Study Guide

The Management of Grief

by Bharati Mukherjee

The Management of Grief Summary

Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Based on an actual event—the Sikh terrorist bombing of an Air India plane on June 23, 1985, which killed all 329 passengers and crew—“The Management of Grief” is Bharati Mukherjee’s “tribute to all who forget enough of their roots to start over enthusiastically in a new land, but who also remember enough of their roots to survive fate’s knockout punches.” Mukherjee’s story focuses on Shaila Bhave in the hours, days, and months following the deaths of her husband and two young sons. The story focuses on her forms of grief and guilt, which are specific to her culture. As an Indian wife, she never spoke her husband’s name or told him she loved him—simple acts that Westerners take for granted. Her grief reveals who Shaila is, was, and will be. As do many of the characters in Mukherjee’s stories and novels, she finds herself caught between cultures, countries, and existences. “At thirty-six,” she considers, “I am too old to start over and too young to give up. Like my husband’s spirit, I flutter between two worlds.”

One of the worlds is Indian, including the highly supportive Hindu community in Toronto, from which she feels strangely detached. The Hindu community in Toronto is itself part of a larger Indian immigrant community that includes Muslims, Parsis, atheists, and even the Sikhs, tied by religion if not necessarily by politics to those responsible for the bombing, which is part of a struggle for autonomy being waged by...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

The Management of Grief Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, Mrs. Bhave, is attempting an impossible task. She has just lost her husband and their two sons in an airplane crash caused by a terrorist bomb, and she carefully reports the interactions going on around her in an effort to understand and communicate her own experience. She seems at a great distance from her surroundings, yet anything can bring her back to the disaster and thoughts of her family. For example, while she lies in bed, a stranger making tea in her kitchen brings back the days when her sons made her breakfast.

Mrs. Bhave relives the disaster in a stream-of-consciousness monitoring of the constant activity surrounding her. As some people listen for the latest theories on why the airplane blew up, such as space debris, Russian lasers, and a Sikh bomb, she suddenly realizes that the radios she hears in the background belong to her sons. This thought leads her to recall how funny her neighbor Kusum looked as she ran to her door to tell her what had happened. Mrs. Bhave becomes aware of the voices of preachers speaking on the television, going on as though nothing had happened, yet cannot voice her own thoughts about this phenomenon. She hears the phone ringing and realizes that someone is talking about her condition and her medication. She feels like screaming but cannot. Instead, she hears the voices of her family screaming.

Mrs. Bhave speaks out very little and seems unable to judge anything, in view of the disaster. She appears to question her own customs, remarking to Kusum that she never once told her husband Vikram that she loved him. Kusum replies that modern women have to say it because their feelings are fake. As if to emphasize this judgment, Kusum’s youngest daughter, Pam, who dates Canadian boys and works at a McDonald’s, appears, urging her mother to dress herself for the reporters. Pam expresses survivors’ guilt, part of her own grief, accusing her mother of wishing that she herself had died instead of her sister.

Soon, Judith Templeton, an appointee of the provincial government, visits the household. She describes her job to Mrs. Bhave, requesting her assistance in communicating with other survivors, having heard that Mrs. Bhave has taken it more calmly. Mrs. Bhave represents the human touch that Judith needs in order to manage the grief of all the survivors. She represents a bridge between the Canadian government and the Indian Canadian culture. From the...

(The entire section is 995 words.)

The Management of Grief Summary

Mukherjee's "The Management of Grief" opens as the protagonist Shaila Bhave watches women moving around her kitchen quietly. The mood is...

(The entire section is 977 words.)