113th Annual Conference - Portland, Oregon
Friday, November 6 - Sunday, November 8, 2015

Intersecting Spaces: Cultural, Gendered, Spiritual in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies

Danielle Cofer, University of Rhode Island

Interpreter of Maladies (1999) depicts a variety of characters facing entanglements with romantic relationships and difficult transitions as they move from east to west, and at times from west to east. Jhumpa Lahiri uses public and private space to reflect characters’ desire for compartmentalizing identity formation.

Proposal: 

Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), depicts a variety of characters who face the entanglements of romantic relationships and difficult transitions as they move from east to west, and at times from west to east. Lahiri uses public and private space to reflect characters’ desire for compartmentalizing identity formation. Particularly, struggles with cultural hybridity, gender constructs, and clashing eastern and western religious institutions are addressed as the space of the home becomes the crucial site where battles are forged in “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” and “This Blessed House.”  The tenuous family dynamics in “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” reveal a family with immigrant parents trying to retain traditional values originally imparted in India, while also acclimating to western expectations in the business and education sector, outside of the home. In “This Blessed House,” Twinkle and Sanjeev, recent immigrants from Bengali to America, resist compromise, favoring individual idiosyncrasies to honest communication as they navigate their divisive marital identity away from Bengali.  Ultimately, the developing identities of Lilia, Mr. Pirzada, Twinkle and Sanjeev are inextricably linked to the transnational environments of India and America and the physical and metaphorical ways in which these spaces and ideologies intersect. Thus, these characters struggle to root themselves through family structure and the institution of marriage as a means to renegotiate identity formation and combat their ambivalent sense of placelessness, but neither a geographic place nor bond with another person is able to redress their feelings of aimlessness. Lahiri demonstrates the resilience of hybrid identity as these character—particularly Lilia and Twinkle—continue to try to negotiate the spaces they inhabit. Traversing the spaces carved out for them, as well as negotiating all of the expectations that come with these spaces, pushes these characters to extend and question the borders and boundaries of their afforded space, while also creating alternative scripts of their lives that do not remain rooted in simple, delineated eastern or western narratives. 

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