Identify the use of symbolism in "A Temporary Matter" by Jhumpa Lahiri.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The original question had to be edited down.  I think that one of the Lahiri's most effective stylistic elements is how she is able to use symbols to represent what could or should be in stark contrast to what is.  For example, the initial discussion between Shoba and Shukumar during the blackout is filled with the symbolic image of blackouts in India that take place with a larger family and a greater level of emotional commitment than what is being experienced in the world of Shoba and Shukumar.  This symbolic use of imagery helps to bring out what could be or what might be as opposed to what is.  In much the same way, the viewing of the Bradford couple operates.  The Bradfords, walking arm in arm, or simply being with one another is a stark and brutal symbol to the emotional reality of Shoba and Shukumar.  Even when both see the couple walking to the bookstore, the emotional timbre between Shoba and Shukumar is resting in what potential secrets are going to be revealed as opposed to an embrace of what exists between both people.  This is a stark emotional difference between what is in the world of Shoba and Shukumar and what might or could be as with the Bradfords.  Finally, I think that there is a great level of symbolic significance in the use of light and dark.  The darkness of the power cuts are where the most amount of emotional light seems to be creeping into the world of the two lovers.  There seems to be an emotional enlightenment evident when the power cuts come to a close.  Yet, this symbol of hope is undercut with Shoba's revelation.  The symbol of "the game" is what looms largely in Shukumar's line upon hearing her declaration of intent:

It was obvious that she’d rehearsed the lines. All this timeshe’d been looking for an apartment, testing the water pressure, asking a Realtor if heat and hot water were included in the rent. It sickened Shukumar, knowing that she had spent these past evenings preparing for a life without him. He was relieved and yet he was sickened. This was what she’d been trying to tell him for the past four evenings. This was the point of her game.

The "game" becomes a symbol of manipulation and emotional severance.  Contrary to the idea that it could have been an attempt to bring them together, it was actually a formalistic preparation for departure.  A game which had been played in darkness that sought to bring more light to their emotional bond was actually perpetrated to once and for all close off into darkness a love that once existed.  It is for this reason that there is much in way of symbolism that the final scene of the two is their weeping together in the dark "for the things they now know."  Darkness is used as a symbol to bring much out in terms of the emotional connection between both.

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