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Mrs. Sen’s
The process of assimilation if very difficult for Mrs. Sen. Unlike the narrator of The Third and Final Continent or even Lilia’s parents, Mrs. Sen finds it impossible to integrate into her new country. Her refusal to learn how to drive is the culmination of her distress. Her frustration is voiced loudly only to Eliot, who is dealing with his own distress. There is a childish, tantrum-like angle to Mrs. Sen’s complaints. She even remarks to Eliot that he is much wise than she was at that age; she never thought for a moment that she would be separated from her family. While the reader sympathizes with her plight, her stubbornness seems greater than it need be. Her husband tries to accommodate her, the policeman does not arrest or fine her for the accident, and the workers at the fishmarket put product on hold for her. In the end, it is Mrs. Sen’s responsibility to make an effort. Unlike Mala in The Third and Final Continent – who was equally distraught about leaving her family – Mrs. Sen does not try to adjust. She is trapped in a cage of her own making.
As in Sexy, the main characters have mirror images within the story. Here, Eliot and Mrs. Sen are quite similar. He is trapped in his life as well. The loneliness and distress that Mrs. Sen expresses are familiar emotions. He has front row seats for his mother’s sadness. Unlike Mrs. Sen, Eliot is unable to tell anyone about his plight because, again unlike Mrs. Sen, he is truly powerless. The sympathy one has for Eliot reflects harshly on Mrs. Sen as one realizes that she could try. The symmetry is evoked in anecdotes, like the parties that Mrs. Sen and Eliot experience. Mrs. Sen’s lively party in Calcutta is contrasted with Eliot’s story as Eliot is only a witness and not a participant.
Lack of communication is employed once again in Mrs. Sen’s to create a sense of tragedy. Though it is unclear how much Mr. Sen knows of his wife’s displeasure, Eliot seems to bear the brunt of her tantrums. In the very least, Mr. Sen does not broadcast his wife’s problems. After the accident, he tells Eliot’s mother that his wife is sleeping although Eliot hears her crying. Eliot is witness to both Mrs. Sen’s and his mother’s despondence. Eliot’s mother tells Mrs. Sen that she ate a big lunch when refusing her Indian snacks. Eliot knows it’s an excuse because she doesn’t like the flavors and that she eschews lunch to feast on wine, bread, and cheese when she gets home from work; her white lie is twofold. At the end of the story, Eliot assures his mother that he is okay though he is clearly troubled. In Mrs. Sen’s, honesty is not the policy.
Nature has a voice in Mrs. Sen’s. The grey waves outside Eliot’s window as he tells his mother he’s fine represent the truth of his inner turmoil. The Sens' trip to the shore at the beginning of winter is marked by a violent and exciting wind. Though it would seem that Mrs. Sen would react negatively to the wind and cold, she delights in it. There is a possibility of her assimilation to America if she allows herself to enjoy the world around her.
When Mr. Pirzada Came to the Dine
The story is told from the first person perspective of Lilia, primarily in her 10th year. Choosing to tell this story through the eyes of a child somewhat mitigates the heavy topic. The war between India and Pakistan in 1971 is witnessed from a distance both geographically and emotionally. While Lilia’s parents fret over a skirmish thousands of miles away, Lilia is more concerned with her own life. The candy that Mr. Pirzada lavishes on Lilia becomes a prayer for the safety of his daughters. Her awareness of the contrast between her situation and Mr. Pirzada’s daughters opens her eyes to the complicated political struggle on a personal level. In this case, the lessons learned by Lilia are the same learned by the reader but in a more literary, less didactic way.
Time is an interesting construct in this story as well. Lilia remarks that events are unfolding eleven hours ahead of her time zone. She feels as if the events are playing out in the future and her life is somehow a ghost life. This has two separate meanings for Lilia. First, there is a remove between herself and the girls culturally as Lilia is a first-generation American born to immigrant parents. Second, since this is also a coming of age story, Lilia struggles for some semblance of maturity. As a child, she feels as if her life has already been experienced by others who have gone before her. Lilia also narrates from the present, adding yet another layer of remove into the story. All that is occurring in the time frame of the story actually has already happened. The facts of the war, she says, were a “remote mystery with haphazard clues.” Lilia narrates the story from the remoteness of childhood, only understanding after years have passed.
