Given the following descriptions:  Kind and generous, and Unhappy and interfering Which of these two descriptions is closer to your view of Mrs. Patton?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Desai constructs characterizations in her novel that deny reduction.  It is in this light where Mrs. Patton is more than kind and generous and more than unhappy and interfering.  She is a complex creature who is trapped in a cultural condition that prevents full reflection and acknowledgement of voice.  As a result, she is many, many things.

On one hand, a case can be made that Mrs. Patton is kind and generous.  She adopts a very Indian perspective in terms of her relationship with food, always seeing the food as a way to supplant the challenges of emotional interaction. Food is the means through which she can attempt to communicate.  In this regard, she can be seen as kind and generous in terms of how she drives a constant surfeit of food evident:  “I just fill the freezer and let them take down what they like, when they like, keeping the freeze full - that’s my job, Ahroon.” She is generous with how she supplies food for her family.  She can also be seen as kind and generous with her embrace of vegetarianism.  As evident in her steak- eating husband who denies voice, Mrs. Patton acknowledges the voices of others in her vegetarian position.  Her beliefs about vegetarianism reflect a kind and generous world view about respect for other creatures, even if she is not able to articulate it.  Her kind and generous approach can be seen in the attitude towards food and those who absorb it.  In the end, she is the only member of the family to truly befriend Arun, and this has to be seen as part of her condition in being kind and generous.  She extends herself to an outsider because she herself is one.

Mrs. Patton is also unhappy.  It is evident that she pours out her frustration and pain of being in the world in food. Like Arun's sister, she lacks power in her own home.  Her children have effectively turned, denying connection to her and attempts to forge connection from her.  At the same time, she lacks any real parenting ability, and her attempts come across as interfering. However, her unhappy condition in the world is what drives any potential interference.  She is unhappy and does not know how to make herself happy because she is as much a stranger to her culture as Arun is to America, as Uma is to her  traditionally domestic culture. Mrs. Patton interferes and seeks to find something because of her unhappiness.  She is not seeking to control or to establish powerful territoriality.  She is too lost to be able to do that.  While she might come across as interfering, it has to be seen as an extension of her unhappiness, critical to her characterization.

It makes sense that she befriends Arun, who is not going to stay in America.  The only person she befriends is the one who is temporary.  This makes her kind, generous, unhappy, and interfering all in one fell swoop.  It demonstrates that Mrs. Patton is beyond reductive terms.  She is complex and intricate.  In short, she is a human being who straddles many definitive terms.