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Consequences The themes of both Amy Bloom’s By-and-By and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Hell-Heaven are centered around the loss of a loved one, a best friend in By-and-By named Anne and a lover, who took on many roles in Boudi’s family in Hell-Heaven, named Pranab Kaku. Grief, governed by human nature, is an inevitable result of losing someone you love, and can often, though resulting from such contrasting events, cause very similar life-changing results. The interminable effects of grieving entangled throughout the theme of both of these pieces not only enlightens the reader to the inevitability and repetition of unfortunate circumstances in everyone’s lives, but how grief allows us to recognize them as unfortunate, the innocent motivation that so often causes them, the relationships that are formed from them that would seldom be formed otherwise, and the permanent life changes that result as a cause of them. To use the phrase, “trouble always finds you” would be vague and full of assumption, but it does summarize the basic conception that everyone has to face unfortunate events at some time or another in their lives, inevitably. Both Bloom and Lahiri lay this out quite nicely as they surface the unknown of being watched or followed before “trouble” occurs. On page 633, the narrator describes the area in which Anne was kidnapped, the Glens Falls parking lot, and immediately, in the following sentence, tells of Eugene’s capturing them while they were “loading up Teddy’s van” (633). Pranab
Grubb 2 “confessed” to following the narrator and her mother Boudi “for the better part of an afternoon” (638), just before they met and began their detrimental relationship, which would soon destroy Boudi due to her own insecurities. In both of these situations, they were watched and followed, unknowingly, and trouble literally found them, and would lead them and those around them to a level of grief they had not yet encountered. Hell-Heaven gives the reader more evidence of the inevitability of grief as well. In the beginning of the story, the narrator speaks of a trench coat that her mother always wears just before they would go out to walk together each day, which she soon stopped doing after she met this new love of her life, Pranab. “Before we met him, I would return from school and find my mother with her purse in her lap, and her trench coat on, desperate to escape the apartment where she had spent the day alone” (640). From that statement, within context, the reader can clearly see that she was suffering from a detachment from her husband; she was lonely. After being fulfilled by this man’s company though, she soon loses him, and attempts to commit suicide with “a knee length lilac trench coat” (650). The trench coat represents the pain that one suffers through losing someone they love, and also the cycle of repetition that grief often seems to follow. Even those who can identify that they are grieving by, for example, what they wear or how they express it each time, still manage to fall victim to it. The infamous question rises, though, as to why we so often lose people we love, and why we can’t just stop the emotional experience from happening since we know it’s coming. Not only is everyone condemned to a life of occasional unfortunate events, often times those committing such acts tend to repeat them, whether unintentional or not. In
Grubb 3 Hell-Heaven, Pranab is doomed to repeat his own mistake twice. Though never actually admitting to intimate feelings for Boudi, he was certainly guilty of flirting with her through “raising their voices in playful combat” (641) and “confronting each other in a way she and [Boudi’s] father never did” (641), thereby guilty of adding to the problem of her filling her void of affection from her husband with his attention. By the end of the short story he has, to a further extent, ruined both his own marriage and someone else’s as he falls “in love with a married Bengali woman.” Eugene Trask, the murderer in Byand-By, of course repeats his “crime” as well on page 633 when he kills the recent high school graduates on a camping trip. It’s possible, then, that the reason victims have to suffer from the repetition of bad events in their lives, is because they often go repeated by the person who caused them in the first place. Often ignored, but certainly present, is the repeat of all of the mourning shared by the narrator of the story in the lives of the others that are feeling grief based on these repeated actions. Grief certainly has it’s way of finding it’s victims repetitively, in and throughout any situation that it can, but it weaves a web of understanding, so that any reader of a sad tale can comprehend those things as upsetting, because of people, like Trask and Pranab, that repeat their actions to randomly picked victims. Lahiri and Bloom manipulated hurtful events, knowing the reader would understand them, because of the continuously painful name that has been given to adultery and murder. If it had only happened once in history, one could not identify it as grief, but everyone can relate to it, and so, because of its repetition, both in victims’ lives and those committing it, grief itself is weaved into the very foundation of the writing process of their pieces. Excusing the negative portrayal of both Eugene Trask and Pranab Kaku for their
