Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 601
Identity is a common theme in fiction, but it takes on a special charge in the stories in Unaccustomed Earth , because in each story a character or family is caught between cultures, and often between generations. The result is an active and ongoing questioning as to who each...
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Identity is a common theme in fiction, but it takes on a special charge in the stories in Unaccustomed Earth, because in each story a character or family is caught between cultures, and often between generations. The result is an active and ongoing questioning as to who each person is. What is more, a change in one person, or even in one person's understanding of another, changes the other characters here. This can be seen in "Unaccustomed Earth." Ruma feels that her father expects her to be a certain person, and that she fails him, in part through not being Bengali enough. At the same time, she assumes that he will want to live with her family now that he is older, while this is the last thing on her father's mind.
The Return of the Past
While the characters in are Unaccustomed Earth always changing, at the same time the past is never really left behind, but instead comes back around again. For example, in "A Choice of Accommodations," Amit is returning to the boarding school he attended when he was young, to attend a friend's wedding. This swamps him with remembrances of the somewhat socially outcast boy he had been and affects his present self. In an even darker return of the past, in "Only Goodness" Rahul thinks he has essentially kicked his addiction to alcoholism, and that he is no longer compelled to drink. The reality is shown to be terrifyingly different when he drinks himself unconscious when taking care of his sister's baby boy. Of course, the past returns most powerfully and repeatedly in the three stories making up the second half of the book. In the second of the three linked stories, "Year's End," Kaushik is actually starting to bond with his new stepsisters. However, when he finds them looking over pictures of his dead mother, he explodes at them with anger, disrupting a potential family unity forever. In the third story, Kaushik and Hema, who had first met when they were children or teenagers, meet again as adults. Because Hema knew the Kaushik that existed before his mother had died of cancer, they have a connection he had lacked with most other lovers.
Striving and Failure
Active striving for success is often seen in these stories, and at the same time, the terrible pain and risk of failure is shown. In "Nobody's Business," for example, Paul fails his comprehensive exams in graduate school. Though he knows the material, he freezes up completely under pressure and his examiners must stop the exam due to the pointless shame of it all. This defines his life for the next year, as he spends all of his time preparing to retake the exam. Being in an academic holding pattern like this spills over into the rest of his life; he is cyclical and hesitant there too. The pressure to succeed appears in many of these stories. In "Only Goodness," Sudha finds herself celebrated as one of the successful children after her academic successes. However, this emphasis on success may be part of what causes her brother Rahul to become an alcoholic.
Desire does not flow smoothly in any of these stories. It rarely appears on the surface of these characters' lives. Rather, desire moves through them in a subterranean fashion, causing things to shift below the surface. Boudi's desire for love in "Hell-Heaven" cannot be expressed directly, and so she jokingly suggests other women for Pranab Chakraborty. In "Going Ashore," Hema spends years as a married man's lover, unable to eever admit she is involved with anyone.