Assimilation of Indians to America is one of the overarching themes in Interpreter of Maladies. Lilia and her parents are on either side of a divide. Identity issues are typically compounded generation to generation. Though Lilia’s parents remember their own experiences in India vividly, Lilia is an American and therefore a step removed from the culture of her parents. Lilia’s father is dismayed that she is ignorant of current events in India. Lilia does, in fact, attempt to study the history of Pakistan but she is unable to do so on school time. Lilia does have an interest in her parents’ world, but she is fully enmeshed in, to Mr. Pirzada, unthinkable customs. Halloween, a purely American holiday, mystifies Mr. Pirzada.
Customs shared by Lilia and her parents are also shared by Mr. Pirzada. From Lilia’s perspective, the division of Pakistanis and Indians is arbitrary. When her father tells her that Mr. Pirzada is no longer Indian, she inspects him and his actions for clues of difference. This echoes her own relationship with her father, who worries that her American education is making her no longer Indian. However, America allows for Mr. Pirzada and Lilia’s father to dine together, worry together and laugh together. Assimilation is seen as both
A Real Durwan
A Real Durwan is primarily a story about class and the resentment it can inspire. Boori Ma, a poor woman forced to sweep stairwells in her old age, comforts herself with tales of her previous riches. Whether or not these anecdotes are true, they have the same effect. They are an oasis for her, a way to escape the reality of her life for just a moment. When the Dalals install the basins in the building, their neighbors react with jealousy instead of gratitude. They rail against the Dalals for trying to show up the rest of the building. Mrs. Dalal, it is rumored, doesn’t think the basin is classy enough. At the end, Boori Ma is cast out of the building, blamed for the theft. Mr. Chatterjee says that they need a real durwan for their building; his desire to promote the illusion of the building's upward mobility is a fatal punishment for Boori Ma. She is a reminder of their true place in the social structure, and she is a reminder that her fate can await any of them. Casting her out is casting out the truth of their meager lives. Dismissing her means they can never be her.
Partition again is a theme here. In the exile of Hindus from Muslim lands and vice versa, millions of people were left homeless. Boori Ma, though she may be lying about her previous wealth, is proven to be a refugee by her accent. As in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, Partition feels arbitrary. By focusing in on the life of one person affected by the treaty, the reader can glean the human toll. Though the caste system – the stratification of Indians into ethnic or class categorizations – and its notion of untouchables was banned in 1950, class and race made Boori Ma untouchable.
The structure of this story is built upon irony. Almost as if in an O. Henry story, Boori Ma is promised new bedding on the precise day that Mr. Dalal brings home the basin, and the precise day that her old bedding is ruined. The basin and the ensuing fight between Mr. and Mrs. Dalal pushes Boori Ma’s needs to the side. Mrs. Dalal says that she has not forgotten about her bedding before she leaves for her vacation but she does not arrive home in time to save Boori Ma, let alone to provide new bedding. Yes, Mrs. Dalal is considered flaky, but Boori Ma is cast out when she is out of town and unable to protect her. The irony here less a dramatic device than a comment on the fickle nature of life.
Rumor and gossip also shape the story. Boori Ma’s insistence that she is telling the truth, despite the details she changes at will, is at first a source of comedy for the residents. They think that she is entertaining even though the tales are sorrowful. When the Dalals buy the basin, their neighbors gossip about the fights that take place behind closed doors. Rumor becomes fact when the Dalals leave for vacation. This blurring of lines between truth and gossip can be blamed for Boori Ma’s punishment at the end. Since the wisest man in the building, Mr. Chatterjee, has not picked up a newspaper in decades, word of mouth and hearsay are taken as gospel. In a way, this is a reflection of society as the truth is often elusive.
