Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 529
Panna Bhatt is attending a performance of David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross (1983) in New York City with Imre, another immigrant separated, as she is, from his mate. They are not lovers, but they share the intimate friendship that only alienated foreigners in an adopted country can know; theirs is the mutual bond of strangers in a strange land. She thinks the play insults her culture and also insults her as a woman. She is so offended that she decides to write to Mamet to protest his depiction of East Indians.
She and Imre discuss her sensitivity to these issues, and he assures her that she must learn to be more flexible and adjust. Panna, however, is both resentful and disillusioned to realize that as a temporary immigrant already acculturated to certain American ways of being, she is caught in the middle, a mediator between cultures and cultural perceptions.
Panna gradually perceives differences between her old and new cultures that are in some ways freeing and expanding, and, in other ways, jarring and unnerving. For example, she is able to hug Imre in the middle of the street, an informal, spontaneous show of affection that she could not demonstrate toward her husband in India, where cultural restraints do not allow such personal displays. In India, Panna was not even allowed to call her husband by his first name.
The second part of the story briefly addresses the wide gap that separates Panna from Charity Chin, her roommate, who is a “hands” model. This short section underscores some of the emphases of the story at large, focusing on yet another immigrant who responds in her own unique way to the problem of adapting to another culture. Each immigrant undergoes the acculturation process, but it not only is different for each person, but also reflects the relativity of cultural values. In the United States, Charity is a model with high ambitions, but in India, she would just be a “flat-chested old maid.”
The third sequence of the story concerns Panna’s husband’s visit. Panna shifts back and forth between seeing the United States from the tourist’s point of view—her husband’s ravenous shopping sprees, for example—and her own sense of disintegration and fragmentation. She views herself as already alienated and different from her husband and the culture and country he represents. They tour Manhattan and take the ferry to a dingy snack bar at the base of a scaffolded, and therefore forlorn, Statue of Liberty. Her husband is disappointed by the disparity between America’s image and its reality; he thinks New York is no better than Bombay.
At the end of the story, Panna confronts herself naked in the mirror, a person singularly transformed by her experience as a foreigner and temporary immigrant in the United States. Her old life is really gone, and she recognizes this fact, not with rue or remorse, but with an exhilarating sense of metamorphosis. However, it is a transformation both miraculous, like a butterfly, and strangely disorienting and disturbing, as she watches, simultaneously, herself and someone who is a stranger to herself: “I am free, afloat, watching somebody else.”
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