Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Relationship problems in the Interpreter of Maladies

Priya once mentioned in a class discussion that there was a review that described the Interpreter of Maladies’ stories as being filled with examples of carelessness. The thought of carelessness throughout the book was one that I did not consider before hearing that response. Specifically, the idea of carelessness in relationships is evident throughout the collection.

The book opens up with a story entitled A Temporary Matter. In class discussions, this story has seemed to uproot the most conversation of any of the pieces. A young married couple hardly speaks to each other and concentrates on their own personal lives without thinking of the other. It is not until a blackout that they try to connect once again only to find out that she is leaving him and he shares the deep, dark secret of the sex of their dead baby with her. These characters are filled with carelessness for each other, never once feeling the stereotypical feelings that once would imagine a marriage to contain. When darkness takes over the house, there is an attempt to rekindle the flame that used to be alive in their marriage, but it seems almost a disgrace since these feelings can only be felt in the dark without each other’s gaze. And when the lights come back on and their secrets game is over, the reader learns that their relationship means nothing to her and she is willing to erase everything is if she is editing the papers that she gets paid for.

The Interpreter of Maladies also presented moments of carelessness, this time in the relationship of two different families. The Das family hardly felt like a family at all. The parents did little to control the actions of their children and seemed to care less about any of the antics they got themselves into, including provoking monkeys with a stick. Mr. and Mrs. Das were even oblivious to each other’s actions for the whole of the story; Mr. Das hardly ever looking up from his India guide map, and Mrs. Das having no interaction at all with the family but rather the tour guide, Mr. Kapasi. Even Mr. Kapasi thinks thoughts that show no care about his family waiting at home, expressing an interest in Mrs. Das as an adventure to pursue. But even more specific, is the example of food that is present in the story. Mrs. Das carries with her an Indian rice snack that she never cares to offer to any of her family or the driver. It is this food that is carelessly spilled on the dirt, leaving rice for the monkeys to eat. The food sparks a climactic moment in the story in which the monkeys attack a child that has been provoking them with a stick and starts beating him. The parents do nothing about this incident, calling on the surprised tour guide to interfere with the scene and save the child from any more harm. The whole moment seems odd because it is hard for me to see any care in any of the characters for each other at all.

The example of carelessness in A Real Durwan is just sad. Boori Ma is blamed for an incident that she had little control over and was forced out into the streets because of her tenants greed and blame. When the tenants decide to contribute more and more to the improvement of their living space, Boori Ma is practically relieved of her duties of security and stairwell maintenance since the workers performing the tenants’ desires are constantly moving through the building. Boori Ma cannot do her duties and thus falls asleep on the roof, and then robbers come and raid the building because she was not awake to do anything about it. Her actions seem to be careless to the tenants, but I would have put up a fight for her. She is then thrown into the streets by her tenants and left with nothing about her shawl and a broom.

I would like to skip ahead to the last story in the collection, The Third and Final Continent. The narrator moves to America where he attends MIT and lives with an elderly woman named Mrs. Croft on very low rent. For the first half of the story, the carelessness lies in the narrator’s relationship with Mala, his arranged wife. She is still in India, but when she arrives in America, he does little to welcome her and has a hard time warming up to her as his wife. She acts the part of an Indian wife but he still does not love her until a trip to Mrs. Croft’s home where Mrs. Croft labels Mala the “perfect lady”. It is then that the “arranged” boundary begins to break down and reveal the love and respect that is deserved in their marriage.

The collection does show signs of carelessness throughout, and the examples can be overcome as in the case of The Third and Final Continent, but other examples never seem to resolve for the better.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the aspects of carelessness you decided to focus on in your blog. Each of these stories (as well as the other 5 stories) demonstrates one or more ways in which the characters lack caring. After reading your blog however, I have a few unanswered questions regarding a few of the connections. I was wondering if you thought the protagonist's relationship with Mrs. Croft (before he learns her age) can be considered careless. It seems to me that he was never really concerned for her health or safety until he found out how old she was. Why did it take that knowledge to make him care? And in the Interpreter of Maladies, carelessness can be found practically swamping the pages. What about Mr. Kapasi's carelessness towards his wife? Or Mr. and especially Mrs. Das' lack of care for their Indian heritage? And even in the end of the story Mr. Kapasi could care less that his address, that he so carefully wrote out, flies away. What caused that flash of carelessness? There are countless other accounts of carelessness in each of these stories but a blog can only cover so many. I just wanted to pose a few more questions and expand this somewhat hidden idea that Lahiri portrays so well.

Mara Davidson said...

Your analysis of the carelessness involved in the stories throughout The Interpreter of Maladies is interesting. Do you have any thoughts as to why Lahiri chooses to use carelessness as one of her prime themes of the book? Although one can characterize the sentiment of the book as being related to carelessness, I believe the idea of carelessness can be expanded to include self-worth and identity. One's self-worth can often determine their behavior, so the actions of the so-called careless actions of the characters in the book may be related to an underlying premise of low self-worth which leads then to the attitude of not caring. One's perceived identity is closely related to one's attitudes and so how a person perceives their identity will affect what attitudes they form. On this point, the carelessness which arises in the book may be directly related to the attitudes formed by the characters due to their own opinion of their perceived identity. Although carelessness seems to be a major theme in Lahiri's book, there seem to be underlying tensions which are the cause of this carelessness.

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