A Temporary Matter

by Jhumpa Lahiri
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Some critics discuss "A Temporary Matter" as a story that depicts the interaction between an active woman and a passive man. Discuss.

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On the surface, Shoba, the wife in the story, is more active than Shukumar, the husband. She has a job that removes her from the house, while he spends hours doing nothing while he is supposed to be finishing his dissertation. However, rather than presenting a contrast between activity and...

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On the surface, Shoba, the wife in the story, is more active than Shukumar, the husband. She has a job that removes her from the house, while he spends hours doing nothing while he is supposed to be finishing his dissertation. However, rather than presenting a contrast between activity and passivity, the married couple in the story are trying to deal with the grief of having a stillborn child. They deal with the loss in different ways that involve avoidance of the pain of speaking about their loss. For example, the author writes about the wife:

"But now she treated the house as if it were a hotel. The fact that the yellow chintz armchair in the living room clashed with the blue-and-maroon Turkish carpet no longer bothered her. On the enclosed porch at the back of the house, a crisp white bag still sat on the wicker chaise, filled with lace she had once planned to turn into curtains."

In the aftermath of their loss, the wife turns against the domestic sphere and throws herself into her work. The husband, on the other hand, cocoons at home. The author writes of him: "Shukumar enjoyed cooking now. It was the one thing that made him feel productive. If it weren't for him, he knew, Shoba would eat a bowl of cereal for her dinner."

Both the wife and husband treat their loss with avoidance that involves both passivity and actively throwing themselves into other activities. The wife is active at work, while the husband is active at home. It is not until the end of the story that they both try to actively confront their loss.

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In order to classify Shoba as an "active woman" one needs look no further than the fact that she is the one that leaves the apartment every day, she has a current job that requires her to be active and engaged outside the home.  She also has more significant ties to the outside world and Shukumar makes it clear that in the past she was the one that planned and prepared for the future more than he did.

And in their interactions, it is clear that Shukumar is willing to wait for things to change, to accept the lead that Shoba takes in conversation, in thinking about or talking about their stillborn son.

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