Sassouni English 10 H Mrs. Tunick 11 September 2011 When moving from one country to another, most people face difficulty in combining both cultures, and fail to adapt to their new country. In the book of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri, the protagonists are often placed in an uncomfortable or unknown position. The reader is able to judge the characters based on how they act during their uncomfortable position. In the short story “Mrs. Sen”, Mrs.
Sen is unable to find the right balance between her original Indian heritage and American culture, while the protagonist in “The Third and Final Continent” is successful in striking the best balance between the two cultures.
In the short story, “Mrs. Sen”, Mrs. Sen only displays her Indian heritage through view of India as well as her material Indian possessions because she did not want to leave in the first place. Throughout the story, Mrs. Sen expresses her love for the fish in Calcutta, India.
While the fish from her local grocer is indeed fresh and reserved for her, She constantly remarks that the fish is not as fresh in America.
For Sen, the fish isn’t just food, it’s a piece of India. She is showing that, in her mind, India will always be superior to America. She didn’t choose a new country as well as a new fish. Moreover, Mrs. Sen displays her culture through her traditional cutting blade and her saris. She constantly is using the blade because it reminds her of gatherings with fellow Indian women.
She holds on to these gatherings because in America, she is a prisoner in her own home, lacking social relationships. At the same time, her saris are symbolic of her Indian customs and how she will never stop “wearing” them.
Furthermore, the story ends with Sen attempting to drive to the market to purchase the fish, but she crashes the car in the process. Sen attempting to buy the fish is a symbol for her attempt to finally “buy” into American culture. By ending the story with a crash, Lahiri shows that for some immigrants, assimilation will not be possible. As a result, Sen will stay miserable and uncomfortable in America. While placed in an unfamiliar America, Mrs. Sen proves that a balance between her original heritage and her new culture is not possible for her because she lacks the opportunities to assimilate.
In the short story, “The Third and Final Continent”, the protagonist shows that assimilation to America is possible by eventually achieving a perfect balance between Indian and American Cultures. For his flight to America, he purchased “The Student Guide to North America”, even though he was no longer a student. By reading the guide, the protagonist shows that he is willing to and plans to learn how to adapt to his new society. He later successfully makes adaptations due to his determination to assimilate to America. Although the protagonist proves to welcome American culture, he does not forget his roots in his Indian heritage.
He proves his preservation of Indian customs through food: “In the end I bought a small carton of milk and a box of cornflakes. That was my first meal in America. I ate at my desk. I preferred it to hamburgers or hotdogs… at the time I had yet to consume beef” (Lahiri 88%). Although the protagonist does not show that he is Hindi, he still feels that he should not eat beef, because it is part of his past culture. The protagonist keeps the customs of his past culture because a shared custom gives a sense of unity to other Indians for the protagonist.
By the end of the story, the protagonist recognizes his balance between his two cultures: “We are American citizens now, so that we can collect social security when it is time. Though we visit Calcutta every few years, and bring back more drawstring pajamas and Darjeeling tea, we have decided to grow old today. I work in a small college library. We have a son that attends Harvard University. Mala now longer drapes her sari over her head…” (Lahiri 99%). The balance translates into a more complete life for the protagonist and his family.
By deciding to grow old in America happily, Lahiri shows that assimilation was possible for the protagonist because he had the materials and opportunities to be successful in his assimilation. The protagonist is able to achieve a favorable balance of his original heritage and American culture by eventually assimilating to America, while still keeping some of his original Indian customs. In the short story, “Mrs. Sen”, Mrs. Sen fails to accept American culture by only expressing her Indian side while, the protagonist in “The Third and Final Continent” achieves a balance of both of his cultures.
The assimilations translate into a miserable life for Sen, while the protagonist of “The Third and Final Continent” eventually obtains a complete life. For Sen, it was impossible for her to assimilate, partly because she originally had no intent on mixing cultures and partly because she is an Indian woman, who is not given the opportunities and sources to assimilate to America. The protagonist of “The Third and Final Continent” on the other hand, is able to prove that with the right opportunities, assimilation is possible and favorable. Making such a drastic culture change leaves immigrants in a difficult position to assimilate.