Interpreter of Maladies

Suggested Essay Questions

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  1. 1

    Why is the book named after the particular story, "Interpreter of Maladies"?

    The characters found in the nine stories of the book all suffer from maladies. Some seek remedy for matters of the heart and others are lost to circumstance. Mrs. and Mrs. Das, Shoba and Shukumar and Sanjeev and Twinkle face problems within their respective marriages. Boori Ma and Bibi Haldar live on the fringes of society, grasping for hope. Mr. Kapasi, Miranda, Eliot and Mrs. Sen struggle to find their places in the world. Each character is grappling with issues of identity, either directly or indirectly related to the immigrant experience. To some degree, Lahiri herself is the interpreter of maladies, laying bare universal themes of loneliness and isolation.

  2. 2

    Discuss the significance of Partition as a theme in Interpreter of Maladies.

    Both Mr. Pirzada and Boori Ma are victims of the partition. Boori Ma, sweeping steps by day, is uprooted from her home and spends her days cataloguing the misfortunes and losses that arose from her refugee status. Mr. Pirzada, teaching on the other side of the world, worries about his wife and daughters who are endangered by the escalation of war in 1971. Boori Ma is exiled by the residents of the building because she is a reminder of the possibility of failure in life. Mr. Pirzada is accepted by Lilia's family in America and Lilia remarks that he is not different. Only an imaginary line has decreed him different.

  3. 3

    Why does Mrs. Das reveal to Mr. Kapasi that she is not Bobby's father?

    Mrs. Das is looking for a way to alleviate her guilt. She feels a connection with Mr. Kapasi, wrongly assuming that his job as a translator for a doctor gives him healing powers. Mrs. Das wants to believe she can be cured, as Mr. Kapasi wants to believe that Mrs. Das can change the direction of his disappointing life. Spiritually, Mrs. Das is removed from the land of her ancestors and seeks comfort in Mr. Kapasi because he represents a life that she cannot know, one of honesty and truth.

  4. 4

    Discuss the immigrant experience as explored in the collection Interpreter of Maladies.

    All characters in Lahiri's stories are wrestling with identity. Many identity issues arise from the divide between old and new countries, customs, and ways of life. For some, the transition is natural. The narrator of the Third and Final Continent loves his adopted land and decides to grow old in New England. For Mrs. Sen, the separation from Calcutta is too great to bear. Mr. Pirzada and Boori Ma are both victims of the Partition - to varying degrees. The lingering questions of identity cause trouble in their lives.

  5. 5

    Do you believe Boori Ma's tales of her luxurious life? Does it matter if she was telling the truth?

    Boori Ma's untrustworthy tales are used as an excuse to cast her out at the end of A Real Durwan. A victim of partition, Boori Ma maintains that the riches of her life couldn't be dreamed of by the residents of the building where she sweeps. Her ever-changing anecdotes can be read as either real experiences eroded by memory or old age, or flat-out lies told in an effort to protect herself from the harsh realities.

  6. 6

    What does "sexy" mean in the story of the same name?

    Sexy can mean a lot of different things to different people. It is a subjective feeling. Sexy is, at first, a compliment paid to Miranda by her married lover, Dev. It rings of a maturity that Miranda craves. Later, Rohin, the son of a wronged woman, tells Miranda that the word means loving someone you don't know. His father met a sexy woman on a plane and loves someone other than his mother. For Miranda, the truth behind the childlike definition confirms her guilt and the impending end of the affair.

  7. 7

    Food is a recurring motif in Lahiri's stories. Choose a few examples and discuss their significance.

    Love is expressed through cooking throughout the collection. Twinkle's meal for Sanjeev - prepared on the fly with the vinegar he told her to throw out - represents both their butting heads and also her ingenuity. Her use of the unwanted ingredient proves to Sanjeev that her point of view is equally valid. That the stew is delicious helps to put Sanjeev at ease about his decision. Mrs. Sen's obsession with fresh fish is an effort to keep Calcutta alive but also, by denigrating the American product, she use it as an excuse to distance herself from the country. The meals shared by Mr. Pirzada and Lilia's parents reveal their similarities despite the lingering effects of Partition. The intimacy in the shared meals between Shoba and Shukumar rekindle their passion and allow them to be honest for the first time in ages, even to the detriment of their marriage. Food is a component of femininity in The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. Laxmi's Hot Mix is deemed too spicy for Miranda.

  8. 8

    Lahiri descriptions of the environment often evoke a character's internal state. Choose some examples and discuss.

    In Interpreter of Maladies, the Sun Temple is filled with rubble and appears on the bed of a river which has long since dried. This is indicative of the crumbling marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Das. At the close of Mrs. Sen's, Eliot assures his mother that he is fine while staring at choppy grey waves, signifying his inner turbulence. The thawing snow at the end of their nights of darkness signify the thawing of communication between Shukumar and Shoba.

  9. 9

    Marriage is represented in many different ways in Interpreter of Maladies. What do you think is Lahiri's overall view of marriage.?

    The Mahler piece that Sanjeev listens to encapsulates the many disparate attributes of marriage - happiness, love, struggle, and tragedy. Sanjeev's fledgling relationship with Twinkle is off to a rocky start because they are so new to one another. Shukumar and Shoba are torn apart by silence. Communication is viewed as key to a healthy marriage. Arranged marriages, common in India, have differing results across the stories. Mr. Kapasi suffers a bad match while the narrator of The Third and Final Continent discovers a true companion in Mala. Overall, there is no clear answer, but Lahiri compellingly demonstrates that all marriages, arranged or not, are unique and dependent on the efforts and communication of the individuals.

  10. 10

    Why is the moon landing so important to Mrs. Croft? Why is it so important to the story?

    In The Third and Final Continent, the narrator measures his time in weeks over the summer of 1969 while awaiting the arrival of his wife. The narrator is new to the country - these weeks are the first six of his life in America. Mrs. Croft is an astonishing 103 years old. The narrator can barely comprehend what life must have been like at the time when she was born. The walk on the moon, then considered to be one of the greatest achievements of mankind, must have been unthinkable in Mrs. Croft's time. The event is a wonderful testament to human advancement. That Mrs. Croft was able to experience something so major within her lifetime fills her with awe. Likewise, the more mundane but still powerful achievement of the narrator astonishes him. Life is measured in both small steps and leaps and bounds - all to be celebrated.