How is third person used in "Interpreter of Maladies," and what is its effectiveness?

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juergems eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Interpreter of Maladies" is a story in Jhumpa Lahiri's beautiful collection of short stories of the same title.  

It is undeniable that Mr. Kapasi is the central character of this narrative, seeing as he's the titular interpreter of maladies, and the third-person limited narrator gives us perspective into his thoughts and desires. However, if the narrative were in first person, written with Mr. Kapasi as the narrator, it probably wouldn't work as well as it does in third person. 

Lahiri has a very distinct writing style, which has a great combination of poetic description and straightforwardness. By using third person voice in "Interpreter of Maladies," we are able to get some descriptions and insights on Mr. Kapasi, the Das family, and their surroundings that are more varied and well-rounded than we would get if Mr. Kapasi were the narrator. For example, we probably wouldn't get anything like this line from Mr. Kapasi's mind: 

In the back seat Mrs. Das gazed out another window, at the sky, where nearly transparent clouds passed quickly in front of one another.

Or this one, a good example of Lahiri's use of poetic language and devices:

He found nothing noble in interpreting people’s maladies, assiduously translating the symptoms of so many swollen bones, countless cramps of bellies and bowels, spots on people’s palms that changed color, shape, or size.

It's also much easier to see the buildup of Mr. Kapasi's attraction to Mrs. Das from an intuitive third-person's eye than from the limited perspective of any one character in the story. 

 

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Interpreter of Maladies

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