The Battles of Minority in Jhumpa Lahiri’s and Sandra Cisneros’ Short Stories

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Nostalgia in A Temporary Matter and Eleven
  • Pipe Dreams in Little Miracles, Kept Promises and Mrs. Sen's
  • The Desire to Be Loved in Sexy and Woman Hollering Creek
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited


Both Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek and Other Short Stories reveal how nostalgia, pipe dreams and the desire to be loved are all part of the internal battle minorities endure when coming to the United States. In Interpreter of Maladies the weakness of humanity in a time of change is revealed through flashbacks, the weight of expectations and vice. Whereas in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Short Stories, Cisneros reveals humanity’s growing pains of coming of age, unfortunate circumstances and betrayal.

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Nostalgia in A Temporary Matter and Eleven

In “A Temporary Matter,” the vulnerability between Shoba and Shukumar in their flashbacks reveal the power nostalgia has in a moment of transitioning through change. The couple recently lost their child to a stillborn birth and lost touch with one another. The only way they hold onto their sanity is through their memories of their old life before the grief. “It felt good to remember her as she was then, how bold yet nervous she’d been when they first met, how hopeful… He couldn’t recall the last time they’d been photographed. They had stopped attending parties, went nowhere together. The film in his camera still contained pictures of Shoba, in the yard, when she was pregnant. (Lahiri, 15). Shukumar’s reminiscing on their life reveals all the emotions he’s been bottling up throughout grieving their son. What brings the two together was this much needed time on remembering what life was like before the child — through good nostalgia.

Similarly, in “Eleven,” Rachel relies on memories to survive her coming of age. Even at her young age, she has already realized going through hard times is the ammo against hard times of the future. “What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one,” (Cisneros, 6). Rachel will forever remember eleven as the year she experienced prejudice by her educator and her peers not being there for support. Her coming of age doesn’t end with a hopeful ending, but rather, more or less a cautionary tale for young people of color. She warns them that growing up is just deriving power from the ages past to survive the present.

Nostalgia for Shukumar and Shoba ultimately saved their relationship from the inevitable pain from losing their child revealing how the past can be good to indulge in to remember one’s purpose — in their case remember their love. Whereas for Rachel, her coming of age was also inevitable but was bearable through learning about her internal strength she had wielded from prior years.

Pipe Dreams in Little Miracles, Kept Promises and Mrs. Sen’s

Coming to America, there’s this desire to achieve the American dream and have the happy ending. Unfortunately, some dreams remain as they are: dreams. In “Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” the scene is set of all walks of life come to this shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe with their dreams, hopes and plans. Some prayers are answered, and some are left at her feet without a response. For Rosario (Chayo) De Leon, fitting in this box of what it means to be a Hispanic woman in Texas was not part of their plans — as they in fact identify as male, or at least the reader can infer as much from Cisneros’s context (Cisneros, 127). Rather, De Leon sought to venture away from this expectation and pursue their dream of being an artist—maybe even a father. Though, religion seemed to be a tough barrier for them as they used to see the Virgin Mary as “mild” but quickly realized the power the Virgin withheld (Cisneros, 125). “When I could see you in all your facets, all at once the Buddha, the Tao, the true Messiah, Yahweh, Allah, the Heart of the Sky, the Heart of the Earth, the Lord of the Near and Far, the Spirit, the Light, the Universe, I could love you, and finally, learn to love me,” (Cisneros, 128). This realization gives De Leon hope that they can achieve happiness and their identity if they too learn to love themselves, regardless if their family understands them, the Virgin sees them for who they really are.

In “Mrs. Sen’s,” there’s an unfortunate circumstance of assimilation for the Sen family. To Mrs. Sen, America is not home. She finds purpose in caring for Eliot but knows that the affirmation she feels with him has no comparison to the life she once knew in India. “‘Eliot, if I began to scream right now at the top of my lungs, would someone come?… At home that is all you have to do. Not everybody has a telephone. But just raise your voice a bit, or express grief or joy of any kind, and one whole neighborhood and half of another has come to share the news, to help with arrangements.'” (Lahiri, 116). Home will never truly be America for Mrs. Sen, no matter how hard she tried. Even Eliot understood that when she spoke about home, she meant India. The culture shock is silencing to her and she can no longer bear it. She hopes to go back and hopes for a new future here in the States, though quickly realizing that not everyone is on her team as even Eliot’s mom eyed her wearingly.

Expectations are natural especially in a state of change. Particularly for Mrs. Sens, her new home was decided for her and her life in America was never the plan after marriage. She must accept her reality and keep her homesick heart to herself to survive the day—though she has found little freedoms with driving and caring for Eliot. Rosario on the other hand had already experienced their years of living in an environment surrounded by people don’t understand their internal battle with defining their identity. Dreams, hopes and plans allow both characters to just get through the day and eventually freedom from what knocks them down. This reveals the common nature among some people of color who just take their hardships and understand that expectation does not always coincide with reality but bottle up the internal toll it has on them to keep moving forward.

The Desire to Be Loved in Sexy and Woman Hollering Creek

Humanity has the natural desire to seek love. Although, love isn’t always what the movies make it all to be. As a naïve young person, one does not expect abuse, infidelity or toxicity in a relationship. For Miranda in “Sexy,” Dev seemed to be the man of her dreams, but reality proved how infidelity in a relationship takes the sanctity out of the equation. As she got more and more involved with a married man, the relationship increasingly became more layered. Her heart was no longer the one at stake, Dev’s wife and son were part of the equation too. “‘It means loving someone you don’t know.’ Miranda felt Rohin’s words under her skin, the same way she’d felt Dev’s. But instead of going hot she felt numb. It reminded her of the way she’d felt at the Indian grocery, the moment she knew, without even looking at a picture, that Madhuri Dixit, whom Dev’s wife resembled, was beautiful. ‘That’s what my father did,’ Rohin continued. ‘He sat next to someone he didn’t know, someone sexy, and now he loves her instead of my mother,'” (Lahiri, 107-108). Miranda never expected to be in so deep with Dev, but love has a funny way of clouding all things logical, finding herself face to face with Dev’s own son calling her “sexy,” as her lover would. Love no longer was paired with self-respect and true romance, only lust and the animalistic desire for passion without repercussion.

Cleofilas in “Woman Hollering Creek” pictured her married life to be as one in a telenovela. Never did she imagine to be in an abusive relationship where the only thing keeping their marriage afloat is her love for their children. “She would not remember her father’s parting words until later, ‘I am your father, I will never abandon you.’ Only now as a mother did she remember. Now when she and Juan Pedrito sat by the creek’s edge. How when a man and a woman love each other, sometimes that love sours. But a parent’s love for a child, a child for its parents, is another thing entirely,” (Cisneros, 43). Her love for her children was the only thing that kept her going throughout the marriage, also clouding her perception of the severity of Juan Pedro’s abuse.

Love and passion differ in “Woman Hollering Creek,” as Cleo tells her story from the perspective of a mother in pain whereas “Sexy,” is viewed through Miranda as the “other woman.”


Each of these short stories reveal the cost of being a minority in a transition of change. Whether it’s longing for the past, hoping for dreams that might never come true or fighting to be loved properly, setting expectations on life to go as planned is too bold of a demand to put on the universe. Humanity reaches for any and all things in desperation to be comfortable — especially through change. Lahiri and Cisneros both set the stage for readers to witness the toll to be seen, loved and remembered; all of which minorities endure when facing transition.

Works Cited

  • Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Short Stories. Bloomsbury, 1993.
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. HarperCollins Publishers India, 1999.

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