Female Subjects and Negotiating Identities in Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,132 words

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[(essay date 31 October 2010) In the following essay, Bahmanpour offers a close reading of the stories contained in Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies.]


Interpreter of Maladies (1999), the 2000 Pulitzer-Prize winning volume of nine short stories, is the first work of Jhumpa Lahiri, the Anglo-American writer of Indian descents. Categorized as an example of the "South Asian American writing" (Srikanth, 1), this book tells of the experience of diaspora and makes the reader acquainted with the complexities and nuances of such an experience. The world that Lahiri portrays in almost all her fiction is set in motion against the cultural tension, anxiety and resultant dialogues that take place when two very different sections of the world--First and Third--in general and Indians and Americans in particular intersect due to a large-scale transnational migration--itself an after-effect of colonialism and globalization respectively. Concerned mostly with the disappointment, failure and at-times success of Indian immigrants in America, Lahiri's stories in Interpreter of Maladies abound with male and female characters who, being displaced, are struggling to survive in the unfamiliar surroundings they are entangled in. One needs to consider though that although most stories are set in The New World, there are still those like "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" which are based in Calcutta. Yet, no matter what the settings are, all these nine stories are united by the common motif of "exclusion, loneliness and the search for fulfillment" (Mandal, 18). It is the presence of such shared motifs and the existence of subtle relations between the stories that, as Brada-Williams suggests, readers tend to read the collection as a "short story cycle" and not simply as a compilation of separate unrelated stories (451).

Widely acknowledged since their publication, Lahiri's stories have been the centre of attention for both Indian and American critics whose articles have more or less dealt with different aspects of one or more of these stories. The issues discussed in a few number of such available books and articles include a wide range of topics from the stories' shared motifs and themes by Noelle Brada-Williams; issues concerning the question of hybridity and stereotype in diaspora partially realized in an MA thesis carried out by Phrae Chittiphalangsri; and Debarati Bandyopadhyay's "Negotiating Borders of culture" which dealing with Lahiri's fiction in general poses some general questions in the context of postcolonialism; to such an innovative reading of Laura Anh Williams which consider the metaphor of food as a means of asserting subjectivity. It is, therefore, in the context of such works that the present study takes its departure.

Yet, it is worth mentioning that despite the diversity of such topics and concerns, the attention paid to the stories of the collection has not been even. Some like "A Temporary Matter" and "Interpreter of Maladies"--the title story--have been a favorite subject for discussion whereas others like "This Blessed House" or "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" mostly have only been named or merely appreciated without any detailed exploration of the forces which play...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100114099