Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies

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Author: Simon Lewis
Editor: Jelena O. Krstovic
Date: 2007
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 96)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,222 words

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[(essay date summer 2001) In the following essay, Lewis analyzes the short story "The Interpreter of Maladies" as an update to E. M. Forster's novel A Passage to India.]

Jhumpa Lahiri's short story "Interpreter of Maladies," from her 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of the same name, is likely to become a classic of literature anthologies not just because of its great narrative and verbal craft, but also because it updates E. M. Forster's 1924 novel A Passage to India. The plots of both texts hinge on a misconceived tourist excursion--to the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India, to the monastic cells at Udayagiri and Khandagiri in "Interpreter of Maladies"--during which a male Indian guide and a female visitor misinterpret each other's verbal and nonverbal signals. In both cases the male guide's perceptions of the foreign visitor are at odds with those of the woman who, apparently prompted by her extraordinary and unfamiliar surroundings, tries to come to terms with pre-existing emotional dilemmas.

As one might expect in a postcolonial rewrite, Lahiri narrates her story from the point of view of the Indian host, the interpreter of maladies-cum-tourist guide Mr. Kapasi. What makes Lahiri's reworking of Forster so intriguing, however, is that the gulf of misunderstanding between Mr. Kapasi and the visiting Mrs. Das results from cultural rather than racial difference. Lahiri thus moves beyond Eurocentric or Oriental images of India to those of a contemporary postcolonial nation more concerned with dialogue with its own diaspora than with its former colonizers. The story may repeat the Forsterian theme of mutual human incomprehension, but the world of "Interpreter of Maladies" is an exclusively Indian one, in which Indians define notions of self and other, in which Indians move freely among countries and cultures, and in which India itself is an object of scrutiny by Indian...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420075385