The Importance of a Community in Some of the Stories from Interpreter of Maladies


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Community is a safety harness. When you’re climbing a huge rock wall, your harness is there to prevent you from falling. It restrains you from hurting yourself. If your foot slips, or you let go too soon, your harness will catch you, keep you away from danger, and makes sure that you are safe. When you are part of a community, you are a harness. You have an unspoken responsibility to look out for others. It is your job to make sure that everyone in your community is okay, and to look out for and help those who are struggling. In the book, Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri uses multiple literary devices to develop this theme of community. In the short stories, Mrs. Sen’s, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, and The Treatment of Bibi Haldar, Jhumpa Lahiri uses literary devices like imagery, perspective, and characterization to convey the central theme, Responsibility of a Community is to look out for others and not just worry about yourself.

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The use of Imagery in the short stories, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, and The Treatment of Bibi Haldar helps Jhumpa Lahiri to convey the importance and responsibility of looking out for others in your community. In the beginning of the story, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, Jhumpa Lahiri describes how Lilia’s parents are looking through the university directory, trying to find other “Indian” people in their community. The text says, “In search of compatriots, they used to trail their fingers, at the start of each new semester, through the columns of the university directory, circling surnames familiar to their part of the world. It was in this manner that they discovered Mr. Pirzada and invited him to our home” (Lahiri 26). Jhumpa Lahiri’s detailed description of Lilia’s parents’ search helps readers to understand the theme of responsibility in a community. Lilia’s parents know what it is like to feel on the outside of a community, and are reaching out in their own community to make sure that people in the same situation that they once experienced have a safe place/second home that they are able to rely on and feel comfortable in. Lahiri also uses imagery to develop this theme in the story, The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. When the narrators are describing Bibi’s sickness in the beginning of the story, they explain how everyone in Bibi’s community is trying everything they can to cure her. The text states, “When we heard her screams and throws in the night, when her wrists were bound with ropes and stinging poultices pressed upon her, we named her in our prayers. Wise men had massaged eucalyptus balm onto her temples, steamed her face with herbal infusions” (Lahiri 172). Lahri uses detailed imagery to illustrate the picture of wise men massaging Bibi’s temples and steaming her face, trying to cure her. This description of the community trying to help Bibi become healthy shows readers that the people in Bibi’s community are acting on their responsibility to look out for her. In this particular story, the narrators are actually a part of Bibi’s community. This unique perspective also helps Jhumpa Lahiri to convey the story’s theme.

The use of perspective in the short stories, The Treatment of Bibi Haldar, Mrs. Sen’s, and When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine helps Author, Jhumpa Lahiri convey the central theme, Responsibility of a Community is to look out for others. In the story, Mrs. Sen’s, the point of view is 3rd person submissive, the perspective of the main character, Eliot. This allows readers to closely follow and analyze the interactions between Mrs. Sen and Eliot’s mom from the perspective of a young boy. A quote from the text states, “She tended to hover over on the far side of the room… but Mrs. Sen would not allow it. Each evening she insisted that his mother sit on the sofa, where she was served something to eat” (Lahiri 118). Mrs. Sen wants to make sure that both Eliot and his mother are getting a good meal to eat every night. She is doing her part in the community to look out for them and oversee that they are eating well. Eliot’s perspective is vital for readers to understand this interaction, because it shows that even a young boy like Eliot can recognize Mrs. Sen’s effort to care for him and his family. The use of perspective is also apparent in the story, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine. When Lilia is sent upstairs one night, she overhears the interactions between Mr. Pirzada and her parents. “Eventually I was sent upstairs to do my homework, but through the carpet I heard them as they drank more tea, and listened to cassettes of kishore kumar, and played Scrabble until the ll o’clock news…For this reason I never saw him leave, but each night as I drifted off to sleep, I would hear them, anticipating the birth of a nation on the other side of the world” (Lahiri 38). Lilia’s perspective in the story helps readers to understand how her parents are taking care of Mr. Pirzada. Lilia’s “eavesdropping” reveals how late Mr. Pirzada stays at her house, hanging out and talking with his parents. Mr. Pirzada feels safe and comfortable in her home, and that her parents are succeeding at their role in their community of looking out for others. Another use of perspective can be identified in the story, The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. The perspective in this story is the women of Bibi’s community. These women are very sympathetic towards Bibi and do everything that they can to make her feel somewhat “normal.” This can be spotted when Bibi is asking the women millions of questions about their weddings and lives. “She prestered us for details of our own weddings …we showed her our photo albums embossed with the designs of butterflies…” (Lahiri 174). Bibi is making the women all about their weddings, because she wants to get married one day and therefore want to know what it is like. Instead of the women being rude to Bibi, and telling her she will never find love because of her disease, or simply just ignoring her, instead they decide to take the time out of their busy days to answer all of Bibi’s questions, and show her their wedding books. This makes Bibi, who usually feels like an outcast, feel happy and accepted in their community. This quote also indirectly shows and characterizes that the women in Bibi’s community are kind, caring, and sympathetic people.

