Symbolism in Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies

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

Throughout Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri uses food as a symbol (see "Food Metaphor in Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies" by Dr. Asha Choubey). The following questions deal with food and other symbols Lahiri explores in her short stories.

"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"

Mr. Pirzada gives Lilia, the story's narrator, a gift of candy every time he comes to visit; she hides it away and doesn't eat it until one night after discovering that Mr. Pirzada's family is in danger.

Eventually I took a square of white chocolate out of the box, and unwrapped it, and then I did something I had never done before. I put the chocolate in my mouth, letting it soften until the last possible moment, and then as I chewed it slowly, I prayed that Mr. Pirzada's family was safe and sound. [32]

How are food and prayer intertwined here? What does it say about the nature of prayer, and Lilia's own understanding of the situation in East Pakistan, that she squirrels away the candy and eats it only during prayer? What is the significance of Lilia stopping her prayer ritual once Mr. Pirzada has discontinued his visits?

"Mrs. Sen's"

Mrs. Sen involved Eliot, the young narrator of the story, in an elaborate food-slicing ritual in which she uses an Indian blade:

Instead of a knife, she used a blade that curved like the prow of a Viking ship. Each afternoon Mrs. Sen lifted the blade and locked it into place, so that it met the base at an angle. Facing the sharp edge without ever touching it, she took whole vegetables between her hands and hacked them apart. [114]

What is the function of the blade ritual when Mrs. Sen performs it? What is the significance of each of the elements -- the newspapers, the role of Eliot, the reminiscences?

Postcolonial India OV Diasporas literature

Last modified 7 December 2002