The author of “Interpreter of Maladies”, Jhumpa Lahiri explores a diverse range of themes through her admirable narrative styles and writing techniques. We enter the inner world of characters through her powerful imagery and metaphors. The themes range from identity crises in the post-Partition era, communication gaps, differences, food as a symbol of unity, and family structures. The interlinked stories are evocative of the dispersion of Indians.
In “Temporary Matter” we confront a couple going through a troubled relationship which gets intimate only during power outages. In this story, darkness is a metaphor for the couple’s relationship. It becomes a safe haven to confess confined secrets and we see how this revelation eventually develops into intimacy. For Shukura and Shoba, it becomes a convenient and comfortable way of revealing their sorrowful secrets involving indiscretions. It focuses on personal tragedies that lead to dwindling affections. After the death of their son, Shoba and Shukumar become strangers to each other and it is only during the electricity outage they make their confessions.
A recurrent theme, food, is a symbol of unison. It is important in the sub-continent. Previously, Shoba prepared meals and her home was an open invitation to others during happy times. However, the death of her son changes everything.
The story is written in third-person narrative. We comprehend events through narrator’s eyes. We gain information through Shukumar’s memory. Lahiri has used imagery as a writing tool which makes the story highly influential. With a high amount of suspense, the author keeps us engrossed till the end as we become eager to know what follows next.
The stories “Mr. Pirzada came to Dine” and “A Real Durwan” involve elements of the author’s nostalgia – a memory of a lost time – that instantly arouses our melancholy. They are written in first-person and third-person narratives respectively. In the first story, we gain information of events that unfold through Lilia’s eyes. It explores themes of immigrant experiences and identity issues. Mr. Pirzada and Boori Ma reflect changed times and identities, which are indicative of disconnection, division and a time that has disappeared. The sink is symbolic of Partition, change and alteration. It causes much strife and unrest, just like the Partition. Boori Ma represents of old times and progress.
Lastly, “Interpreter of Maladies” explores themes of communication gaps and cultural differences between Indians and American-Indians. The camera is a metaphor for limited perception and view of life through a lens. Mr. Das is indifferent to his marital problems. The rubble of the Sun Temple of Konark is indicative of crumbling marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Das. The monkeys trigger a threat to the family’s safety and are reflective of Mrs. Das’s unspoken secret that could be detrimental to the family.
The writing style of the author is deceptively simple and straight-forward. The stories do not consist of complex vocabulary and description which makes it simple to follow the author. There are profound sentiments involved and the impact is strong which evoke our pathos through her ingenious utility of metaphors and imagery. It is this brilliant, figurative writing technique that makes us feel like spectators to on-going events.