Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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 has gained the approval of her mother, who judges everyone by the high standards of an earlier time. By accepting him, she becomes his friend.

It would seem that the arrival of his wife would end the narrator’s isolation. However, Lahiri typically presents marriage as a source of problems, not a solution to them. Arranged marriages may work out when there is an extended family to provide support for the couple, but when the new husband and wife are alone together in a new country, their prospects are not good. In “The Third and Final Continent,” the narrator has even more reason to dread his wife’s arrival. Because of his experience with his mother, he cannot...

(The entire section is 493 words.)