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“Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri brings to the surface unhappy marriages. Told from a third-person limited point of view, the objective narrator reveals the perceptions of Mr. Kapasi, the main character. Kapasi, a well-educated man, drives a taxi as a tour guide to supplement his finances that have been in crisis since the death of his seven year old son.
The Das family is visiting India from the United States. They are of Indian heritage, but the entire family was born in the US. Kapasi views the Das family as disconnected from each other. Mrs. Das hides behind her glasses and wants to be left alone. Mr. Das limits his involvement with the family by reading a tour guide book.
Kapasi is taking the family to see a sun temple. On the way, he reveals to the Das adults that he is an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak the ancient language of some of his patients. Mrs. Das becomes interested in Kapasi after this and labels him an interpreter of maladies.
Mrs. Das includes Kapasi in a family picture and takes his name and address to send him a copy. Kapasi begins to feel a connection with Mrs. Das. His perception of Mrs. Das begins to change. He foresees them having a long distance correspondence.
Both marriages lack intimacy. Unfortunately for Kapasi, he has no one to talk to about his unhappiness. His marriage has become unsatisfactory because his wife has turned away from him since the death of their son. His wife does not want to listen to the events of his workday, because the doctor’s office reminds her of her son’s death. Rather than talk about her problem with her husband, she belittles his work. Resentment has built in Kapasi, and he has become starved for affection.
When Mrs. Das says that she finds his job “romantic,” Kapasi develops an infatuation for her. When she asks for his address, he dreams about them having a long distance correspondence.
On the other hand, the reader learns that Mrs. Das actually sees Kapasi as a father figure, who because of his translator job for the doctor, can help her with her problems. It is obvious that she wants to talk to Kapasi by herself.
Mrs. Das confides in Kapasi that she has had an extramarital affair. She feels guilty over her affair with her husband’s friend and the subsequent birth of her son Bobby. She wants advice from Kapasi. He suggest that her “terrible” feelings arise from guilt. The diagnosis shocks and troubles her. A change in her seems to take effect immediately.
She turned to him and glared at him. She opened her mouth to say something, but as she glared at Kapasi a certain knowledge seemed to pass before her eyes, and she stopped. It crushed him…
Kapasi now dislikes Mrs. Das because of her “trivial little secret.” It is nothing like the anguish he and his wife suffer with the death of her son and nothing like the silence he must endure at home.
Both of the characters failed in their perception of the other. Through guilt and anguish, people look for something in the other person that may not be there.
The problems for all the characters in the story come from lack of communication. No one has honestly confronted any situation and been honest with his mate. The signs of an unhappy marriage Kapasi recognizes in the Das marriage because these are in his marriage as well: long silences, lack of intimacy, and constant fussing over insignificant things.
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