Interpreter of Maladies

Jhumpa Lahiri

Context
Jhumpa Lahiri was born in 1967 in London, England, and raised in Rhode Island. Her father and mother, a librarian and teacher, respectively, had emigrated from Calcutta, India, and Lahiri spoke Bengali with them at home. Interpreter of Maladies was Lahiri¶s first book and an immediate success. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, making Lahiri the first perAlthough Lahiri never lived in India, her frequent visits to Calcutta familiarized her with the city, and she chose to marry there in 2001. Most of Lahiri¶s work focuses on the lives of Indian Americans, and the stories in Interpreter of Maladies are set in India or parts of the United States, including Cambridge, Massachusetts, and an unnamed university town very much like Cambridge. In her stories, characters come together for reasons that are not intimate and wind up finding themselves in intimate situations. For example, in ³Interpreter of Maladies,´ the two main characters find themselves together in a car because one of them hires the other as a tour guide.son of South Asian descent to win an individual Pulitzer Prize. In 2003, Lahiri published her second book, The Namesake, and continues to publish individual short stories. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two children.¶

Character List
Mr. Kapasi - The Indian tour guide who accompanies the Das family on their trip. Mr. Kapasi was once fluent in many languages but now speaks only English. He once dreamed of being a diplomat but now works as a translator in a doctor¶s office, a job he acquired when his young son died from typhoid. Mr. Kapasi lives in a loveless, arranged marriage and no longer sees himself as a potential object of interest for women. He entertains fantasies about Mrs. Das but is ultimately horrified by her confession of infidelity and self-absorption. Mrs. Mina Das - The self-absorbed wife of Mr. Das whose infidelity has isolated her from her husband and children. Mrs. Das cares only about herself and her needs and has little true connection to the people around her. After having an affair eight years ago and conceiving Bobby, she never told Mr. Das or Bobby the truth. Her need to confess her past transgressions horrifies Mr. Kapasi. Read an in-depth analysis of Mrs. Mina Das. Mr. Das - The middle-school science teacher who hires Mr. Kapasi to accompany the family on their trip. Mr. Das takes a voyeuristic interest in India and its people, not really connecting with his surroundings except through his camera and guide book. Mr. Das is a passive, ineffective parent, incapable or unwilling to reprimand his children for misbehaving. In a moment of crisis, when Bobby is surrounded by monkeys, he fails to do anything but accidentally take a picture of the scene. Bobby Das - The younger Das son, who is not actually Mr. Das¶s child. Bobby does not resemble Mr. Das physically or temperamentally. He is surly and treats Mr. Das disrespectfully. Tina Das - The young Das daughter. Tina whines and misbehaves, seeking her mother¶s attention and failing to get it. Ronny Das - The eldest Das child. Ronny does not listen to his parents, preferring to do what he wants to do.

