What conflicts of identity are in "The Management of Grief"?

Conflicts of identity in "The Management of Grief" by Bharati Mukherjee include the internal conflict within the narrator; the cultural conflict between Judith Templeton and the people she is trying to help; the domestic conflict between Kusum and Pam; and the conflict of expectation for the Indian men who have lost their wives.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Bharati Mukherjee's story "The Management of Grief," we see quite a few conflicts of identity. First, the narrator, Shaila, experiences a conflict within herself as she deals with the tragic deaths of her husband and sons. She does not, she explains, grieve as Hindu women are supposed to grieve. She remains calm, mostly because she feels numb, yet she also feels as though she has lost herself.

She spends some time in India, but then, after a vision of her husband, she returns to Canada to try to continue the life they had started together. She does not know, however, exactly what that life is and what she is to do. She has no job and no real goals. She struggles to help Judith Templeton connect to the families of the other victims, but eventually, she realizes she can do so no longer. Her identity has for so long been caught up with her family that she struggles to find herself.

We also see a conflict of identity between Judith Templeton and the people she is trying to help. While Judith has the best of intentions, she does not understand the families' culture. She does not realize, for instance, that the only thing keeping the elderly couple from despair is the hope that their sons are still alive and will return. This hope is part of their cultural outlook, part of their identity, and Judith cannot understand it.

On a more domestic level, we see a conflict of identity between Kusum and her daughter Pam. Pam has completely embraced Western culture, but her mother remains committed to Indian ways and cannot understand her daughter's desire to work at McDonalds or become an actress. Pam feels quite a bit of resentment toward her mother, because she believes that Kusum would have preferred that Pam die in the crash rather than her sister because Pam is the rebellious one. This shows that Pam is somewhat conflicted within herself as well and feels guilty for her desire to have a different life.

Finally, the men who have lost their wives in the crash experience a conflict of identity when their families wish them to remarry almost immediately. Many feel they must comply with their traditional customs, so they marry widows with children and end up the husband and father of a new family while they are still grieving their old one. Some of these men become resentful toward their new brides. Other men refuse to remarry, challenging cultural expectations and working to redefine what it means to be an Indian man.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial