Style and Technique
Mukherjee’s thematic transition from expatriate to immigrant attitudes is achieved not only through her use of irony and symbol but also through her use of specific details laden with metonyms. To portray the island as both a macrocosm of the marriage and a microcosm of the world, she employs a multitude of religions and nationalities. There are references to Christians—Catholic and Protestant—Hindus, and Muslims. European references include the French, English, Germans, Irish, Swedes, Czechs, Hungarians, and Bulgarians as well as Canadian and American characters. Camille is from Lebanon; Graeme’s camera is a Japanese Nikon; Hsü is a Chinese name; North Koreans provide foreign assistance; the African troops are “Peruvian-looking”; the World Cup scores originate in Argentina; and there are frequent specific references to India and Indians. The many uses of proper place-names, from Jiddah to Dar es Salaam, in contrast to the anonymity of the island and the capital city (perhaps Antananarivo), establish their universality as symbols for political upheaval everywhere. The brief scene over dinner in which a German teaches “an English folksong to three Ismaili-Indian children” provides a foreshadowing parallel to Ratna’s brief experience of immigrant awareness: the song’s refrain “row, row, row your boat” itself ironically juxtaposed to Graeme’s pseudosophisticated, derivative explanation of continental drift.
Further, Mukherjee’s use of language helps sharpen her ironies in the dialogue. When Graeme promises to leave Toronto should anything happen to Ratna, he fails to realize that then it would be too late. When Camille asserts his own Arab identity after calling the Saudis insensitive, he condemns his own insensitivity in the overgeneralized slur. When Madam Papillon complains about not being able to “carry on an honest business,” she ignores the colonial exploitation of the past and the neocolonial corruption of the present, both of which she seems to condone. To accentuate the underlying metaphor of geology for politics, Mukherjee shifts the usual context of diction in such phrases as the “epicenter of the looting” and “the plate tectonics of emotions.” In another twist of ironic language, the narrator’s use of Graeme’s borrowed scientific vocabulary itself suggests a missed potential for immigrant awareness; thus, the limited viewpoint of the narrator underscores the pitfalls of the expatriate’s shortcomings, suggesting that the language one uses reflects the worldview with which one experiences oneself in the world.