is not willing to acknowledge the fact that her marriage proved to be a complete failure, and she can be partly blamed for this outcome.
The main issue is that these people do not even consider telling the truth to others or to themselves. Instead, they strive to find an imaginary friend able to console them. This is one of the reasons why they are unhappy and discontent with themselves and others.
Other important literary elements that should not be overlooked are the voice of the author and the narrative mode. Jhumpa Lahiri tells the story from the third-person point of view. The writer enables the reader to better understand the feelings and emotions of different characters.
One can also say that she feels some form of empathy for them. She explains why they feel so alienated from their families, and why they are longing for intimacy. Moreover, it is possible to assume that the narrator is the only one who understands the feelings and sentiments of Mrs. Das, or Mr. Kapasi. Other characters lack this capacity.
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In other words, those people, who surround Mrs. Das, or Mr. Kapasi, do not know why they feel frustrated. Thus, one can argue that the narrative mode and the voice really help the author show that the main protagonists strive for compassion and sincerity. Other people do not even try to find out the cause of their depression or discontent. They may not even notice that something is wrong with them.
There are various peculiarities of the plot which play instrumental role in revealing the personal qualities of characters. First, one can notice that Jhumpa Lahiri prefers non-linear plot which is full of flashbacks or recollections. These flashbacks are aimed at explaining the reasons why Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das can be drawn to each other.
For example, Lahiri tells us about Kapasi’s relations with his wife who blamed him for his inability to avert the death of their son (2005, p. 192). Additionally, the flashbacks inserted into the story describe the circumstances that prompted Mrs. Das to commit adultery.
The writer does not attempt to justify them; more likely, she tries to better illustrate their need for intimacy. This non-linear structure of the plot is essential for portraying the inner world of characters.
Additionally, if we speak about the plot of the story, we should focus primarily on the climax. At this point, Mrs. Das tells she wants to speak to someone who can alleviate her suffering. She says, “I’ve been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better” (Lahiri 2005, p. 201).
Her confession disappoints his expectations because he clearly wanted to establish romantic relations with her. He did not want to be a counselor. At this point, both of them realize that they have nothing in common with one another.
During the final scene, Mrs. Das throws away the note on which the address of her companion is written. This moment symbolizes the rupture of their relations. Jhumpa Lahiri skillfully employs to communicate her message to the readers.
Overall, such a novella as Interpreter of Maladies can identifies several reasons why people look for intimacy. On the one hand, we can speak about with people’s willingness to communicate with someone who will not condemn them and accuse them of immorality.
This is particularly important for Mrs. Das. The second reason is self-esteem. Mr. Kapasi feels intimacy toward this woman because he believes that she finds him romantic and interesting rather than commonplace. The author shows that the intimacy and relations that are driven by selfishness are more likely to be fruitless.
Lahiri, J. (2005). Interpreter of Maladies. In, P. Shreve & B, Nguyen, (Ed.), 30/30: thirty American stories from the last thirty years (pp. 185- 203). New York: Pearson Longman.