Themes

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Last Updated on July 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492

"The Third And Final Continent," by Jhumpa Lahiri, is a story about isolation—about loneliness, foreignness, and feeling out of place in a strange world—but it is also one about coming home. As the title implies, America is the third continent the narrator has lived in, and, ultimately, it is the one in which he stays, with the wife he comes to love deeply and the son who comes to become a part of that culture (going to Harvard, speaking English) while retaining his Bengali heritage. In the person of the narrator's son, the threads of the story come together, underlining the theme that the meeting of lonely people—Mala, the narrator, and Mrs Croft—can actually lead to true togetherness.

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All the main characters in the story are lonely and out of place, for various reasons. The narrator is a Bengali man who has left his homeland for England. Having come to understand the cultures of this first foreign land (where, at least, he lived with Bengali people), he is then uprooted and transplanted to another. In America, he struggles to understand new rules, such as that cars are driven on the right hand side of the road and that an "engaged" telephone is "busy." At the same time, he is also adrift in the metaphorical unknown country of his arranged marriage with Mala.

Mala, of course, is overtly lonely and isolated after she leaves her parents, whom she misses dreadfully, to become part of the narrator's family. She has never fitted into her own society, being too plain. When she comes to America at first, she does not fit in, either, being unable to speak English and feeling uncomfortable with her husband.

Mrs Croft, an eccentric old lady who lives on her own, is lonely and isolated in her own country because she is a person out of time. She is so old that she can no longer comprehend what is happening in the modern world. The moon landing seems astonishing to her, and the concept that men and women might talk to each other unchaperoned is unseemly. She rarely approves of or becomes friendly with anyone.

By the end of the story, however, these three lonely, isolated people have come together in their various ways. Mrs Croft and the narrator have come to care for each other. Mrs Croft, expressing her approval of Mala, helps the young couple to get over their initial discomfort and start to become a family. And the time the narrator spent with Mrs Croft remains with him forever, becoming a story he tells to his son.

This is the final theme of the story: the importance of details, chance meetings, and formative experiences to shape a life. The narrator spent only six weeks with Mrs Croft, but those six weeks helped form his experience of America and his relationship with his wife. As such, the chance encounter has stayed with him ever since.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 493

Many of Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories deal with the difficulties immigrants have in adjusting to alien cultures. Lahiri admits that “The Third and Final Continent” was based in part on what her father told her about his coming from Calcutta to the United States, where he, too, became a university librarian. The author stresses the fact that any immigrant from a country like India, where everyone lives surrounded by a large extended family, will feel alienated in a society in which people so value their privacy that they are content to live as strangers. Thus the narrator of “The Third and Final Continent” can adjust to a diet of corn flakes and bananas but finds it more difficult to get used to being isolated. Therefore it means a great deal to the narrator when Helen tells him that he...

(The entire section contains 985 words.)

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