The Effects of Immigration in Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories

Jhumpa Lahiri is a master of making her readers understand the problems she describes in her work, even though mostly the audience is unfamiliar with the discussed problems. The author of the two stories analyzed in this research, which are The Third and the Final Continent and Mrs Sen from the book Interpreter of Maladies, in her simplistic, yet very subtle manner introduces the reader to the broader theme of immigration to Western countries. Both stories provide an understanding of comprehensive nature of changes and adjustment to them through giving insights on immigrants experience in the North America and on how difficult assimilation to the new society could be, especially considering the major cultural differences Lahiris characters experienced. In her stories, Lahiri provides the reader with an opportunity to understand and embrace culture of other people and makes emphasis on acceptance and tolerance.

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Culture Clash, Assimilation, and Home Connections

Immigration is a serious transition that changes peoples lifestyle, world perception and even values, although many immigrants chose to encounter their traditions by uniting with other fellow immigrants from the same country. Jhumpa Lahiris stories give the reader an insight of what it feels like to be a foreigner, who has to adjust to the new mentality of a country he or she moves to. In Mrs Sen there are many cultural differences described through the dialogue between Mrs Sen herself and Eliot. Eliot is an eleven-year-old boy who compares his beliefs to different habits that his mother and Mrs Sen have developed in accordance with their cultural distinctions. Therefore, the story describes hardships of assimilation and, simultaneously, saving of the sense of identity; it appears rather difficult to acquire daily habits of American lifestyle, but maintain the original ones.

In Mrs Sen there are numerous instances of assimilation to the new culture. Eliot, when talking about his mother and her relationships with the neighbors, thought to himself that if they had been noisy she [would have] looked up their number in the phone book and asked them to keep in down. His mother clearly did not look for any close relationships with her neighbors and neither did she care about their lives. Mrs Sen though, on the opposite, missed her home in India, because she was so used to the close relationships between neighbors. She missed being able to call anyone to ask for help any time or share the news by simply slightly raising her voice, while still being in her own home. This shows how immigrants have to experience a change in their daily routines, after leaving their own country, which demands from them either losing connection with their heritage or sticking to it.

According to the Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Grif?ths, and Helen Tif?ns work Post-Colonial Studies: Key Concepts such cultural influences forced immigrants not to change but to adjust and modify their cultural values and traditions, which essentially resulted in the creation of a new diaspora or small friend groups of people from the same descent outside the countries of those immigrants origin. In this way, in The Third and the Final Continent the protagonist of the story first shows the reader that in the Great Britain many Indians chose to live together, having created a mini-community with such close ties that they would even take turns to cook food for everyone. Later, describing how Mala and the protagonist of the story adjusted to the life in the new country, Lahiri mentions that they found other Bengalis, with some of whom are still friends today, in this way creating an environment where they can enjoy and share their traditions and speak in their mother tongue. Therefore, uniting into groups and maintaining some of the habits helps some immigrants fit into the society and adjust to the changes. In these groups they can stay connected with their traditions and speak their own language, even though author expresses fear the next generation will not continue these traditions, as changes and adjustment are not easy for any character in these texts.

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Changes and Adjustment

Changes themselves are a very interesting aspect raised by the author in both stories. Lahiri focuses mainly on how important it is to adjust to the changes as drastic as moving to another continent, and also gives an insight that changes might be taken easier for some cultures than for another. In The Third and the Final Continent the protagonist had to adjust first to living in the Great Britain, which he later described as a difficult experience since he had to learn how to take a tube to Russell Square, riding an escalator for the first time, being unable to understand that when the man cried piper it meant paper, and other small things that he found unusual and challenging. Later, he had to adjust to the life in the USA. Thus, there are many changes the immigrant has to adapt to.
In comparison, it was the same for the immigrant to adjust to all those new things, as it was for a woman born in 1886 to comprehend the fact that the humanity set foot on the Moon. Peculiar about Mrs. Croft is that she as a character had to undergo just as a significant of a change as the immigrants described in the both stories, since she had to adjust to the mode of life that had become unrecognizable to her over the course of her life. Since she lived for so long, eventually the world became a very strange place for her, so she had to adjust to it, just like other characters had to adjust to their new circumstances.

In Mrs Sen Eliot in the very end of the story had to experience the change of his lifestyle when his mother had him staying home on his own after school. Lahiri finished the story with the words Elliot looked out of the kitchen window, at gray waves receding from the shore, and said that he was fine. This resonates with the way Mrs Sen herself would stare in the window, dreaming about her own home. In this way Lahiri shows that there are different changes that one could experience over the course of life: immigrance, growing up, or growing old.

Furthermore, Dr. P. Karkuzhali in his critical article on Mrs Sen also mentions that Lahiri masterfully shows how for some cultures it is harder to adapt to changes and which mental problems arise during their struggle to understand the new world. Lahiri characters, especially those from India tend to be more conservative in their customs, than American ones. Eliot became adapted to his new schedule pretty quickly, while Mrs Sen refused to adjust to the timetable of her husband and relationships with neighbor. Therefore, Lahiri stories are not only showing how people adjust to changes, but also how different cultures perceive changes.

Of course, the author lets the reader know how major it is to change the place of living itself. Lahiri provides a very clear example of Mala, who did worry about moving when she just married to the protagonist in The Third and the Final Continent and moved only five miles away from her parents house, but had to change the social environment, which meant changing her life as a whole. Therefore, Lahiri highlights how difficult it is for many people to undergo changes and that it might be even more complicated for certain nations, using as an example experience of immigrants in the USA.

Immigrants Experience and Attitudes

The texts disclose many peculiar insights on the immigrants experience in North America. Both text mention American customs, unusual to the foreigner eye, beginning with womans ability to sustain the family on her own and ending with inaccessibility of fresh fish. Such seemingly small things take time to adjust to them. However, the most exciting aspect of these differences is that neither the author, nor her characters show any resentment toward them. The reader is only given the antecedent condition, that there are many ways to live. Lahiri does not condemn the custom to set marriages in India and does not encourage disrespect toward women. She induces readers to reevaluate their stereotypes and challenges them to accept that there are no wrongs or rights in case of cultural differences. Therefore, the most important insight a reader can gain from these texts, is that people, who are different from us, might have their own reasons and, nevertheless, such differences should be respected and valued.

In conclusion, changes are an inherent part of the human lives, since they occur inevitably over its course. The stories by Lahiri masterfully reflect that by means of comparing the lives of different characters and the process of their adjustment to those changes. The author focuses on the experience of immigrants under the new conditions in which they are put. These stories demonstrate the cultural differences between Indian and American mentalities and how the clash of those differences influences the characters. Lahiri created simple yet sophisticated plots, which comprise of a myriad of small details and new habits that characters develop in order to adjust to new conditions. The latter gives readers a chance to evaluate the story themselves and furthers understanding and tolerance toward people of other nationalities by introducing cultural differences and the reasons they exist. All in all, Lahiri in these stories raises various problems, which give an insight to the everyday struggle immigrants in North America have to face.

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