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

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.


Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One possible central conflict is the internal conflict that exists within Mr. Kapasi, the character whose perspective guides "The Interpreter of Maladies."

Mr. Kapasi is the driver hired by the Das family while they are traveling in India from America. He experiences firsthand a clash between traditional Indian family life, like his own, and the less familiar patterns of American Indian families like the Das family.

Mr. Kapasi himself feels drawn to the Das family, especially to Mrs. Das, but his attraction exists only in his imagination. He has a difficult and frustrating life, and he is burdened by worry about his son and his own unrealized potential as a man who has a gift for languages. Perhaps the Das family, with their bad manners and loose morals, represent to Mr. Kapasi a kind of freedom that enables an individual to live as one likes. This kind of freedom is totally inaccessible to Mr. Kapasi, which intensifies the internal conflict as he struggles to figure out how he really feels about himself and about the Das family.

Mr. Kapasi must face the reality of his life, and by the end of the story, this confrontation takes place and the experience is painful for him. No longer is he able to romanticize Mrs. Das's casual attention and her glamourous appearance, and he sees her for what she is, and this reality is disappointing. Mr. Kapasi knows his day with the dysfunctional but free Das family will end, and then he must return to the challenges of his life, as well as his anxieties and regrets, and the American fantasy evaporates. The internal conflict that plays out in Mr. Kapasi encapsulates all the smaller conflicts throughout the short story, making him a character the reader will remember for all his complexity.




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Interpreter of Maladies

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