Last Updated on November 2, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533
The protagonist in this story, the narrator, is unnamed. We know he is a Bengali man in his thirties, with an older brother and a “certificate in commerce,” who left his native land for England in 1964 aboard a cargo ship. He first lived with other “penniless” young Bengali men in a house in London, working at a library, before receiving a job offer from a library at MIT in the United States. Around this same time, he returns to Calcutta to marry a woman chosen for him by his older brother; their father died when the narrator was sixteen, and their mother followed after a long struggle with mental illness.
After the wedding, the narrator spends some time in the United States alone before his wife joins him. During this period he first stays at the YMCA, which he finds depressing. Before long, however, he discovers a room for rent in a nearby house belonging to an elderly lady called Mrs. Croft. He becomes Mrs. Croft’s lodger, and the two develop an unexpected bond that affects the narrator deeply. Through his interactions with Mrs. Croft, the narrator shows himself to be a compassionate and considerate person. And though it takes him a while to warm to Mala, the narrator’s relationship with her, and with their son, eventually shows his capacity for love, happiness, and contentment.
The narrator’s elderly landlady, Mrs. Croft, is a former piano teacher who rents a room in her house to students attending either MIT or Harvard. She is now 103 years old but still fiercely independent. Although she is forgetful—she returns over and over to the topic of the recent moon landing—she will not entertain the idea of anyone making her food for her, insisting on heating her own soup. She is old-fashioned, is wedded to traditional ideals, and thinks the narrator is a “gentleman.” Although she does not allow her lodgers to have “lady visitors,” she does ultimately approve of Mala when the narrator, now living with his wife, brings her to meet his former landlady. Mrs. Croft dies not long after this visit, to the narrator’s sorrow.
Mrs. Croft’s daughter, Helen, visits the house once a week to bring her mother the tins of soup she will heat. She is sixty-eight years old, and she tells the narrator that her mother has a high opinion of him. Mrs. Croft finds it scandalous, however, when Helen and the narrator have a conversation without a “chaperone” present.
Mala is the narrator’s wife. She has reached the age of twenty-seven without being married, as her lack of a “fair complexion” has dissuaded potential suitors. After the wedding she cries frequently, missing her parents and feeling out of place in the world. When she comes to the United States, she speaks little English, and she and her husband have little to talk about. However, Mrs. Croft, when she meets Mala, approves of her, which in turn helps her and her husband to connect with each other. By the end of the story, they are very happily married, with their own home and a son who is attending Harvard.