Analysis

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Last Updated on July 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 378

“The Third and Final Continent” is a 1999 short story written by Jhumpa Lahiri. It is the ninth and final story in her critically acclaimed literary debut, the short story collection Interpreter of Maladies . The collection received positive reviews from readers and critics alike and achieved a great commercial...

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“The Third and Final Continent” is a 1999 short story written by Jhumpa Lahiri. It is the ninth and final story in her critically acclaimed literary debut, the short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. The collection received positive reviews from readers and critics alike and achieved a great commercial success. With her book, Jhumpa Lahiri won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and sold millions of copies.

The title is an interesting element of this story. "The Third and Final Continent" in this case refers to America, where the main character finally settles after living in Asia and Europe. This carries deep significance in that the story is about perseverance in the face of dislocation and adversity. Lahiri’s "The Third and Final Continent" covers a variety of socially relevant themes, such as immigration, cultural differences, love and marriage, and tradition.

The protagonist is the narrator of the story, and he begins by sharing his experiences as a Bengali man who is trying to finish his studies in London in 1964. Four years later, he has an arranged marriage to Mala—a woman whom he neither loves nor finds physically attractive—and then immediately moves to the United States. There, he rents an apartment from an eccentric and strong-minded 103-year-old woman named Mrs. Croft for only eight dollars per week. As time goes by, he begins to get close to his landlady, slowly coming to understand her personality and worrying for her health and old age. When Mala arrives in the United States only six weeks later, he moves out of Mrs. Croft's apartment, but he and his wife visit Mrs. Croft until her death. Even though his marriage was arranged, he and Mala fall in love with one another and have a son together, who studies at Harvard, and they live happy and prosperous lives in America.

With her unique writing style, Lahiri manages to create a compelling story. Her prose draws readers in, especially with her direct and descriptive narrative and her relatable characters. She pays attention to all the little details that define a person’s daily routine and manages to capture momentum in a way that is praised by many readers. "The Third and Final Continent" is considered a noteworthy short story about culture, companionship, and society.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373

Lahiri is a writer who knows the value of restraint. Although there are a great many realistic details in her fiction, none of them is gratuitous. When she describes the narrator’s room at the YMCA in “The Third and Final Continent,” for example, she mentions the cot, the desk, the cross on the wall, and the sign on the door to the effect that cooking is not permitted. Outside the window, which has no curtains, there is a steady stream of noisy traffic. The room that the narrator rents in Mrs. Croft’s house is described much more fully. For instance, instead of a cot, it has a twin bed. The walls are papered, there is a rug on the floor, and it has both a closet and a bathroom. Again, the author leads the narrator to the window, which, unlike that in the YMCA, has curtains. Outside, he sees a backyard and two fruit trees. The reason for using so many details in the description of this room is to point out how inferior the other one was and to suggest that the narrator expects to be much happier in his new lodgings.

Lahiri is just as restrained and just as effective when she describes the inner lives of her characters. For example, all that the narrator of “The Third and Final Continent” remembers about the bride he left in India is the cold cream on her face, her braided hair, and her constant weeping. From that recollection, Lahiri has her narrator move immediately to the memory of his mother’s final days. The author leaves it to the reader to understand why the two women have become linked in her character’s mind. Similarly, she does not have him consciously contrast his mother with that other widow, Mrs. Croft; again, it is enough that he is inspired by the American woman’s courage.

“The Third and Final Continent” demonstrates that Lahiri has the technical skill of a far more experienced writer. That skill, along with her originality and her insight into human nature, earned her a Pulitzer Prize for her first book, Interpreter of Maladies: Stories (1999). “The Third and Final Continent” was one of the stories included in that collection.

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