Unaccustomed Earth Themes
by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Unaccustomed Earth Themes

Identity

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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...

(The entire section is 601 words.)