The Treatment of Bibi Halder
The malady that afflicts Bibi Haldar has many possible interpretations. The undiagnosed ailment sounds like epilepsy but also references female hysteria, a diagnosis of emotional imbalance in women common in the Victorian era, that would be remedied by sexually stimulating the patient. Female hysteria has long been discredited as based on misogynist interpretations of women’s physical and emotional states. The cure that is ultimately suggested for Bibi - “relations” - echoes hysteria in both the treatment and diagnosis. That she is not diagnosed with epilepsy signifies the poor health care that a woman in her position can receive. She is paid only in room and board and neglected by her cousin/boss. Bibi’s class makes comprehensive health care unattainable.
That the child “cures” Bibi is an interesting notion. It gives legitimacy to the claim that she needs “relations,” but it could also be interpreted in another way. At first, Bibi is viewed as not able to take care of herself. She is given meager tasks and not seen as worthy of marriage. When she is abandoned, first she withdraws. After the child, Bibi has no choice but to put her life together in order to take care of her child. Being given responsibility for the first time in her life, Bibi takes control and proves her cousin wrong. All Bibi needed was a chance and some trust. It is a testament to the power of the individual and also the power of the women.
Gender roles are explored in The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. The opinion that Bibi can be cured not by medicine but by a man is indicative of the male dominance in the town where Bibi resides and the antiquated mentality of the villagers. There is much discussion about how Bibi is not a woman. Biology is trumped by the learned activities relating to caring for men and children. Cooking, sewing, pleasing a man and his family constitute “a woman.”
Bibi’s story is narrated by the women in her village who look after her. This compounds the theories on gender roles present in the plot. Women have the authority in the narrative even if they do not in their village. The women do wield whatever power they have. In retaliation of the treatment of Bibi, they withdraw their business from Haldar’s cosmetics shop, ruining him. But they only act collectively, not as individuals. The only men who are referenced are Bibi’s dismissive cousin and the mystery man who impregnates Bibi. In the end, the child's lack of a father is made irrelevant by the child's whole village of mothers.
The narrative carefully avoids any implications regarding Bibi's impregnancy. Was she raped or otherwise coerced into intercourse, by a stranger or potentially by her cousin? There is no evidence to suggest so. There is also no evidence to suggest otherwise. We, and the women of the town, are given no information with which to draw conclusions or even suspicions about the baby's father. It is as though the pregnancy were spontaneously generated. As far as the pregnancy as a narrative device is concerned, it was.
In its place in the story cycle, The Treatment of Bibi Haldar harkens back to A Real Durwan. Boori Ma and Bibi Haldar are similar characters – women who exist on the fringes of society and blamed for events beyond their control. Unlike Boori Ma, Bibi is able to find a place for herself in the world after the birth of her baby. Bibi has the benefit of a village of support. Bibi Haldar’s neighbors do not suffer from class resentment and help her more than Boori Ma’s.
The structure of The Treatment of Bibi Haldar follows the natural rhythm of the yearly seasons. Bibi’s attempts to find a husband occurs in the summer – when her father had determined her worst attacks occur. In the autumn, Bibi is cast out when her niece falls ill. In the winter, she is abandoned entirely. By the spring, she is pregnant and gives birth during the summer. The spring, a time of rebirth, marks a new chapter in Bibi’s life.…...

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...Austin Hartline Film -Allan Carter February 24th 2014 “Perhaps, this is a film about the escapism that we look for in drugs, alcohol and sex?” In my opinion, I don’t believe that this movie is solely about drug use and sex, but more about greed and other strong cinematic themes, but I would like to highlight the main character Andy, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman; an executive of a real estate office who embezzles money for his drug addiction and expensive lifestyle. The second time he pays a visit to his high-class dealer's apartment and he admits his hopelessness to the uninterested drug peddler. The reason I say second time is because Andy comes over to his house many times to pay to use heroine under a secure and pristine environment. If this isn’t a clear sign of addiction, I don’t know what is. I also thought back to the opening scene of the movie and after a cold sex scene between Andy and Gina, and now we know that Andy is a payroll manager who finds himself in a hard economic situation where he badly needs some extra money. We also discover that he has been stealing from his job and using the money to his drug habits. I find it interesting that Hoffman is an actor who has the ability to portray a man who on the surface is a charming businessman, whom is liked by his acquaintances, but is a real dirt-bag underneath. I believe he is absolutely perfect for the part of Andy or it might be said that he, through his superior acting skills, made Andy the perfect part...

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