The Borderlands of Identity and a B-Side to the Self: Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine,’ ‘The Third and Final Continent’ and ‘Unaccustomed Earth’

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Author: Leah Harte
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 251. )
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,617 words

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[(essay date 2009) In the following essay, Harte applies Homi K. Bhabha’s theories about borders to close readings of three of Lahiri’s stories and to the means by which the immigrant characters construct identity as they experience various cultural and national passages.]

This chapter explores the link between borders—both geographical and metaphorical—and identity as it relates to immigrant characters’ experiences with cross-cultural and inter-national passage in the fiction of Jhumpa Lahiri. The term “passages” calls to mind images of movement and transition, crossing over thresholds and breaching boundaries. Close readings of three of Lahiri’s texts uncover a direct correlation between the characters’ manoeuvring of an assortment of borders and the formation of their respective selves. While it would be unduly limiting to categorise her work as staunchly post-colonial, Homi Bhabha’s ideas about the impact of borders upon the construction of identity in a post-colonial theoretical context is one effective avenue by which to approach this particular aspect of Lahiri’s work. This chapter firstly and briefly considers Lahiri’s own experience with multi-faceted versions of identity and the sometimes exclusive nature of certain aspects of this notion. It moves then to focus on Bhabha’s ideas about borders, the manifestation of various types of borders, and notes their presence throughout Lahiri’s fiction before addressing more specifically three of Lahiri’s short stories—“When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine”, “The Third and Final Continent” and “Unaccustomed Earth”.

Jhumpa Lahiri has been a critically and commercially renowned writer ever since her first collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, was published in 1999. After winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for that debut publication, she trailed her initial success with the best-selling novel The Namesake, which was adapted for screen and directed by filmmaker Mira Nair. Most recently, Lahiri’s third publication, another book of short fiction entitled Unaccustomed Earth, reached the top of The New York Times bestseller list, a feat virtually unheard of for a collection of short fiction. While her characters are most often Indian immigrants encountering and subsequently taking on America in their own ways, Lahiri relays these accounts both in terms of perceptions that are undoubtedly unique to the immigrant experience as well as with regard for universally familiar themes. Births, deaths, and the lives lived in that intervening period, marriages, the rearing of children, friendships, romantic affairs and relationships in general, love that endures all of these and general hardships that inevitably test each character: the pervasiveness of these incidents, which people everywhere can relate to, attests to the works’ popularity. Even still, it is Lahiri’s cultural heredity and her worldview as the daughter of Indian immigrants that is most frequently inquired about in dialogues with the writer. A survey of printed and online interviews and articles appearing in publications, ranging from Newsweek and The New York Times to informal internet blogs and discussion forums, testify that the most common source of intrigue surrounding Lahiri stems from her status as a second-generation immigrant. Those involved find it seemingly unavoidable...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420124236