Often, avoiding a problem is the worst way to better a problem. The problem will just worsen over time, causing people to grow further apart. In her collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri describes people and their unsolved problems. Each story’s characters’ difficulties involve their issues with their relationships due to miscommunication to show how essential communication is in a relationship. To illustrate the miscommunication in the relationship and thus how essential communication is in a relationship, Lahiri utilizes literary devices.
In one story, she uses characterization to describe a tour guide and his customer who have hazy views on reality. Lahiri describes the conflict of a newly married couple. Another couple’s average household items turn into symbols through the writing. Firstly, throughout the story “Interpreter of Maladies,” the author characterizes the two main characters to show how their miscommunication gets the best of them, making the audience realize communication is essential in a relationship. They misread the others’ signals, which allow their emotions to alter the reality for their own benefit.
Mrs. Mina Das, a tourist, compliments her tour guide, Mr. Kapasi’s weekday interpreter job, saying it is “romantic” and very important, which “reminded him of [his job’s] intellectual challenges” (53) and how it is a “big responsibility” (51). He misinterprets “romantic” and has a perception that her words mean she feels something romantic towards him, and is flirting. She “did not behave in a romantic way toward her husband, and yet she had used the word to describe him” (53). Mr. Kapasi is truly lonely, he thinks about his miscommunication failures with his own wife that he compares to the interactions between Mrs. Das and her husband. There is bickering, … indifference, … [and] protracted silences” (53) in each marriage. Mr. Kapasi sees Mrs. Das as a new hope in his love life, intoxicated by the thought of her. His emotions are driving him. He dreams of a future, about how “[his] friendship [with Mrs. Das] would grow, and flourish” (55). He even went as far calculating how it would take for him to receive a letter from Mrs. Das. Mr. Kapasi thinks what he wants to think, but not what always what is intended.
Mrs. Das feeling anything romantic towards him is a complete illusion caused by this miscommunication. His emotions and loneliness distorts the reality and flaws of Mrs. Das. She is really just interested in him for her own personal benefit, not for romance or to help Mr. Kapasi. Lahiri characterizes Mrs. Das as a selfish and selfabsorbed human being, using her emotions to drive herself as well. She requests Mr. Kapasi to assist her with her difficulties with bearing her secret, but she does not realize Mr. Kapasi misinterpreting her feelings towards her because she herself got the wrong idea of the situation.
“But we do not face a language barrier. What need is there for an interpreter? ‘ ‘That’s not what I mean. I would never have told you otherwise. Don’t you realize what it means for me to tell you? .. I’m tired of feeling so terrible all the time” (65). Mrs. Das only views Mr. Kapasi as a healer, and does not notice how it also “disturbed… [him] to learn that she thought of him as a parent” (64). Plus, she does not bother caring for her children, virtually cutting off communication with them. Mrs. Das is caught up in her perception of reality due to her emotions that she cannot notice others’ real signals. Her communication is very one-sided, only she knows what she truly means. Mrs. Das never truly communicates her true meaning to Mr. Kapasi.
The communication did not even happen; it was a mirage. Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapasi are characterized to show that to have a successful relationship, communication is essential. Second, in the story, “This Blessed House,” Lahiri describes the conflict in communication between newly married Sanjeev and Twinkle discovering Christian paraphernalia inside their new house. The two of them find frustration with each other because they essentially speak different languages. Sanjeev, a mature MIT graduate with a successful job, cannot understand love. In fact, he “did not know what love was, only what he thought it was not” (147). Love essentially is not what he does and how he acts.
Sanjeev most definitely has the book smarts, but he is unable to understand certain emotional qualities Twinkle has. These qualities make “him feel stupid, as if the world contained hidden wonders he could not anticipate, or see” (142). Sanjeev likes predictability, but Twinkle is open and adventurous. She is ready to embrace new things like a curious child. “She was like that, excited and delighted by little things, crossing her fingers before any remotely unpredictable event, like tasting a new flavor of ice cream, or dropping a letter in a mailbox. It was a quality [Sanjeev] did not understand” (142).
Sanjeev cannot speak this childish language that Twinkle excels at. Many of her childish qualities bother him, such as the fact that she is “whatever” about everything. “She seemed content with whatever clothes she found at the front of the closet, with whatever magazine was lying around, with whatever song was on the radio — content yet curious” (141). Sanjeev cares mostly about what others think of him, constantly worrying about the fact he “invited people from the office” (139) to the housewarming and cannot have his colleagues see the statue, or that “”All the neighbors will see [the Virgin Mary statue)” (146) and think they are insane.
He needs others’ approval, but Twinkle is pretty “whatever” about what others think. The conflict between Sanjeev and Twinkle helps convey that communication is crucial in a relationship. Finally, Lahiri uses the potted ivy plant and food as symbols of Shoba and Shukumar’s love throughout the story “A Temporary Matter” to help showcase the miscommunication between the couple. This miscommunication further develops the theme of how essential communication is in a relationship. When the electricity went out, Shukumar went to search for something to put the birthday candles in so he and his wife Shoba could see their dinner.
As he saw no better option, he settled for a potted ivy plant. The plant sat on the windowsill over the sink, but the “soil was so dry that he had to water it first before the candles would stand straight” (10). It was “inches from the tap” (10) but still dry and almost lifeless, much like the couple’s love. Shoba and Shukumar’s love was healthy and lively when they first got married; they were so “thrilled to be married, to be living together in the same house at last, that they would just reach for each other foolishly, more eager to make love than to eat” (10).
Nowadays, the two eat together out of tradition and because they have to. They have become “experts at avoiding each other” (4) and communicate less and less. Often, Shoba and Shukumar are very close to talking to each other, but both inch away from the opportunities they receive. The plant was healthier and less dry than its current state once upon a time, similar to Shoba and Shukumar’s love. Another symbol of the couple’s love that Lahiri uses is food. Food repeats itself throughout Interpreter of Maladies that it is a motif.
Back when the couple’s relationship was at its best, Shoba used to overstock the house’s pantries with food. They had so much food that they had agreed that the stock would “last for their grandchildren to taste” (7). Shoba and Shukumar have “eaten [all of the food] by now” (7). Not only did Shoba treat their house as a home when their pantries were full of food, rather than a hotel like she does now, she also communicated with Shukumar back then. They had lots of love, or rather food, at the beginning of their marriage.
As time went on, however, their food supply diminished, as has their love, to none left. The couple did not bother replenishing or rebuilding their love. By using food and the potted ivy plant, Lahiri has increasingly developed her theme, helping the audience understand how necessary communication is for a successful relationship. In conclusion, Lahiri helps display miscommunication in relationships to show how essential communication is through literary devices.
Characterization is used to portray a tour guide and his customer whose emotions drive them. Conflict surges between a newly married couple moving into their new home due to Lahiri’s descriptions. Lahiri transforms objects typically disregarded as anything special become symbolic. Communication brings people closer together. Miscommunication can sever a relationship or hinder the relationship from even occurring. Communicating frequently will be of absolute benefit to one in the future, and the people one has on their side will be assisted in turn.