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Interpreter of Maladies Summary and Analysis

by Jhumpa Lahiri

This Blessed House

SUMMARY

When moving into a new house, newlyweds Twinkle and Sanjeev find Christian icons everywhere. The first is a porcelain effigy of Jesus found next to a bottle of malt vinegar left in the kitchen by the previous owners. Sanjeev tells his wife to throw both away, reminding her that they are not Christian. He feels that he has had to remind Twinkle of the obvious several times when moving in. But Twinkle is attached to the figurine and places it on the mantle – which Sanjeev notices needs dusting. Over the course of the week, Twinkle finds more items and places each on the mantle. Sanjeev doesn’t understand why his wife is so charmed by the snow globes, statuettes and 3D postcards.

By the end of the week, Twinkle grows dismayed that no other objects are hiding about. Then she finds a tacky poster of a crying Jesus and, with delight, announces she will hang it up. Sanjeev, unpacking while listening to Mahler, puts his foot down. Twinkle pushes back and decides to hang the poster in her study behind the door so it will remain hidden during their housewarming party. Sanjeev sighs and thinks about the piece he is listening to – a testament to love. From the bathrrom, Twinkle tells him she finds the music boring.

They bicker about the mantle on their way to Manhattan for a night, Twinkle in high heels and now taller than Sanjeev. He doesn’t understand why she is content and curious about everything. He doesn’t understand why she doesn’t unpack or clean or dust as she is home all day working on a dissertation. Three days later, he comes home to a delicious fish stew concocted out of thin air and with the vinegar Sanjeev implored Twinkle to throw away. The bread basket is covered with a cloth bearing Christ’s image. Twinkle calms him by saying that the house is blessed.

Sanjeev marvels at her behavior. Nicknamed after a nursery rhyme, she has yet to lose her childlike endearment. They had only known each other for four months. Their parents, old friends, arranged a meeting at the birthday party of one of the daughters in their circle. Sanjeev, in California on business, began an intense long-distance relationship with Twinkle after that night. They married in India shortly thereafter and Twinkle moved to Connecticut – where she knew no one. Sanjeev found the house before leaving for the wedding and determined that he and his bride should live there forever.

A week before the housewarming party, Twinkle and Sanjeev rake the lawn of the golden leaves. Across the yard, Twinkle screams and Sanjeev runs over, thinking she has found a dead animal or snake. Instead, she has found a bust of the Virgin Mary. She screams with delight and insists on keeping it on the property. But Sanjeev is worried about what the neighbors will think, as they are Hindu and not Christian. Twinkle doesn’t understand. Sanjeev, feeling as if he is getting nowhere with this woman he barely knows and yet shares his life with, wonders if they love one another. Sanjeev only knows for certain that love is not what he had in his old life – full of takeout meals and classical CDs arriving by mail. Later, with Twinkle in the bath, Sanjeev declares he is going to throw out the statue. She rises up and marches downstairs in a towel. She tells Sanjeev she hates him, then collapses in his arms in tears. The statue ends up in an alcove out of sight from the main road but still visible to all who visit their home.

The night of the housewarming party, Twinkle avoids removing the objects from the mantle and Sanjeev hopes his guests – mostly colleagues – will notice the bones of the house more. When the guests arrive, Twinkle charms them easily. Sanjeev is asked if he is Christian, but it is not as big of an issue as it appears. His friends are impressed by Twinkle, but he still feels a bit lost. He steals a moment alone in the kitchen. Replenishing the champagne from the cellar, he hears Twinkle explain the figurines and how each day is like a treasure hunt.

Soon, she mobilizes the party to search the attic, much to Sanjeev’s dismay. While everyone is in the attic, he fantasizes removing the ladder and truly having the house to himself. He thinks of sweeping the figurines off of the mantle and into the trash in silence. Sanjeev finds Twinkle’s discarded shoes and places them in the doorway of their master bedroom. For the first time since they married, the shoes create a pang of anticipation in Sanjeev. He thinks of Twinkle slipping her soles into the shoes, touching up her lipstick and rushing to hand out their guests’ coats at the end of the night. It reminds him of the anticipation he would feel before one of their long talks when she was still living in California.

Twinkle’s voice rings out. The party has found an enormous silver bust of Jesus in the attic. She asks if they can put it on the mantle, just for the night. Sanjeev hates it, especially because she loves it so much, and he knows it will never find a home in her study as she promises. He knows she will have to explain to their guests to come, in their many years together. She rejoins the party and he follows.

ANALYSIS

This Blessed House is another exploration of love and marriage and the effects of communication. Sanjeev and Twinkle are newlyweds who have known each other for only a short time. Though their marriage is not an arranged one in the traditional sense, they are matched by their parents and wed after only a brief, long-distance courtship. It is this long-distance aspect to their relationship that both helps and hurts the marriage. Twinkle and Sanjeev do not know each other that well and both fail to live up to the other’s expectations of what a husband or wife should be. Marriage in Interpreter of Maladies is often fraught with loneliness. Here, the communication breakdown that happens between the couple exacerbates Sanjeev’s loneliness.

Ultimately, the pangs of anticipation that Sanjeev feels when she would visit from California are revealed to be the sparks of love at the end of the story. Throughout, Sanjeev doubts their connection, commitment, and even the nature of love. But he is a person who has never experienced love and, in some ways, his story is his coming of age. Twinkle is more open to contentment and wonder – which Sanjeev labels as “childish.” The fight that Twinkle initiates actually starts a dialogue. In the end, there is acceptance on Sanjeev’s behalf of his wife’s idiosyncrasies and one feels that they have happy years in their future, like Mala and her husband and unlike Mr. and Mrs. Das.

The religious iconography irks Sanjeev for several reasons. First, Twinkle’s obsession with them signifies their differing personalities. For Twinkle, the “treasure hunt” is a game of discovery. For Sanjeev, the leftover artifacts are mere trash. Sanjeev is concerned about how the pieces will reflect on him. Trying to impress his coworkers is made difficult when he is concerned about what the items say about him. Sanjeev bristles a bit when he has to explain that there are Christians in India. He does not want to have to explain things relating to his culture as he is trying to assimilate. He introduces his wife under her given name of Tamina rather than Twinkle because he is embarrassed to appear as anything other than a responsible American. In the end, his acceptance of the items signal an acceptance of his wife, her idiosyncrasies, and the cultural differences that should be celebrated rather than hidden.

All manner of Indian cuisine carry different emotions in This Blessed House. The stew that Twinkle concocts using the vinegar that Sanjeev urges be thrown out ends up delicious – evidence that her way of doing things may not be wrong after all. This meal can be compared to the take-out Indian meals that Sanjeev would pick up in his bachelorhood. Those meals were both comforting and lonely. At the housewarming party, Sanjeev’s Indian male friends join him in the kitchen to snack on the trays of homemade rice that he has prepared. That togetherness occurs over food known to all is indicative of the comfort factor of one’s native food as seen in Lahiri’s stories.

Objects also carry significance and reflect the emotions throughout the story. In particular, the weeping Jesus poster that Twinkle insists on keeping is a hit at the party. Twinkle does compromise and hangs the poster on the back of the door to her study but then ends up pointing the poster out to guests, to Sanjeev’s dismay. Her willingness to compromise is undone by her going against his wishes. The Virgin Mary statue found in the garden precipitates a fight between the couple. Twinkle’s poetry book falls in to the bath, signifying both her carelessness and her upset. But the fight does unlock the stalemate between the two.

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