Kevin M. Scrima
Ethnic Fiction—Professor Murabito
Journal Entry: Interpreter of Maladies
In “Interpreter of Maladies,” by Jhumpa Lahiri, one of the themes that ties the story together is family, connectedness, and truth.
Mrs. Das, at the very start of the story, bickers with her husband about who should take Tina to the toilet, but only when “Mr. Das pointed out that he had given the girl her bath the night before,” (43) does she relent. Instead of being a mother, she is trying to get out of her mother duties. She is so disconnected from who she is, her family, and her own maternal nature that she does “not hold the little girl’s hand as they walked to the rest room” (43). This sentence is at the end of the first paragraph, almost as an obvious aside, lingering, to point out that they should be holding hands, but the lack of contact shows that they are emotionally far away and disconnected. Even Mr. Das seems more concerned with his children than Mrs. Das does when he says, “Bobby, make sure that your brother doesn’t do anything stupid” (44). However, Mr. Das “appeared to have no intention of intervening” (44). Perhaps Mr. Das feels disconnected from the family too, or something tells him that Bobby isn’t his child, unconsciously, and so he isn’t affectionate toward him.
Even Mr. Das and Mrs. Das are disconnected as father and mother. Mr. Kapasi observes that the two seem odd. For instance, “Mr. Kapasi found it strange that Mr. Das should refer to his wife by her first name when speaking to the little girl” (45). A normal father would usually say “mom” or “mommy” when speaking with his children, not call her by her first name. And it seems that Mrs. Das doesn’t care that she and her family seem apart; perhaps that’s how far she has distanced herself from her maternal instincts. An example is when Mr. Kapasi observes her walking back to the car: “Mr. Kapasi heard one of the shirtless men sing a phrase from a popular Hindi love song as Mrs. Das walked back to the car, but she did not appear to understand the words of the song, for she did not express irritation, or embarrassment, or react in any other way to the man’s declarations” (46). It can be assumed since they visit their parents who live in India every couple years, that they must know a basic understanding of the language, or at least the intonations. One doesn’t need to know the language to understand the tone of voice; she most likely was able to discern that his song was affectionate and lovey-dovey, but felt neutral to his proclamations, being not overtly happy about it but not irritated either. Maybe by the fact that she doesn’t understand the words of the song, she doesn’t understand love at all. And throughout the story, excepting the end when she redeems herself as a mother, in a way, by saving Bobby, she doesn’t know what love is.
After Mrs. Das asks, “How long’s the trip,” she sighs at the reply, of which Mr. Kapasi observes that “Mrs. Das gave an impatient sigh, as if she had been traveling her whole life without pause” (47). In fact, this probably is true, because Mrs. Das would have at least paused to reflect on where her life is going: She had a bastard child (Bobby) and has hidden this secret throughout her whole marriage. Mrs. Das is living a lie. She has no concern for herself or her family, not even in the safety of her child: “[T]he little girl began to play with the lock on her side, clicking it with some effort forward and backward, but Mrs. Das said nothing to stop her. She sat a bit slouched at one end of the back seat, not offering her puffed rice to anyone” (47). Mrs. Das wouldn’t seem to car if the unlocked door opened and her daughter fell out of the car. She’s lackadaisical, passive, and very self-centered, stuck in her own world. She doesn’t bother to share her food and happiness with her family. She doesn’t even partake in mother-daughter bonding: “Mrs. Das reached into her straw bag and pulled out a bottle of colorless nail polish… ‘Mine too. Mommy, do mine too.’ ‘Leave me alone,’ Mrs. Das said, blowing on her nail turning her body slightly. ‘You’re making me mess up.’” The little girl occupied herself by buttoning and unbuttoning a pinafore on the doll’s plastic body” (48). Mrs. Das is so focused on petty shit that doesn’t matter, like painting a nail, she’s ignoring things that actually matter, a human being, and her own daughter at that. She wants nothing to do with her daughter by saying, “Leave me alone,” which is sad to hear a mother say to her daughter. Consequently, the little girl had to play alone by herself, occupying herself with a doll, something fake (an imitation of a human being) instead of a real human being. The only reason the little girl is able to play with the doll is because it’s inactive and soft, easily bending to her will. Her mother is too aggressive and even hostile, a hard parent that won’t bend to her daughter’s wishes.
All in all, Mrs. Das is a crappy mother and wife, and overall, a bad human being in general. However, she does redeem herself and shows hope when she saves Bobby’s life and takes a moment to care about him.