He took the interpreting job as a way to pay the medical bills when his eldest son contracted typhoid and died at age seven. Mr. Kapasi. which is stopped near a tea stall. While Mrs. Kapasi admires her legs and continues to dream about their letters. Das insists that Mr. Das gets Mr. As she walks. Kapasi because he is an interpreter of maladies and she believes he can help her. Tina comes back to the car. Mr. Ronny. Das are arguing about who should take their daughter. which Mr. Mr. However. Kapasi as they stare at friezes of women in erotic poses. Mr. Mrs. Das stays in the car because her legs are tired. Mrs. Das¶s description of his job as ³romantic. to the bathroom. and she has never told anyone about it. whom she has known since she was a young child. Das tells Bobby. Das reveals that she no longer loves her husband. Das are more like siblings to their children than parents. Das also reveals that their parents now live in India and that the Das family visits them every few years. Das tells Mr. Kapasi. Mrs. and he and his wife have nothing in common. Mr. Das remarks that his job is romantic and asks him to tell her about some of his patients. Mr. and Mr. New Jersey. she drops a trail of puffed rice. seduced by Mrs. and Mr. Tina. Mr. Kapasi notices that Mr. even when he says he wants to give the goat a piece of gum. Mrs. and Mrs. He imagines the witty things he will write to her and how she will reveal the unhappiness of her marriage. and they agree. Das quarrel because Mr. Kapasi¶s crush on her begins to evaporate. finally fulfill his dreams of being a diplomat between countries. Mr. clutching a doll with shorn hair. Kapasi says are common in the area. and Mrs. Das has not gotten them a tour guide whose car has air-conditioning. She asks Mr. At the temple. Mr. . Kapasi to drive them to visit the Sun Temple. Kapasi¶s address so that she can send him a copy of the picture. She slept with a friend of Mr. Kapasi views his job as a failure. Kapasi that both he and his wife were born and raised in the United States. asks her whether it isn¶t really just guilt she feels. Mr. Das gets out of the car and joins her family. At one time.´ begins fantasizing about Mrs. Kapasi begins to daydream about how they will have a great correspondence that will. the younger of their two sons. he had been a scholar of many languages. who closely resembles Ronny. He does. and that she has destructive impulses toward her children and life. Das takes their picture together. Mrs. and he thinks it is an unusual way to speak to a child. Mr. Kapasi to suggest some remedy for her pain. they see monkeys. When they arrive. Mr. Mr. and Mr. and Mrs. The group sets off. he suggests that they go see a nearby monastery. Dreading taking the Dases back to their hotel. The family sits in the car.Plot Overview The Das family is in India on vacation. Mr. Kapasi reveals that he has been a tour guide for five years. Das has hired Mr. Das. She sits in the front seat next to Mr. Mrs. She tells Mr. is the product of an affair she had eight years ago. When Bobby refuses. Mr. using Mrs. their son. Das tells Mr. Kapasi observes that Mr. Das talks with Mr. Das asks Tina where her mother is. When they stop for lunch. in a way. Das buys some puffed rice from a nearby vendor. Das has him stop the car so he can take a picture of a starving peasant. darts out of the car to look at a goat. Mr. Mr. Das ultimately takes her. reprimands him but does nothing to stop him. and Mrs. Das. Das uses his wife¶s first name. and Mrs. Das that the monkeys are not dangerous as long as they are not fed. Kapasi tells the children and Mr. Mrs. He kept the job because the pay was better than his previous teaching job. to go look after Ronny. Tina plays with the locks in the back of the car. Kapasi tells the Dases about his other job as an interpreter in a doctor¶s office. Mr. Mr. Das sits in the car silently and eats her snack without offering any to anyone else. and now he remains fluent only in English. insulted. Along the road. Mina. Kapasi¶s marriage was arranged by his parents. Das¶s first name. Bobby. Das¶s who came to visit while she was a lonely housewife. Kapasi and confesses to him that her younger son. Das does not stop her. the place is swarming with monkeys. Kapasi that he is a middle-school teacher in New Brunswick. Mrs. Mr. Mr. Kapasi sit with them. but it reminds his wife of their son¶s death. Das does nothing to enforce his order.

