by Jhumpa Lahiri
How can Shmoop put this delicately? Let's just say, it's easy to dislike Moushumi. A bit pretentious and snobby to begin with, we are ready to write her off completely when she cheats on Gogol after only a year or so of marriage. Not cool.
But let's at least give the girl a chance. We'll walk you through her character, and then you can make the call.
When we first meet Moushumi, she is the bookish, aloof girl who ignores Gogol at his own fourteenth birthday party. She does, however, make a point of declaring, "'I detest American television'" (4.2). Gee, Moushumi, thanks for sharing.
But the next time we meet Moushumi, she is no longer riding such a high horse. Shaken by a messy breakup with her former fiancé, Moushumi has lost a lot of confidence in herself. And when she and Gogol go out on a few dates, she seems nice enough.
A Perfect Match for Gogol?
Maybe nice enough is just what Gogol is looking for. After all, he is reeling, too – from the death of his father. Moushumi reenters his life just when he is looking to reconnect with his Indian roots. Good thing she is Indian, then. She can relate to Gogol's growing up with immigrant parents. In fact, the two of them have quite a few things in common: they're both Indian, they both have artistic tastes, they both have fraught relationships with their foreign names, and they both went to elite universities.
All these things in common make for the perfect couple, right? It turns out that's exactly what makes their marriage a "mistake": "They had both sought comfort in each other, and in their shared world, perhaps for the sake of novelty, or out of the fear that the world is slowly dying." (12.15) They have a "shared world," sure, but Moushumi is also something new for Gogol, who has only dated white women so far. Dating an Indian is new for Moushumi, too.
Moushumi's Messy Marriage
Again, that sounds nice enough. But something is wrong. Not long into their marriage, it's clear that Moushumi is a restless, unsatisfied wife, and as the narrator tells us, "Sometimes she wondered if it was her horror of being married to someone she didn't love that had caused her, subconsciously, to shut herself off." (8.169) Despite all they have in common, Moushumi is clearly not the right girl for Gogol.
In fact, it is implied that Gogol "represents some sort of capitulation or defeat." (9.24) It's as if Moushumi has given up hope of having the life she wanted, so she'll settle for having the life people have told her to have. Gee, how romantic. In the end, it's this very thing that ruins their marriage:
And yet the familiarity that had once drawn her to him has begun to keep her at bay. Though she knows it's not his fault, she can't help but associate him, at times, with a sense of resignation, with the very life she has resisted, has struggled so mightily to leave behind. (9.17)
No wonder she calls up Dimitri Desjardins. Her indiscretion shows us yet another side to Moushumi. She is not afraid to take risks, even if those risks just might end her marriage. She'll do anything to leave behind her Bengali roots and forge a life on her own terms.