In Interpreter Of Maladies, how does Jhumpa Lahiri portray cultural displacement in the stories 'Mrs Sen's', 'When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine' and 'The Tird and Final Continent'? Also, what was its...

In Interpreter Of Maladies, how does Jhumpa Lahiri portray cultural displacement in the stories 'Mrs Sen's', 'When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine' and 'The Tird and Final Continent'? Also, what was its impacts on the characters? Thanks soo much!

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the three short stories, Lahiri portrays cultural displacement as a melancholic experience for individuals.  It reminds them of how alone they truly are in a new world.

Cultural displacement lies in Mrs. Sen's heart.  Eliot is perceptive enough to catch on quickly that there is something beneath Mrs. Sen's exterior.  He recognizes that India means the world to Mrs. Sen, and that world's disappearance has impacted her tremendously:

The mention of the word [India] seemed to release something in her.  She neatened the border of her sari where it rose diagonally across her chest.  She, too, looked around the room, as if she noticed in the lampshades, in the teapot, in the shadows frozen on the carpet, something the rest of them could not.  'Everything is there.'

Mrs. Sen experiences cultural displacement in a physical and emotional way.  Physically, all of her belongings are in India. She in a world with few things that remind her of home. Emotionally, "everything is there." Nothing is with her in this new setting.  

Mrs. Sen experiences this displacement on an individual basis, without the support network of other people.  At the same time, Mrs. Sen is melancholy about her experience. Eliot says that the word "India" released "something in her." This detail enables the reader to see how unhappy Mrs. Sen really is.  The word "India" means so much more to Mrs. Sen precisely because she is separated from it.

The narrator in "The Third and Final Continent" replicates Mrs. Sen's individual and melancholy experience of cultural displacement. The narrator himself is used to being displaced as he experienced it in London and now in Boston. Yet, in seeing what an Indian woman experiences in America, the melancholy of cultural displacement is evident: 

A few days after receiving the letter, as I was walking to work in the morning, I saw an Indian woman on Massachusetts Avenue, wearing a sari with its free end nearly dragging on the footpath, and pushing a child in a stroller. An American woman with a small black dog on a leash was walking to one side of her. Suddenly the dog began barking. I watched as the Indian woman, startled, stopped in her path, at which point the dog leaped up and seized the end of the sari between its teeth.

This is a uniquely individual experience. The narrator recognizes that his wife is going to experience a difficult time with her sari being gawked at and seen as "different." If she were in India, a woman wearing a sari would not be so out of place. However, in America, it is. Cultural displacement is an individual experience in the way it directly impacts the narrator. It is so personal that his scope of compassion is jarred as a result; he sees what his wife would experience. There is something melancholy about a woman being subject to a dog's attack because she is wearing something that defies culturally acceptable behavior. It is part of being an "outsider."

Mr. Pirzada represents another instance of how cultural displacement is individual and melancholy in its reach.  Mr. Pirzada is cut off from his family. While he is in America for work, similar to Mrs. Sen and the narrator from "The Third and Final Continent," he finds some of the customs in this new country foreign to him:

One day in October Mr. Pirzada asked upon arrival, “What are these large orange vegetables on people’s doorsteps? A type of squash?” “Pumpkins,” my mother replied. “Lilia, remind me to pick one up at the supermarket.” “And the purpose? It indicates what?” “You make a jack-o’-lantern,” I said, grinning ferociously. “Like this. To scare people away.” “I see,” Mr. Pirzada said, grinning back. “Very useful.”

The "type of squash" that Mr. Pirzada sees is foreign to him.  Mr. Pirzada's cultural displacement is one where he does not understand the contours of the culture in which he is placed. This lack of connection reflects how cultural displacement impacts him. Mr. Pirzada is culturally displaced from his own home, both politically and personally. He is uncertain about his family. The world that makes sense to him is far away. The world in which he is in contains elements that make him feel distant from it. This individualized experience of cultural displacement contains a sense of melancholy to it. Like his counterparts in Lahiri's other two stories, Mr. Pirzada experiences cultural displacement on a sad, personalized level. 

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Interpreter of Maladies

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