What is the central conflict, and is it resolved in the end in Interpreter of Maladies?

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Jhumpa Lahiri's short story "Interpreter of Maladies" involves a conflict between cultures.  A wealthy American family, whose parents are Indian, have come to India to vacation. This family which consists of Mr. and Mrs. Das and their two sons and daughter represent a liberal but ultimately unhappy lifetstyle.  The children are not disciplined by their parents even when they blatantly ignore their parents' requests.  The parents are not much better.  We learn from Mrs. Das that one of her children is a product of an affair she had with a man other than her husband.  The Das family is selfish, having little concern for the feelings of others in their own family or for others.

Mr. Kapasi is their hired driver and a part-time interpreter.  He represents the traditional Indian values of home, family, discipline, self-control.  He is unfailingly polite and reserved in spite of his obvious disapproval of the way the Das family acts.  Unlike the Das family who has so much money and very little compassion, Mr. Kapasi is struggling to make ends meet because of his son's medical bills from a disease that proved to be fatal.  And he, a well educated and intelligent man, is frustrated that he has not been able to achieve what he had hoped in life.

This clash in Western and Eastern culture plays out in a curious way.  Mr. Kapasi dreams of developing a romantic relationship with the attractive Mrs. Das, that perhaps they will engage in a lively correspondence of letters once she returns home.  However, the more he learns about Mrs. Das, the less attractive she appears, and his fantasy of bridging the gap beween them dissolves just as the slip of paper containing her address drifts away.  Mr. Kapasi's crush could perhaps symbolize the East's attraction to the West, which only at a distance seems desirable.

 

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