what social, historical and cultural values are embodied in the story?
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Assimilation of Indians to America is one of the overarching themes in Interpreter of Maladies. Lilia and her parents are on either side of a divide. Identity issues are typically compounded generation to generation. Though Lilia’s parents remember their own experiences in India vividly, Lilia is an American and therefore a step removed from the culture of her parents. Lilia’s father is dismayed that she is ignorant of current events in India. Lilia does, in fact, attempt to study the history of Pakistan but she is unable to do so on school time. Lilia does have an interest in her parents’ world, but she is fully enmeshed in, to Mr. Pirzada, unthinkable customs. Halloween, a purely American holiday, mystifies Mr. Pirzada.
Customs shared by Lilia and her parents are also shared by Mr. Pirzada. From Lilia’s perspective, the division of Pakistanis and Indians is arbitrary. When her father tells her that Mr. Pirzada is no longer Indian, she inspects him and his actions for clues of difference. This echoes her own relationship with her father, who worries that her American education is making her no longer Indian. However, America allows for Mr. Pirzada and Lilia’s father to dine together, worry together and laugh together. Assimilation is seen as both positive and negative.
There is no mention of religion in Lilia’s family, though it can be assumed that her family is Hindu since they are unlike Mr. Pirzada. But Lili gives in to a secular type of prayer with the candy that Mr. Pirzada gives to her. Like traditions, rituals can expose belief systems of a person. Since Lilia, who says she doesn’t pray, performs a ritual to keep the Pirzada girls safe, it can be assumed that she does not typically practice the religion of her parents. Lilia can be read as a secular American, again removed from the culture of her parents.