Literature Study GuidesInterpreter Of MaladiesThe Third And Final Continent Summary

Interpreter of Maladies | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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Interpreter of Maladies | The Third and Final Continent | Summary

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Summary

The unnamed narrator tells the reader that he left India for England in 1964. After a few years in London, during which he attended lectures at the London School of Economics, he emigrated to America, where he was offered a full-time job in a library at MIT. He was married in Calcutta, but his wife, Mala, had to wait some time before she could come to the United States. The narrator lived at first at the YMCA, but he then took a room at a boardinghouse run by an elderly, eccentric lady named Mrs. Croft. It was by now 1969, the year of the American moon landing.

From Mrs. Croft's daughter, Helen, the narrator learns that Mrs. Croft is 103 years old. The relationship that develops between the narrator and his eccentric landlady forms an important part of the story. Mrs. Croft's repeated insistence that the moon landing is "splendid" becomes a signature trait that ultimately inspires the narrator's affection and respect.

After six weeks, Mala's passport and green card are ready, and she travels to join her husband in the United States. Her husband has located a furnished apartment a few blocks away. They two get used to the neighborhood, and to each other. They visit Mrs. Croft, who has broken her hip and is being cared for by Helen. The narrator introduces Mala to Mrs. Croft.

The couple continue to explore the city together and tell each other stories. One day, the narrator sees Mrs. Croft's obituary in the newspaper. Hers is the first death he mourns in America, just as hers was the first life he had admired.

Years pass. At the end of the story, Mala and the narrator live in a town about 20 miles from Boston. They are American citizens now. Their son attends Harvard. The narrator knows he will soon launch himself into the world, just as the narrator survived on three continents nearly 30 years ago, in the age when astronauts, "heroes forever," spent hours on the moon.

Analysis

Like several other stories in this collection, "The Third and Final Continent" is about assimilation and marriage. Whereas several of Lahiri's other characters—notably Shukumar and Shoba in "A Temporary Matter," Mrs. Sen in "Mrs. Sen's," and Sanjeev and Twinkle in "This Blessed House"—have trouble either in their marriages or in the process of assimilation or both, the narrator and Mala in "The Third and Final Continent" prove to be strong, successful survivors. (Perhaps their durability is prefigured by that of the centenarian Mrs. Croft.)

The narrator is a model worker. He is polite, conscientious, attentive, and enduring. He adapts readily to local customs. He painstakingly researches his surroundings in advance. He endures inconveniences and improvises creatively. He humors Mrs. Croft in all her eccentricity and even comes to admire her. The narrator's temperament, Lahiri suggests, has equipped him to be an outstanding success in his new world as a transplant of Indian descent in the United States.

Mrs. Croft, like Boori Ma in "A Real Durwan," is entertaining in her eccentricity. She is obsessed with the American moon landing in 1969, and she demands repeatedly that the narrator voice his enthusiasm and amazement at the event. Old-fashioned in the extreme, she berates her own daughter (who is 68 years old) for conversing with the narrator without a chaperone. When Helen asks Mrs. Croft how she would react if she saw a young woman in a miniskirt (it is 1969, after all), Mrs. Croft snaps, "I'd have her arrested." Mrs. Croft is both a source of humor and a formidable figure who compels the narrator's admiration.

What about Mala, the narrator's wife? She steps ashore in Boston with less assurance and less preparation than her husband did. (Note that she did not take the intermediate step of a stay in England.) Even though she is not alone, the story suggests that Mala's acclimation to America is slow and arduous. Her sympathetic husband makes all the difference, however. Even though he is unsure himself, feeling that she is a bit of a stranger despite their marriage, they discover common ground together.

The location of that common ground is plainly revealed: it is Mrs. Croft's house, where the narrator takes Mala for a visit. Mrs. Croft has broken her hip and is being cared for by her daughter, Helen. Nevertheless, she is as feisty and eccentric as ever. When the narrator and Mala visit, Mrs. Croft subjects Mala to a stern examination, asking her to stand up so that she can scrutinize her from head to toe. Mrs. Croft declares Mala to be a "perfect lady!" The young husband laughs, and Mala smiles. It is at that moment, according to the narrator, that the distance between him and his wife begins to lessen. A honeymoon commences, during which they will fall fully in love.

In the long final paragraph of the story, the narrator offers a quiet but affecting summary of his life-journey. He and his wife are now fully assimilated American citizens, with a house and a son at Harvard. It is with a sense of achievement that he contemplates his son's prospects. There is no obstacle the young man cannot conquer.

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