The use of Characterization in the short stories, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, and The Treatment of Bibi Haldar helps Jhumpa Lahiri to convey the central theme, Responsibility of a Community is to look out for others and not just worry about yourself. In the story, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, Lilia is about to go out trick-or-treating, and Mr. Pirzada expresses his concern. “‘Perhaps I should accompany them?’ Mr. Pirzada suggested. He looked suddenly tired and small, standing there and displayed stockings feet, and his eyes contained a panic I had never seen before. In spite of the cold I began to sweat inside my pillowcase” (Lahiri 42) Jhumpa Lahiri Indirectly characterizes Mr. Pirzada as overprotective and worried. Mr. Pirzada does not know much about American Traditions, Specifically Halloween and Trick-Or-Treating, and thinks it might be dangerous. Since Mr. Pirzada is un-informed about this tradition, he is worried that Lilia will not be safe, and wants to come with her. This characterization shows that Lilia and her parents made Mr. Pirzada feel so comfortable in their home, that he now feels extremely connected to them, and considers Lilia as a part of his family. Lilia’s parents exceeded in not only making Mr. Pirzada feel welcomed and comfortable, but made him feel like a valued part of their family. Indirect characterization can also be observed in The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. In this story, Jhumpa Lahiri characterizes Bibi as jealous to develop the idea of how comfortable she feels speaking her mind with the women in her community. Bibi is expressing her envy about the narrators’ lives. “Is it wrong to envy you, all brides and mothers, bust with lives and cares? Wrong to want to shade my eyes? Scent my hair?” (pg. 174) This indirect characterization of Bibi being envious helps to develop the main theme of the story. Bibi is talking/complaining to the narrators like any other “normal” women would express their feelings to their friends. The comfortability in Bibi expressing her feelings allows readers to infer that the narrators and women in Bibi’s community are treating Bibi like a normal friend, and fulfilling their responsibilities in ensuring that Bibi feels welcomed in their community.

Jhumpa Lahiri, the author of The Interpretation of Maladies, does an excellent job with using intriguing literary devices to portray the central theme, Responsibility of a Community is to look out for others and not just worry about yourself, in the short stories, Mrs. Sen’s, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, and The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. The application of these devices such as imagery, perspective, and characterization not only keep readers entertained and hooked throughout the story, but allow them to obtain a thorough grasp on what it means to be a part of a community. These devices allow readers to understand how this theme is illustrated in the short stories. Looking out for others is vital to being a part of a community. You may not know when someone is feeling uncomfortable or struggling, and the smallest gestures like inviting someone over for dinner, showing them your photo albums, or simply just engaging in a conversation could impact someone’s life more than you could ever imagine. In a community, always be a safety harness, because you never know how steep someone else’s rockwall might be.

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