Discuss the depictions of different cultures in Bharati Mukherjee's "The Management of Grief."

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The story frames the problem of culture in terms of mourning. The central fact of the story—the airplane bombing, and the deaths of many Indian families—gives the people in the story a commonality but also divides them. Shaila, the narrator, is a great example of this. On the one hand, she understands the kind of mourning she should be feeling as a widow, but on the other, her sense of emptiness separates her from her friend Kusum, who returns to India to live in an ashram and mourn her lost husband and daughter. Shaila's "calm" stands out in comparison to the other mourners, which makes her seem like an ideal person for the job of "translating" the government's concerns, represented by Judith, to the other families. In fact, what Judith sees as "irrational" behavior on the part of these families (in particular, the Sikh family she visits) Shaila sees as normative behavior. Rather than "get on" with their lives, as Kusum's westernized problem daughter does, for the Sikhs and Kusum, the duty of parents is to mourn their children. Shaila's decision to stay in Toronto is not a decision to "move on" in any sort of western way, but a response to a call from her dead husband to "continue" what they started, even if what that might be is unclear.

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The depiction of different cultures and their clashes is a part of Mukherjee's thematic development.  Shaila proves to be  great starting point here.  She is an Indian women, traditional in terms of representing those elements where she is "well brought up."  The challenge is posited in that she must navigate this reality with a Western context.  Fundamentally, Mukherjee depicts the Western constructions of self and the Eastern understanding of self as ends that oppose one another and must be navigated by the individual.  Shaila understands this as the narrative progresses, recognizing the elements of her Eastern construction as well as what she must embrace from the West.  She embraces a Western sensibility in embodying the idea that she sojourns "alone" now as a widow.  She does not capitulate to the Eastern idea that life is over for her, one that necessitates her flight to an ashram, like Kusum.  Rather, she recognizes that she honors her husband's and sons' realities by living life on her own.  She sees the limitations in both the Indian construction and in the Western construction, with her repudiation of Judith's point of view.  Mukherjee constructs Shaila as one who understands cultural valences as realities that must be navigated by the individual.  Culture is not shown in Shaila to be repudiated one or the other.  Mukherjee is wise enough not to show an ultimatum.  Rather, there are aspects that are constricting in each, and aspects that are liberating in each.  The individual who has a foot in both worlds must recognize what aspects to take from each in order to make sense of their own being.  Culture is shown to be a forest through which there are many paths.  Shaila finds one through her "management of grief."

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