Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies Marriage

By Jhumpa Lahiri

Marriage

They wept together, for the things they now knew. (ATM 104)

The last sentence of the first story—not exactly uplifting. All the painful secrets of their marriage have been revealed. The book seems pretty pessimistic about love and marriage in general, although this definitely changes once you get to the last story (so stick around for that one).

She ran a hand through her hair, bobbed to a suitable length for her part-time job as a bank teller. "How can you possibly expect her to know about Partition? Put those nuts away."

"But what does she learn about the world?" My father rattled the cashew can in his hand.

"What is she learning?" (WMPCTD 13-14)

We just want to point out that Lilia's father doesn't put "those nuts away" like his wife wants him to. Is he being passive aggressive or does he just not hear his wife? Which is worse?

After marrying so young she was overwhelmed by it all, having a child so quickly, and nursing, and warming up bottles of milk and testing their temperature against her wrist while Raj was at work, dressed in sweaters and corduroy pants, teaching his students about rocks and dinosaurs. Raj never looked cross or harried, or plump as she had become after the first baby. (IM 142)

Marriage is definitely drudgery for Mrs. Das. She resents her husband because she is stuck at home feeling overwhelmed while he is out in public, dressed for work and interacting with adults.

"What are we supposed to do with two basins in a two-bedroom flat?" Mrs. Dalal demanded. She had already been sulking over her lemon peels. "Who ever heard of it? I still cook on kerosene. You refuse to apply for a phone. And I have yet to see the fridge you promised when we married. You expect two basins to make up for all that?" (ARD 41)

Why does Mr. Dalal get two basins? Why doesn't he spend his money on something else that they actually need? Can you feel Mrs. Dalal's frustration?

He would go to the bathroom and brush his teeth with his index finger, something he told her all Indians knew how to do, to get rid of the smoke in his mouth. When she kissed him good-bye she smelled herself sometimes in his hair. But she knew that his excuse, that he'd spent the afternoon jogging, allowed him to take a shower when he got home, first thing. (S 55)

Oh the things a husband does to erase any signs of an affair…How thoughtful of him. (We're being sarcastic of course.)

Eliot looked through the tiny window in the camera and waited for Mr. and Mrs. Sen to move closer together, but they didn't. They didn't hold hands or put their arms around each other's waists. Both smiled with their mouths closed, squinting into the wind, Mrs. Sen's red sari leaping like flames under her coat. (MS 90)

We know it's easy to look at this image of Mr. and Mrs. Sen standing apart as a sign of their lack of intimacy, but think about how Mr. and Mrs. Sen show their closeness in other ways. They're not the perfect couple, but it doesn't mean they don't understand each other in the ways couples often do. And maybe it's cultural. Maybe PDAs aren't really an Indian thing.

He thought perhaps Twinkle would call for his assistance, but he was not summoned. He looked about the hallway and to the landing below, at the champagne glasses and half-eaten samosas and napkins smeared with lipstick abandoned in every corner, on every available surface. Then he noticed that Twinkle, in her haste, had discarded her shoes altogether, for they lay by the foot of the ladder, black patent-leather mules with heels like golf tees, open toes, and slightly soiled silk labels on the instep where her soles had rested. He placed them in the doorway of the master bedroom so that no one would trip when they descended. (TBH 111)

In this passage, Sanjeev is described more like a maid than a husband. Things that tip us off: "he was not summoned" (like he's at Twinkle's beck-and-call?); the way he surveys the messiness of the room; how thoughtful he is to put Twinkle's shoes away.

Apparently some activity was what the poor girl needed all along. For the first time we imagined the contours below her housecoat, and attempted to appraise the pleasures she could offer a man. For the first time we noted the clarity of her complexion, the length and languor of her eyelashes, the undeniably elegant armature of her hands. "They say it's the only hope. A case of overexcitement. They say"—and here we paused, blushing—"relations will calm her blood." Needless to say, Bibi was delighted by the diagnosis, and began at once to prepare for conjugal life. (TBH 9-10)

We don't think we need to tell you that "relations" is a euphemism for sex here. And in this culture, "relations" were only possible within marriage, so Bibi begins to prepare for wedded life.

My wife's name was Mala. The marriage had been arranged by my older brother and his wife. I regarded the proposition with neither objection nor enthusiasm. It was a duty expected of me, as it was expected of every man. She was the daughter of a schoolteacher in Beleghata. I was told that she could cook, knit, embroider, sketch landscapes, and recite poems by Tagore, but these talents could not make up for the fact that she did not possess a fair complexion, and so a string of men had rejected her to her face. She was twenty-seven, an age when her parents had begun to fear that she would never marry, and so they were willing to ship their only child halfway across the world in order to save her from spinsterhood. (TFC 38)

It's pretty easy to view an arranged marriage as a questionable deal for the bride-to-be (can you imagine moving halfway across the world for a guy you don't even know?), but it doesn't seem like such a fun thing for the groom-to-be either. Marriage as a "duty"? He doesn't even question it.

I like to think of that moment in Mrs. Croft's parlor as the moment when the distance between Mala and me began to lessen. Although we were not yet fully in love, I like to think of the months that followed as a honeymoon of sorts. (TFC 149)

Here's a counter-example to all that hot, steamy love in "Sexy" or the depressing marriage in "A Temporary Matter." Our narrator shows us that love can exist in a marriage that isn't first built on passion and sex, and, in fact, an arranged marriage like the one between the narrator and Mala can turn out stronger and happier than a typical Western marriage. Here's what some experts say about that.

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