Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies Dissatisfaction

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In the beginning he had believed that it would pass, that he and Shoba would get through it all somehow. She was only thirty-three. She was strong, on her feet again. But it wasn't a consolation. It was often nearly lunchtime when Shukumar would finally pull himself out of bed and head downstairs to the coffeepot, pouring out the extra bit Shoba left for him, along with an empty mug, on the countertop. (ATM 13)

That empty mug on the countertop seems like a pretty good sign of the mutual emptiness both Shoba and Shukumar feel about themselves, their marriage, and their family in general.

"Isn't this an air-conditioned car?" she asked, still blowing on her hand. The window on Tina's side was broken and could not be rolled down.

"Quit complaining," Mr. Das said. "It isn't so hot."

"I told you to get a car with air-conditioning," Mrs. Das continued. "Why do you do this, Raj, just to save a few stupid rupees. What are you saving us, fifty cents?" (IM 46-48)

Suffice it to say, Mrs. Das is a whiner. Nothing seems to satisfy her, not her kids, not her marriage, not her life in America. Maybe this is why she looks for a magical solution to her problems by confessing her sins to Mr. Kapasi.

"About what I've just told you. About my secret, and about how terrible it makes me feel. I feel terrible looking at my children, and at Raj, always terrible. I have terrible urges, Mr. Kapasi, to throw things away. One day I had the urge to throw everything I own out the window, the television, the children, everything. Don't you think it's unhealthy?" (Interpreter of Maladies 152)

This is Mrs. Das going on and on about her "malady" to Mr. Kapasi. Notice how she says "terrible" so many times? Makes us wonder whether she actually enjoys how horrible she is and how awful she feels. Do you think that some people are really invested in being unhappy? That they are getting something out of it?

Among the wives, however, resentment quickly brewed. Standing in line to brush their teeth in the mornings, each grew frustrated with having to wait her turn, for having to wipe the faucets after every use, and for not being able to leave her own soap and toothpaste tube on the basin's narrow periphery. The Dalals had their own sink; why did the rest of them have to share? (ARD 51)

Oh, the lure of private property…the wives can't be satisfied with what the Dalals have given the community. Can anything really satisfy the wives? It sounds like this might be the beginning of an endless striving more and more. A game of "keeping up with the Dalals."

As she turned the pages she imagined the quarrels Rohin had overheard in his house in Montreal. "Is she pretty?" his mother would have asked his father, wearing the same bathrobe she'd worn for weeks, her own pretty face turning spiteful. "Is she sexy?" His father would deny it at first, try to change the subject. "Tell me," Rohin's mother would shriek, "tell me if she's sexy." In the end his father would admit that she was, and his mother would cry and cry, in a bed surrounded by a tangle of clothes, her eyes puffing up like bullfrogs. "How could you," she'd ask, sobbing, "how could you love a woman you don't even know?" (S 171)

This is a significant scene even though it takes place in Miranda's imagination. This is the first time Miranda fully imagines what it's like to be in a dead-end marriage with a cheating husband. Neither husband nor wife finds satisfaction with each other, let alone happiness. Good thing Miranda drops Dev soon after like the bad habit he is. Who wants to be satisfied with so little?

She told Eliot to put on his shoes and his jacket, and then she called Mr. Sen at the university. Eliot tied his sneakers by the bookcase and waited for her to join him, to choose from her row of slippers. After a few minutes he called out her name. When Mrs. Sen did not reply, he untied his sneakers and returned to the living room, where he found her on the sofa, weeping. Her face was in her hands and tears dripped through her fingers. Through them she murmured something about a meeting Mr. Sen was required to attend. Slowly she stood up and rearranged the cloth over the telephone. Eliot followed her, walking for the first time in his sneakers across the pear-colored carpet. She stared at him. Her lower eyelids were swollen into thin pink crests. "Tell me, Eliot. Is it too much to ask?" (MS 64)

Is it too much to ask? Is Mrs. Sen being unreasonably demanding to expect Mr. Sen to drive her to the fish market and pick up some fresh fish in the middle of his work day? After all, she did give up everything to move halfway across the world to be with him. Tough call—what do you think?

He was getting nowhere with her, with this woman whom he had known for only four months and whom he had married, this woman with whom he now shared his life. He thought with a flicker of regret of the snapshots his mother used to send him from Calcutta, of prospective brides who could sing and sew and season lentils without consulting a cookbook. Sanjeev had considered these women, had even ranked them in order of preference, but then he had met Twinkle. (TBH 62)

She does cook, even if it's not in a traditional way. Seriously—what's not to like?

Within a month Bibi had recuperated from the birth, and with the money that Haldar had left her, she had the storage room white-washed, and placed padlocks on the window and doors. Then she dusted the shelves and arranged the leftover potions and lotions, selling Haldar's old inventory at half price….In this manner she raised the boy and ran a business in the storage room, and we did what we could to help. (TBH 52)

You would think that getting raped and then getting pregnant from the rape would be more than enough reason for Bibi to check out from the world or complain, for the rest of her days, about her life. But Bibi totally surprises—she does the opposite of what you'd expect. Instead of griping, she gets down to business—for real—and makes a solid life for herself and her kid.

I was not touched by her words. We had spent only a handful of days in each other's company. And yet we were bound together; for six weeks she had worn an iron bangle on her wrist, and applied vermilion powder to the part in her hair, to signify to the world that she was a bride. In those six weeks I regarded her arrival as I would the arrival of a coming month, or season—something inevitable, but meaningless at the time. (TFC 78)

Here's our last narrator, at first emotionally unaffected by his new wife, Mala. Maybe starting out dissatisfied is actually a good thing? Maybe if you have no expectations, like our narrator, there's a higher likelihood of things turning out better than you expected?

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