Analysis of "Mrs. Sen's"
Mrs. Sen, the eponymous character of Lahiri’s story demonstrates the power that physical objects have over the human experience. During the entire story, Mrs. Sen is preoccupied with the presence or lack of material objects that she once had. Whether it is fish from her native Calcutta or her special vegetable cutting blade, she clings to the material possessions that she is accustomed to, while firmly rejecting new experiences such as canned fish or even something as mundane as driving a car. While her homesickness is certainly understandable given her lack of meaningful social connections, her item-centric nostalgia only accentuates the fact that the people she meets in America are no barrier to her acclimation. The man at the fish market takes the time to call Mrs. Sen and reserve her special mmuff. The policeman who questions Mrs. Sen after her automobile accident does not indict her. For all intents and purposes, the people in the story make it easy for Mrs. Sen to embrace life in America. But despite this, Mrs. Sen refuses to assimilate to any degree, continuing to wrap herself in saris, serving Indian canapés to Eliot’s mother, and putting off the prospect of driving. By living her life vicariously through remembered stories imprinted on her blade, her saris, and her grainy aerograms, Mrs. Sen resists assimilation through the power of material objects and the meaning they hold for her.
Analysis of "The Third and Final Continent"
In contrast to depictions of resistance to Indian culture found in several of the stories in Lahiri’s collection, "The Third And Final Continent" portrays a relatively positive story of the Indian-American experience. In this story, the obstacles and hardships that the protagonist must overcome are much more tangible, such as learning to stomach a diet of cornflakes and bananas, or boarding in a cramped YMCA. The protagonist’s human interactions demonstrate a high degree of tolerance and even acceptance of Indian culture on the part of the Americans he meets. Mrs. Croft makes a point of commenting on the protagonist’s sari-wrapped wife, calling her “a perfect lady” (195). Croft’s daughter Helen also remarks that Cambridge is “a very international city,” hinting at the reason why the protagonist is met with a general sense of acceptance. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 into law, abolishing several immigration quotas. This piece of legislation resulted in a massive surge of immigration from Asian countries, including India during the late 1960s and 1970s. In particular, this allowed many Asians to come to the US under the qualification of being a “professional, scientist, or artist of exceptional ability” contributing to the reputation of Asian-Americans as being intelligent, mannered, and a model minority. In this story, the only reason the narrator even meets Mrs. Croft is because he is an employee of MIT, a venerable institution of higher learning. Whereas prior to the INS Act of 1965, Asians were often seen as a yellow menace that was only tolerable because of their small numbers (0.5% of the population), by the time the Asian immigration boom tapered off in the 1990s, their reputation as a model minority had been firmly cemented, building a reputation for Asian Americans of remarkable educational and professional success, serving as the cultural backdrop in Lahiri’s The Third and Final Continent. By ending on a cultural tone of social acceptance and tolerance, Lahiri suggests that the experience of adapting to American society is ultimately achievable.