Grubb 4 actions thus far, few people deliberately ruin lives for the sake of their own enjoyment, and it seems reasonable that both Trask and Pranab were acting out of good intentions, though in much different ways, and were simply caught in situations that good intentions could not properly overcome. Because of the point of view in By-and-By, for example, Eugene is given little to no attention or consideration as to the reasoning behind his actions. With a closer look, though, it becomes obvious that his childhood played an important role in his adulthood. On page 635, the reader is given insight into Trask’s past relationship with his father. Just as in August Wilson’s play Fences where Troy is permanently damaged from his own recollection of his father’s abusive nature, Trask loses a close personal connection to his father at a young age due to his bed-wetting problem: “he knew his way around the woods because their father threw him out of the house naked, in the middle of the night, whenever he wet his bed, which he did all his life” (635). His grieving over the desire for his father’s affection led to his need, or so it seemed to him, to rape women, to fulfill that void of love with the forced affection of others, since he could never force his father into feeding that need during his childhood. Being raised in such a socially unacceptable way, Trask did not understand how to gain respect and love from anyone, not even his own father, so certainly not someone of the opposite sex. Other passages, such as his comment on her being “a wonderful conversationalist” and “talking to her was a pleasure and that they had some very lively discussions, which he felt she had enjoyed,” are immediately mistaken by any novice reader as an additional example of his inexcusable psychological dysfunction, his sickminded behavior, but with his favor in mind, ignoring the brooding details that the
Grubb 5 narrator gives us about his character due to her biased perspective, he may have actually had good intentions. Good intentions being, quite honestly, what society bases people on, not actions. With that in mind, and the previous situation as well, Trask was set out specifically to fill the hollow void of sorrow within him. From his perspective, though sick and, yes, incorrect, he is innocent, because he only wanted love. As mentioned earlier, it’s just as plausible that Pranab had good intentions as well, as he met Boudi and treated her as he had “the innocent affection of a brother-inlaw,” (642) meaning he saw Boudi as no more than someone he could trust in the darkest times of his life and did not intend for her to develop the attachment that would slowly destroy her: falling in love with him. As was so well put by one critic, “Pranab is apparently completely oblivious to the more-than-sisterly affection the narrator’s mother feels for him and treats her as an older sibling” (Winnie). In agreement, he certainly saw her as more of a motherly figure, and acknowledged her as more of his saving grace, never as a potential romantic partner. The loss of a loved one can have rather peculiar effects on people, especially from a social aspect. Bonds are often formed between people who barely know each other, or may not even be in the same social class. In By-and-By, for example, the narrator and Mrs. Warburg, her best friend Anne’s mother, spend hours on the phone with each other, reminiscing on memories of Anne as they await finding out her location, and whether or not she is even alive: “Mrs. Warburg and I had an interstate, telephonic rum-and-Coke party twice a week the summer Anne was missing” (632). They also went to psychics together, seeking answers and hoping, combined, they could have enough hope to save Anne’s life. After the court case of Eugene Trask, though, and the identified dead body of
Grubb 6 Anne Warburg, the two completely lost touch with each other. The narrator tells the reader that Mrs. Warburg “went back to her life, without [her], after Anne’s funeral that winter” (637). There is a mysterious bond that takes place between two people when they are grieving over the same thing, a powerful common factor that allows, literally, for a sociological survival, to know someone is and will overcome that problem with you. The same situation occurs in Hell-Heaven as well in two specific areas. Deborah immediately attaches to Boudi after she divorces Pranab for cheating on her, even though admitting that she “was so horribly jealous” of her in the past “for knowing him, understanding him” (650) in ways that she could not. In the darkest period of Pranab’s life, after he had “washed up on the barren shores of [the narrator’s] parents’ social life in the early seventies” (638). He was new to America and became lost in its culture after quite some time of living with the narrator’s family. Their “barren…social life” was full of complete opposite interests, Boudi being quite fond of “music, film, leftist politics, [and] poetry,” (640), whereas her husband was “a lover of silence and solitude” (641). The only two times they agree on anything in the piece is when they agree to help Pranab by offering him a place to live, as is mentioned on page 639, and when they agree not to tell him that his parents would disown him if he married an American woman, while they knew he was already upset and feared approaching them or causing them pain. Even when a person is not experiencing grief, but merely seeing it in someone they care about, an immediate social change always seems to play a large role in their behavior, and often still brings people together in peculiar ways. Death is interesting, because sympathy is generated the second a person dies, but
Grubb 7 sympathy lingers, and transforms to grief, if a lifestyle changes because of that death. It has a way of continuing, impacting daily life, which is exactly what happened to the narrator of By-and-By: “It was exactly due to Anne that I was able to walk through the world like a normal person.” Because of that statement, it can be understood the message Bloom was trying to convey through the main character: after gaining understanding about the world and life within it from Anne, her death caused an intense sense of emptiness. This absence continues to linger towards the end of the story as the main character consciously blames Eugene Trask, the rapist and murderer of her best friend, for every death that she has witnessed or had to deal with in her life, including her father: “My young father, still slim and handsome and a good dancer, collapsed on our roof trying to straighten our ancient TV antennae and Eugene Trask pulled his feet out from under him, over the gutters and thirty feet down.” Because of the psychological effects that Anne’s death and Trask’s actions, the narrator is permanently trapped in a mindset caused by grief that she cannot get out of. It only takes a single event to alter the way a person assesses their life and the decisions they make from that moment on. The permanence of change is implied all throughout both Lahiri’s short story and Bloom’s, but also even in the titles of the pieces. On page 643, in Hell-Heaven, the dramatic change that can happen to a person is emphasized by Boudi as she reiterates the title in conversations with some of her other Bengali friends: “I don’t understand how a person can change so suddenly. It’s hellheaven, the difference” (643). Pranab had stopped showing her the attention she craved because a woman he loved, Deborah, fulfilled the absence of his once grieving spirit. Even the after-effects, then, of grief have a permanent impact on people who have lost
Grubb 8 someone they love, and even those to whom they expose it as well. By-and-By is not just the title of Bloom’s piece, but is actually a commonly used phrase as well, meaning “a future time or occasion” (By). There’s a hint of uncertainty as to just how the characters will react to the events happening to them, and a process is laid out so that the reader can immediately assume that the characters are going to experience change, that will eventually permanently, at least in this case, damage them. Bloom is saying that at a “future time,” because of your loss, your world will look different to you. At the end of By-and-By, the completed process can be seen in words, as the narrator informs the reader that “we are all in the cave” (637) that her friend dies in. Everyone finds himself or herself lost in the dark, waiting to see how their lives will change, and whether they’ll survive their current situation or not. Every reader can resonate with these words: that grief is powerful, and intertwines its way into our lives, often unbeknownst to us, as we go about doing things that we ultimately feel are innocent. Lahiri and Bloom accurately convey the life-changing effects of grief, and bring to light the dangers in not only others to destroy our lives, but even to be wary of our own actions. By both our own actions and those of others, everyone experiences losing people they love, it’s the way we handle it that will change our lives permanently. Whether a good ending or bad, grief forces us into change, expects of us a different person once it has ended.
Grubb 9 Works Cited "By and by." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2011. Merriam-Webster Online. 3 May 2011. Winnie. “‘Only Goodness’ and ‘Hell-Heaven’ from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth.” Aeksis.Wordpress. 24 March 2011. 3 May 2011. Hughes, Langston. “By-and-By.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 20l1. 632-637. Print. Hughes, Langston. “Hell-Heaven.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 20l1. 638-651. Print.