His romanticized tourist¶s view of India keeps him from connecting to the country that his parents call home. forcing him to drink his tea in silence at night and leading to a loveless marriage. the characters also romanticize their surroundings. preferring to hide behind the efficient descriptions in his guidebook. Das names him. He has also lost his ability to communicate in some of the languages he learned as a younger man. Das puts a bandage on Bobby¶s knee. The main conflict of the story centers on two people who romanticize each other. as Mrs. Kapasi. Das has his nose buried in a guidebook. Das loses Mr. and Mrs. Das. she doesn¶t notice that he is uncomfortable with her personal revelations and presses him for help even when he explicitly tells her that he cannot give it to her. for example. Then she reaches into her handbag to get a hairbrush to straighten his hair. if only they could speak with one another openly. the results are in some way harmful. Mr. He sees many details about her. not because of a language barrier but because Mrs. Das wants Mr. photographs the Indian peasant whose suffering he finds appropriate for a tourist¶s shot. The Dases are openly hostile to each other. as though this scene is also somehow separate from reality. Kapasi¶s address on it flutters away. Das have been playing with the monkeys. although in different ways. Mr. Das as a lonely housewife who could be a perfect companion to him in his own loneliness. Das¶s puffed rice and are hitting Bobby on the legs with a stick he had given them. Motifs. Such unflattering details do not fit with his conception of her. the children and Mr. such as the way she dismisses her children¶s desires and her selfishness with her snack. leaving him with only English. Mrs. Throughout their trip. Themes. Mr. Bobby is missing. nor do they listen to Mr. Das hides behind her sunglasses most of the time and Mr. and Mrs. She views him as a father figure and helper and misses or ignores indications that he may not fit those roles. The children do not listen to their parents. Mr. but he passes over others.Meanwhile. They find him surrounded by monkeys that have become crazed from Mrs. in genuine distress. Mr. Das accidentally takes a picture in his nervousness. When Mrs.´ often with hurtful consequences. Mr. has lost his ability to communicate with his wife. And Mr. who is the interpreter of maladies. The Danger of Romanticism Every time a character in ³Interpreter of Maladies´ fails to see the truth about another person. Kapasi sees Mrs. he wants her to be this companion. He sees only what he wants to see²an interesting picture from a foreign land²not the actual man who is starving by the roadside. Kapasi to become a confidante to her and solve her personal and marital difficulties. Das do not communicate. Kapasi¶s address at the end of the story. He misses or ignores cues that she may not be interested in him for his own sake because. The Das children run rampant over their parents and everyone else. Kapasi about the monkeys. Kapasi chases off the monkeys and carries Bobby back to his family. Das fails to engage with India in any substantial way. such as her bare legs and Americanized shirt and bag. resulting in insensitivity and danger. Das screams for Mr. which he fears he does not speak as well as his children. When Mrs. and Symbols Themes The Difficulty of Communication Communication breaks down repeatedly in ³Interpreter of Maladies. Das can do nothing but snap a picture. Kapasi and Mrs. Likewise. Besides romanticizing one another. Mr. All these frustrated attempts at communicating with one another lead to hurt feelings. Even when Bobby is surrounded by monkeys. For example. Mrs. The Kapasis are trapped in a failing marriage. at some level. Mr. Das are unable to reach a level of friendship that they both may have sought. and the paper with Mr. Kapasi to do something. Das rejoins them. . it marks the termination of the possibility that they could reach out to each other and the definite end to all communication between them.

