In the play titled Mistaken Identity, by Sharon E. Cooper, what flawed assumptions do the characters make about each other? How do these flawed assumptions develop into the main conflict of the play?

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Most of the comic conflicts in Sharon E. Cooper’s play Mistaken Identity result from the initially mistaken assumption of one of the two characters. Steve Dodd, a 32-year-old American Christian heterosexual studying in England, assumes that Kali Patel, a 29-year old Hindu of Indian extraction and British nationality, is also a heterosexual. In fact, however, she is a lesbian, and she has been on plenty of dates before (arranged by her brother Rashid) with plenty of young heterosexual men of Indian and Hindu backgrounds.  Now her brother, who assumes she is heterosexual, has arranged yet another date for her, this time with a heterosexual American who is eager to get married.

As the play opens, then, it is Steve who is fundamentally mistaken about the identity of Kali. She is far less mistaken about his identity, if indeed she is mistaken at all. In fact, she seems to be very familiar with Steve’s type, if only from her encounters with so many previous heterosexual men. Steve is mistaken about Kali’s identity, but so are Rashid and the rest of Kali’s family. So, for that matter, were apparently all of her previous suitors (the men whom Rashid arranged for her to date). Steve can openly display his identity; Kali, even during the course of the play, cannot openly display hers, even though in frustration she abruptly confesses it to Steve. Her identity is likely to continue to be “mistaken” by others, if not by Steve; the play offers no indication that the fundamental conflict of her life has been resolved by the end of the work.

Ironically, by the end of the play, Steve has come to achieve a far better sense of Kali’s true identity. He learned near the very beginning of the work that she is a lesbian. Now, as the play nears its completion, he begins to learn some of what that identity entails.  For instance, he learns that if she confesses to her family that she is a lesbian, they may disown her and she may not even be able to see her brother’s daughters anyone.  After she explains this, Steve shows sympathy:

STEVE: I’ve never thought about that thing you said.

KALI: Which thing would that be?

STEVE: The one where maybe you can’t see your nieces ’cause you’re gay. That must suck.

As the play draws to a close, therefore, Steve’s notion of Kali’s identity is for more accurate, in several ways, than it had been at the beginning. This doesn't help Kali much, but it does mean that Steve, at least, is far less "mistaken" than he once was.






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