A Wife's Story Summary
by Bharati Mukherjee

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A Wife's Story Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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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...

(The entire section is 529 words.)