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Last Updated on July 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428

The narrator of this short story is a Bengali man in his early thirties who leaves India for Britain in 1964. He spends several years in London living with other Bengalis and begins a career as a librarian. Then, he is offered a job in Boston at the same time...

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The narrator of this short story is a Bengali man in his early thirties who leaves India for Britain in 1964. He spends several years in London living with other Bengalis and begins a career as a librarian. Then, he is offered a job in Boston at the same time as he is due to return to Calcutta and participate in an arranged marriage. He books flights to Calcutta, gets married, and spends a few nights with his bride, Mala. Then he flies alone to Boston, the intention being for his wife to join him later.

In Boston, he first stays at the YMCA, but then sees an advertisement for lodgings in a private house. Going to investigate, he finds that the room is being let by an elderly lady called Mrs. Croft. At first, he finds her behavior odd—she comments on the moon landing and insists that the narrator repeat that it's "splendid." But she offers him the room, and he takes it.

Within a few weeks, the two have reached an understanding. Mrs. Croft is touched by the narrator's gesture of handing her the money for the rent directly, rather than leaving it on the mantelpiece. One day, Mrs. Croft's daughter, Helen, arrives, and reveals that her mother thinks the narrator is "a gentleman," an unusual compliment from her.

Helen reveals, at this juncture, that Mrs. Croft is 103 years old. This startles the narrator—immediately he feels more protective of her and offers to help her as much as he can, although Helen reminds him that her mother is fiercely independent. The two establish a rapport.

When Mala arrives in the United States a few weeks later, the narrator is disappointed that Mrs. Croft does not express sorrow that he must move out. At first, living with his new wife is uncomfortable. However, one evening, he takes her to see Mrs. Croft.

Mrs. Croft appears to have had a bad fall and is now lying down in the parlor. She is pleased to see him, but the narrator worries how she will react to his wife in her sari. Mrs Croft delights both him and his wife, however, by declaring her a "lady," and her approval sparks a genuine connection between the newlyweds for the first time.

Mrs. Croft dies some time later, to the narrator's great sadness. Today, he is a happily married man with a son of his own studying at Harvard, but he still remembers her, and has told his son all about those six weeks of his life which were so influential.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 568

“The Third and Final Continent” is the story of how a young immigrant adjusts to his new home and new bride. The heroine of the work is an eccentric, elderly widow, who manages to help the young man feel less lonely. She shows him qualities in his wife that he had not noticed and provides him with a model for his future life.

The narrator’s account starts with his departure from his native India and continues with a summary of his five-year stay in London. After obtaining a job at a library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he returns to Calcutta, marries, then flies to the United States, leaving his bride behind, with the understanding that she will join him six weeks later. In the meantime, he intends to stay in a room at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, when he happens across an advertisement for a room in a much quieter area, he decides to look it over and ends up renting it.

At first, he is puzzled by the eccentric behavior of Mrs. Croft, his elderly, widowed landlady. Every evening, she announces that there is an American flag on the moon, pronounces the fact “splendid,” and insists that her roomer repeat the word loudly enough so that she can hear it. This becomes a ritual. So does his presenting his rent envelope personally, rather than leaving it on a ledge. To his amazement, this considerate act elicits an expression of gratitude from the crotchety old woman. When her daughter Helen Croft makes her weekly visit, she tells the narrator that he is the first tenant her mother has ever referred to as a gentleman. He also learns from Helen that Mrs. Croft is 103 years old and so fiercely independent that she insists on eating only soup and heating it herself. From that time on, the narrator takes a little more time conversing with Mrs. Croft, and he often checks to make sure that she has not fallen.

During his six weeks with Mrs. Croft, the narrator often thinks back to his wedding and to the five unsatisfying nights he and his wife, Mala, spent together before he left India. He feels no affection for his wife and does not look forward to her arrival. He thinks back on the years he spent caring for his mother, who went insane after becoming a widow. However, he will be a dutiful husband just as he had been a dutiful son. He rents an apartment, meets Mala at the airport, and installs her in her new home. However, they remain strangers.

On one of their walks, they stop at the home of Mrs. Croft, who is now bedridden in the parlor. When the narrator responds to a comment by Mrs. Croft with his usual “splendid,” for the first time, he sees Mala laugh. He wonders what the old lady will make of his wife, dressed as she is in a sari, with a red dot on her forehead. However, after looking her over, Mrs. Croft pronounces Mala a lady. Not long after their visit, the narrator is saddened by the news of Mrs. Croft’s death.

Thirty years later, the narrator and Mala have a happy marriage, a comfortable home, and a son at Harvard. They have become American citizens and plan to spend their remaining years in the United States.

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