and he sees even harsh realities through its lens. Physically. Bobby will be the true victim of that carelessness as well. When Mrs. New Jersey. Das is not Bobby¶s father. Because he views the world through his camera. Mrs. . Das tries to pose them in pictures that suggest harmony and intimacy. Mr. Das¶s Puffed Rice Puffed rice. Das¶s secret is ever revealed. For example. Das views the world through his camera. and spite and then lied to about his real father. but she is spiritually empty. both in his marriage and in the scenes outside the cab. If Mrs. Mrs. so she cannot directly see the world outside the taxi cab. he never suspects this truth. He delivers Bobby back to Mrs. Kapasi simply observes this fact but draws no inference from it. they can use for their Christmas card. Mr. which distorts his view of her and prevents him from looking at her directly. Additionally. as each views others through some artificial means. Das. She carelessly scatters the puffed rice along the trail at the monastic dwellings. he says. Because Mr. Das is young and attractive. just as she refuses to acknowledge any guilt about her affair with Mr. She does not love her children or husband and is caught in the boredom of her life as a housewife. He has come to visit India. Das and Ronny closely resemble each other. Das misses the reality of the world around him. Kapasi stop the cab so that he can take a photograph of a starving peasant. Kapasi feels the urge to tell Bobby the truth as he carries him away from the monkeys. His view of the man¶s reality is distorted because he sees the man only through the camera lens. Mr. Finally. He would rather exist in an imaginary state of willful ignorance and arm¶s-length engagement than face the disappointments and difficulties of his real life. her window does not roll down. but Mr. Das¶s mistakes and careless actions. Kapasi watches Mrs. Das¶s camera represents his inability to see the world clearly or engage with it. Das chooses to have Mr. Das does not seem to care. yet Mr. boredom. This ³happy family´ that Mr. which suggests that their vision will one day be as distorted as their parents¶ is. Mrs. Das¶s friend. His children are insolent and his wife is distant. Even when she realizes the danger to Bobby. Mr. but she harbors a secret that could tear the entire family apart. Mr. taking the camera from his eye only when he turns back to his guidebook. His idea of family distorts the reality of the situation. He knows that the safety he is providing for the boy²scattering the monkeys and lifting Bobby away from danger²is insubstantial. Mr. Mr. whereas Mr. Each child is wearing a visor. represents Mrs. Mr. Mr. Mr. Conceived out of anger. seeing the others through their tint and blocking others¶ view of her eyes. even though doing so blatantly ignores the peasant¶s essential reality. Kapasi sees the Das family as a unit. insubstantial and bland. he instead turns to the safety of frozen images and bland descriptions of ancient sites. Das hides behind her sunglasses. Symbols The Camera Mr. Rather than engage actively with the India that surrounds him. wanting the picture only as a souvenir of India and ignoring the man¶s obvious need for help. Das snaps pictures of monkeys and scenery. Mrs. Das refuses to leave the car when they visit the monastic dwellings. even though this simple fact hints at the deeper truth: that Mr. Bobby is surrounded by deceit. he takes pictures of the starving peasant.Motifs Seeing Each character in the story has a distorted way of seeing the others. His camera is always around his neck. Das tries to change her mind because he wants to get a complete family portrait²something. Her depression and apathy distance her from her family. whose distance and carelessness fail to provide true safety. Das and Bobby have little in common. Das does not take any responsibility for the situation. Das also uses the camera to construct a family life that does not actually exist. but what he will take away with him²pictures and snatches of guidebook phrases² he could have gotten from any shop at home in New Brunswick. never thinking about the danger her actions pose to others. Das through the rearview mirror. Das aspires to catch on film is pure fabrication. as monkeys surround and terrify him.

Although Mr. the connection fails because the marriages are so vastly different. and he and Mrs. He seeks this common ground as a way to find friendship and connection.´ Though Mr. who has never seen his wife naked. but the causes. her marriage was not arranged. telling Mr. ³Interpreter of Maladies´ included. They are Indian but not of India. Kapasi and the Dases do share an Indian heritage. Kapasi believes that he can relate to Mrs. We learn quite a few details about where the Das family fits into this cultural divide. their marriages reveal the extent of how different their cultures really are. Das were both born and raised in America. from his view. Kapasi have nothing in common. . Mrs. Das relies on a tourist guidebook to tell him about the country through which they are traveling. The cultural divide between him and Mrs. bringing the children with them. Kapasi. Das¶s marriage. and although their union was encouraged by their parents. Mr. are the difficulties that Indians have in relating to Americans and the ways in which Indian Americans are caught in the middle of two very different cultures. Mrs. and Mrs. However. Das even seems to take pride in his status as a stranger. Kapasi is offended by the concept of infidelity in Mrs. Kapasi¶s fantasy of forging a friendship with Mrs. Furthermore. Although India is their parents¶ home. The Dases visit every few years. and results of that unhappiness have no overlap whatsoever. Mr. Das at a young age. Das¶s unhappy marriage because he himself is in an unhappy marriage. remedies. Kapasi¶s parents arranged his marriage. Mr. The two marriages may both be unhappy. Kapasi recognizes some common cultural heritage. and Mrs. simply too vast. and Mrs. although their retired parents have now moved to India to live. mistakes. Kapasi about his American roots with an ³air of sudden confidence. This lack of understanding reflects a differing understanding of duty and family between the two cultures. Das are foreigners. the Dases are no more familiar with India than any other tourist.Culture Clash Central themes of all of Lahiri¶s work. Das is shattered even before he sees his address slip away in the wind. By contrast. Das could not be more uninterested in her surroundings if she tried. Mr. Das is. Mr. Mr. Das¶s sexual behaviors during their courtship shock Mr. Das¶s comments about her and Mr. Mr. and their dress and manner are wholly American. Das fell in love with Mr. Mr.

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