Class and Community in Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies

Jackie Large '05, and Erin Quinn '04, English 365, Northwestern University

In two of the stories set in India, Lahiri focuses specifically on the plight of the lower classes (usually in that section of the social strata because of forced diaspora and political struggle.) She depicts the community as having an integral function when it comes to the lower classes making decisions and creating, within themselves, smaller hierarchies. The following questions deal with the depiction and function of class and community in "A Real Durwan" and "The Treatment of Bibi Heldar."

"A Real Durwan"

The opinions and generalizations made by the community in "A Real Durwan" have a great effect on how Boori Ma acts and interprets her own identity and class status. Much of her eccentric behavior is excused because of her age. "'Boori Ma's mouth is full of ashes, but she is the product of changing times' was the refrain of old Mr. Chatterjee" (73).

The generation gap and the fictionalization of a previous lifestyle are underlined in "A Real Durwan." What does "the product of changing times" mean in this context, and is it an effective explanation of Boori Ma's ficitionalizations? How do class and the community function in regards to Boori Ma -- is she solely the product of changing times, or do those factors contribute also?

"What this building needs is a real durwan" (82). A durwan is a gatekeeper; with this in mind, what is Mr. Chatterjee suggesting about Boori Ma's fate? Do the residents correctly interpret what he is suggesting, or do they map their own wants and prejudices onto the situation?

"The Treatment of Bibi Heldar"

"The Treatment of Bibi Heldar" tells the story of a young woman with an unexplainable disease. Bibi is subjected to numerous doctors and healers and their countless remedies for her illness. Bibi's life is described as "an encounter with one fruitless antidote after another" (159). Within these fruitless antidotes a direct connection can be made between Bibi's illness and the way she is treated by her family and community as well as the doctors./p>

What is the function of mediums, faith healers and natural healers in "The Treatment of Bibi Heldar?"

How does the community function in "The Treatment of Bibi Heldar?" How does it help her define her own identity and her identity as woman? Does it do more harm or good?

Postcolonial India OV Diasporas literature

Last modified 7 December 2002