Critical Essay on "A Temporary Matter"

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Author: David Remy
Editor: Ira Mark Milne
Date: 2004
From: Short Stories for Students(Vol. 19. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,306 words

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"A Temporary Matter," the first story in Jhumpa Lahiri's debut Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Interpreter of Maladies, captures a pivotal moment in a couple's relatively short but eventful marriage. At times absurdly funny, at others heartbreakingly sad, Lahiri's tale examines how a tragic loss can lead to indifference and a breakdown in communication between two people who once loved each other. The author's use of irony in various forms makes the transition even more poignant, for it underscores an element of suspense as it brings about the story's denouement.Thus, Lahiri enhances the story's ironic quality by creating a situation whereby her characters, isolated in darkness yet sustained by the customs of their native land, must confront each other with the truth.

Lahiri increases the ironic quality of the story by setting up a situation in which the emotionally distant couple must interact more closely. Because the utility company will turn off the electricity for one hour each night for five consecutive nights to make repairs after a recent snowstorm, Shoba and Shukumar, deprived of their usual distractions, must turn to each other for companionship. To heighten her characters' isolation, Lahiri informs the reader that it is only the houses on the "quiet, tree-lined streets" that experience the nightly power outages and not the shops near the trolley stop.

Although the utility company assures the residents of the neighborhood that the inconvenience is only "a temporary matter," the blackout has a transforming effect on the neighborhood and its residents. Despite the cold, neighbors chat with one another as they stroll up and down the street carrying flashlights. The darkness and cold, fresh air instill a restless feeling while enforcing a sense of community. "Tonight, with no lights, they would have to eat together," says the narrator, describing the situation inside Shoba and Shukumar's house. The power outage forces a change in routine--from voluntary separation to forced interaction.

Ever since the loss of their child in September, Shoba and Shukumar have lived separate lives under the same roof. Within the span of only a few months, they have constructed for themselves a routine structured on the avoidance of each other and the horrible truth that has changed their married life forever. In an effort to delay her homecoming and an inevitable confrontation with her husband, Shoba spends long hours at work and at the gym. Shukumar, on the other hand, remains ensconced on the third floor, ostensibly writing his dissertation. Both husband and wife are depressed, and neither is willing to acknowledge that their marriage has lost something vital, something more than just romance.

Until recently, Shoba had always been neat and tidy, but now she deposits her briefcase in the middle of the hall and leaves her clothes strewn about the room; she is so weary that she does not even bother to untie her shoes before removing them. At thirty-three, she looks "like the type of woman she'd once claimed she would never resemble." Shoba's slightly rumpled appearance reminds Shukumar of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420056382