Interpreter of Maladies | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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Interpreter of Maladies | This Blessed House | Summary

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Summary

Sanjeev and Twinkle are young newlyweds of Indian descent. They have recently moved into a house in Connecticut. Theirs is the product of a semi-arranged match carefully superintended by their Indian parents. On their exploratory excursions throughout the house, from time to time they turn up Christian paraphernalia: porcelain busts, for example, or posters, or full statues. Twinkle treats these finds with excitement, wonder, and mystery, while Sanjeev grows progressively more puzzled and annoyed. He and Twinkle are Hindu, after all, and not Christian. Sanjeev wonders what his colleagues at work might think.

The tension between the couple increases as more finds are made. Finally, Twinkle discovers a bust of the Virgin Mary buried in the leaves on the lawn outside, and she declares she will display it for their upcoming housewarming party. Sanjeev quarrels with her and wonders if he even loves his wife. Their tastes in music seem different, and he does not know why she fails to fulfill the traditional woman's household roles of cleaning and dusting. In an outburst of annoyance, he threatens to take the statue of the Virgin to the dump. In the end, the two newlyweds reach a compromise.

The day of the housewarming arrives. Twinkle, introduced at one point by her formal name, Tanima, charms the guests. One of Sanjeev's male friends even calls her "wow." When the guests learn of the unexpected discovery of Christian artifacts, they form a search party, eventually reaching the attic, where a new discovery is made: a solid silver bust of Christ, weighing a good 30 pounds. Twinkle asks Sanjeev if they can display it on the mantel, just for one night. Then she promises to remove it and keep it in her study.

Analysis

Like many of the married couples in this story collection—Shukumar and Shoba in "A Temporary Matter," Mr. and Mrs. Das in "Interpreter of Maladies," and Mr. and Mrs. Sen in "Mrs. Sen's"—Twinkle and Sanjeev are a study in contrasts. They are newlyweds, so naiveté and immaturity play a role in their relationship, as is so painfully apparent in Miranda's liaison with Dev in "Sexy." A prisoner of convention, Sanjeev wonders if he really loves his wife. He doesn't know what to make of her apparent inattention to traditional housewifely tasks such as sweeping and dusting. He has no idea how to react to her open-ended acceptance of other religious traditions and social lifestyles. In an instance of situational irony, which reverses what Sanjeev expected and what actually turns out to be the case, one of his male colleagues exclaims at the housewarming that Twinkle is "Wow"!

As in her portrait of Shoba and Shukumar in "A Temporary Matter," Lahiri upends gender roles in "This Blessed House" by presenting Twinkle as the dominant partner in the marriage. Sanjeev is portrayed as submissive, even fearful—excessively concerned about what his colleagues and other observers will think of him. Twinkle is innovative, imaginative, and independent—what one of Sanjeev's colleagues exclaims as "Wow!" At several points, Sanjeev is even portrayed as chauvinistic, asking Twinkle, for example, if she has swept the attic. He seems peeved that she has a limited interest in housework.

Besides marriage and love, the important underlying themes in the story include assimilation and communication. Obsessed with conformity and routine patterns of organization, Sanjeev grows steadily more nervous about his colleagues' possible reaction to the collection of Christian images in his new house. His wife, Twinkle, on the other hand, breezily dismisses any misgivings. She concludes that the cache of statues, busts, and posters on Christian themes and iconography shows only that the house they have moved into is truly "blessed." The story's important events, with the housewarming as the climax of the plot, are to prove Twinkle correct.

In the meantime, however, Lahiri shows that Sanjeev and Twinkle suffer from a communication breakdown. Like Shukumar and Shoba in "A Temporary Matter," Sanjeev and Twinkle are on the brink of estrangement, only several months after their marriage begins. Sanjeev seems to feel the rift more keenly than Twinkle does. For a mini-portrait of the couple's relationship, the scene of Twinkle cooking fish stew and talking on the phone to one of her girlfriends in California offers several suggestive hints. Twinkle improvises the recipe, not bothering to write down how she has put the stew together. She smokes cigarettes and chats on the phone when the long-distance rates are highest. She casually adds to her stew some malt vinegar she has found around the house. She covers the breadbasket with a dishtowel that has the Ten Commandments printed on it. Squeezing Sanjeev's knee, she assures him, "Face it. This house is blessed."

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