Jhumpa Lahiri's "Third and Final Continent" and Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" both depict a mingling of the old and new. Discuss how Lahiri's narrator's assimilation compares to that of Maggie or...

Jhumpa Lahiri's "Third and Final Continent" and Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" both depict a mingling of the old and new. Discuss how Lahiri's narrator's assimilation compares to that of Maggie or Dee.

(response should be around 200 words)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While both Walker's Dee, or Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, and Lahiri's narrator leave their homes for a new environment and culture, the narrator of "Third and Final Continent" truly enters new worlds of customs, language, and experience; on the other hand, Wangero's new culture, like her name, is merely a manufactured one. For, it is one which rejects the traditional, symbolized by the quilt that Dee's grandmother has sewn, a quilt that holds remnants of history. This quilt Maggie, unlike Dee, will actually use, covering herself at night with the labor of her grandmother's fingers and the scraps of material such as that from her grandfather's uniform.

When Lahiri's narrator travels to England from his home in Calcutta, he does not totally sever all connection to his native culture since he lives with other Indians:

I lived in London, in Finsbury Park, in a house occupied entirely by penniless Bengali bachelors like myself, at least a dozen and sometimes more, all struggling to educate and establish ourselves abroad.

However, when he is hired by MIT and comes to Boston, he lives in a solitary room, isolated from any but other Indians who work at the school. Still, he does adjust to life in Boston:

I had adjusted, more or less. I ate cornflakes and milk morning and night, and bought some bananas for variety, slicing them into the bowl with the edge of my spoon. I left my carton of milk on the shaded part of the windowsill, as I had seen other residents at the Y.M.C.A. do. To pass the time in the evenings I read the Boston Globe downstairs.... I read every article and advertisement, so that I would grow familiar with things, and when my eyes grew tired I slept.

Nevertheless, he still does not forsake his traditional foods, so much a part of his culture. Nor is he willing to embrace American customs and habits. For instance, when he meets Mrs. Croft, he speaks politely to her, and he feigns excitement that the first Americans have walked on the moon. Later, after he moves and his wife Mala comes to the United States, the narrator and she do not abandon their traditions, for she continues to wear her native attire and they conduct themselves as those whose marriage has been arranged for them.

In "Everyday Use," the vociferous Dee/Wangero, whose Black Muslim boyfriend will eat no pork, "went on through the chitlins and corn bread, the greens and everything else," so she yet retains some of her culture. But, she views the old benches, the butter churn, and the quilts as quaint tokens of a day gone by rather than articles for "everyday use," not keeping so much of what truly matters as a part of her family's history.

Both Alice Walker's and Jhumpa Lahiri's stories center around the conflict of tradition with progress or change. While Lahiri's narrator adjusts his traditional beliefs to his new country's situations, such as Mala's and his enjoying their environments while still retaining their traditional dress, food, and customs, Dee/Wangero inverts all her traditional values for a passing phase. Recognizing this rejection of Dee for what is meaningful, the mother hands the family quilts to her other daughter, Maggie, responding to Dee's question, "What don't I understand?" with the words "Your heritage." Lahiri's narrator does understand his heritage, "surviv[ing] on three continents."