Interpreter of Maladies

by Jhumpa Lahiri

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What is the impression of the characters in the short story "Interpreter of Maladies"?

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Our immediate impression of Mr. and Mrs. Das is that they are not very caring parents. They "bickered" about which one of them has to take their young daughter to the bathroom, and Mrs. Das loses when "Mr. Das pointed out that he had given the girl her bath the night before." It seems as though being with their children feels like an obligation in which they take little (or no) joy. Mrs. Das "did not hold the little girl's hand as they walked" toward the bathroom. She also seems a little superficial as a result of the description of her "shaved, largely bare legs"; she must spend some time on her appearance, more than she spends caring for her kids. Further, when she meets Mr. Kapasi, she "flexed one side of her mouth, smiling dutifully at Mr. Kapasi, without displaying any interest in him." This makes her seem kind of rude and, perhaps, even self-centered. These are hardly flattering descriptions.

Mr. Kapasi, at first impression, seems observant and patient. Though he is driving the Das family on a sight-seeing trip, he has to stop fewer than five minutes into the trip because the little girl begins to complain. He also seems, at first, to refrain from judgment; he notes the family's behavior without remarking on it.

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Lahiri's story, "Interpreter of Maladies," is set in India and centers around a man, Mr. Kapasi, giving a tour to the Das family, and Indian-American family. Lahiri contrasts the characters in a cultural clash, with Mr. Kapasi representing old, traditional India and the Das family representing a family of Indian descent but raised in the U.S. so they are very 'American.' The author shows the differences between the characters. Mr. Kapasi is quiet and conservative while the Das children and wild and loud, and Mrs. Das is either disconnected or spilling all of her secrets. Much of the action of the second half centers on Mrs. Das and her interest in Mr. Kapasi as an interpreter. She tells her secret to him and is disappointed in his reaction. Her behavior reveals her to be shallow and self-centered. She is also portrayed as unhappy, a trait Mr. Kapasi shares. However, while they are both unhappy in their marriages and lives and romanticize a kind of escape from those lives, at the end of the story, they are ultimately two very different types of people.

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