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“The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara and “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri have protagonists that do not find satisfaction in their stories. The writers establish social situations that the main characters have to face. The problems begin when the emotions of the characters interfere with their decision making process.
Sylvia in “The Lesson” narrates her story. The setting of the story is Harlem, but the lesson takes place in Manhattan in a large toy store. Sylvia is sarcastic, fearful of new situations, and afraid that someone will best her.
Miss Moore has moved into the area and tries to make a difference for the children. On her own and with the support of the parents, Miss Moore takes the children on field trips to show them another view of life.
Sylvia feels anger during the entire time the kids are in the store. She does not understand her anger until later. Finally, she realizes that life in Manhattan in comparison to Sylvia’s life in Harlem illustrates a vast disparity between rich and poor. All of the children seem to resent anyone who has more than they do.
Sylvia understands the lesson. She tells Miss Moore that the country cannot be democratic if there is so much inequality.
Sylvia says: “Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it?”
Sugar also understands the inequality between the toy store and their lives:”…I don’t think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs.”
Inspired to work harder, Sylvia believes that she will need to work harder to have a different life. In her mind, she feels that “ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.” At the end of the story, Sylvia goes off by herself to think over what she saw.
Mr. Kapasi, the tour guide and interpreter of maladies, has an unhappy life. His son recently died, and his wife seems to blame him for his death. He and his wife either do not speak at all or argue.
When Mr. Kapasi first sees the family for the tour, he notices the lack of communication between the husband and wife. In fact, the wife tries to separate herself from her children as well.
The husband focuses on a travel guide. Mr. and Mrs. Das are Indian but live in America. They have three children.
When Mrs. Das learns that Mr. Kapasi is an interpreter of Maladies, she begins to take a special interest in him. His job is to tell the doctor what is wrong with the patient because he does not speak the language.
Mrs. Das gives Mr. Kapasi special attention. She includes him in a family picture; she also asks him to eat with the family. Mr. Kapasi begins to daydream about a relationship with Mrs. Das. He thinks about their correspondence since Mrs. Das took his address to send him a copy of the picture.
Finally, the two are alone in the car. Mrs. Das tells him her greatest secret. She had an affair with her husband’s friend and the result was an illegitimate child that Mr. Das thinks is his son. She believes that Mr. Kapasi can make her feel better. Mr. Kapasi feels foolish, so he tells her that she is probably feeling guilt for her mistake.
Mr. Kapasi understands that he was searching for relief from his pain as well. Mrs. Das just represents his unhappiness in his life and marriage. He does not know what he will do.
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