Interpreter of Maladies and the Lake of the Woods: What Do They Have in Common?


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Literature Comparison Essay

Often in pieces of literature, similar themes are identified in which connections are made between the characters experience from both novels. In Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien, some characters from each text share similar experiences which correspond to identical themes. For example, both novels share the themes of the lack of communication as well as the burden of secrecy, in which obstacles are encountered in these characters’ lives as they learn to face and overcome them.

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Demonstrated in both novels, there is a difficulty of communication between the characters and their loved ones. For instance, the short story of “Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” from Interpreter of Maladies describes a man who moves to America for his job while his family remains in Dacca, India, during the Pakistini army invasion. Mr. Pirzada is clearly unable to communicate with his wife and daughters because of the war. He therefore experiences a lack of contact with his family, with his only way of transmission being through the news channel of the television. Each week, Mr. Pirzada would join a friendly Indian family who invited him over, and he would watch the news to keep himself updated on the events taking place in Dacca, to make sure his family was safe. By the end of the short story, although Mr. Pirzada does end up going back to India to reunite with his family after several months, the disconnection between him and his wife and children most likely affected the strength of his marriage and tested his love for his wife, which in this case seemed to happily continue by the end of the short story.

Similarly, John and Kathy Wade in In the Lake of the Woods also experience a severe lack of communication. Before John and Kathy were married, John spent some time as a soldier in the Vietnamese war. Because John was away for such a long period of time, there was a disconnection between Kathy and John, which potentially weakened their relationship. Even when John wrote letters to Kathy during the war, she slowly stopped responding to them. In one letter, however, Kathy wrote to John about how she was “seeing some guys” and that it was “nothing serious” (p.186). Despite the fact that it was nothing serious, the fact that Kathy is seeing other men while she is in a relationship with John proves their growing disconnection as John spent his time in the war. The relationship between John and Kathy enfeebled, and although they got married after the war, they did not seem like a true loving and married couple. This disconnection could perhaps explain why Kathy decided to vanish from the lake-house the night of her disappearance. However, the readers may never know since O’Brien only leaves Hypotheses about Kathy’s disappearance for the audience to read. As portrayed, based on these two texts, the characters have faced similar experiences involving the theme of the lack of communication. However, the only difference is that Mr. Pirzada seemed to completely reunite with his family without such a long-term effect of the disconnection between his family, while John and Kathy did not lovingly come together as a true husband and wife, illustrating that the war caused serious communication problems which in effect impacted their marriage negatively.

Another theme that can be related to both novels is the burden of secrecy, in which the characters keep secrets away from others in avoidance of the truth. The short story “Interpreter of Maladies” in Interpreter of Maladies portrays of perfect example of a character who hides the truth. Mr. and Mrs. Das visit India with their children, and are driven and guided by an interpreter, Mr. Kapasi. When Mrs. Das confides in Mr. Kapasi, she tells him about what she has been hiding for eight years from everyone, and that he is the first person she has finally told. “And no one knows, of course. No one at all. I’ve kept it a secret for eight whole years. But now I’ve told you” (p.62). One of Mrs. Das’ three children, Bobby, is not Mr. Das’ son. Mrs. Das had an affair with Mr. Das’ business partner that came into town for a job interview, in which she became pregnant and conceived Bobby. Realizing that she cannot hide from the truth, she asks Mr. Kapasi to interpret her malady. However, Mr. Kapasi sees only guilt from her secret and cannot offer a remedy to her malady.

Comparably, John and Kathy Wade from In the Lake of the Woods both have some hidden secrets that were never shared. Secrecy was a convenient way for John and Kathy to avoid facing the facts. However, the burden of concealing the truth eventually proved to be too much when Kathy mysteriously disappeared. Before the war, John had continuously spied on Kathy whenever he gained the chance to. Although Kathy knew about this secret, it was still something that was always kept to himself. As for Kathy, it is evident that she had an affair with another man while she was with John, which he does not know about. “Kathy was no angel. That dentist… I shouldn’t say his name… I guess it hurt him pretty bad— John, I mean” (p. 261). Spoken by Kathy’s sister, Patricia, it is portrayed that Kathy was having an affair with a dentist while she was with John. This secret was never figured out from John, and when Kathy disappeared, there would really be no way for him to find out the truth. From both texts, one can apprehend that running away from the truth will not solve anything, and that no matter what, the truth will always come out.

The characters from both novels of Interpreter of Maladies and In the Lake of the Woods experience intense and emotional stages in their lives in which they learn to accept and face the truth. The two themes of lack of communication and the burden of secrecy reflect on the characters’ actions in the novels and how they learn to face the large or little obstacles that come along in their lives, such as the difficulty to communicate or the avoidance of the truth.

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