Mix Cultured Vagabonds Essay

1292 words - 6 pages

Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “Interpreter of Maladies,” follows the adventure of an American-Indian family who are taking the role of tourists in their own native homeland. The Das family is inherently Indian, but the experience of being born and raised in America has diluted their cultural background. The Das family is a symbol of both American and Indian cultures intermixing, and due to this, the family does not completely belong in either culture.
The Das family is Indian, but they have been socialized into American culture. These observations of the family’s American-like behaviors are seen through the eyes of the Indian tour-guide, Mr. Kapasi. During a rest stop, Lahiri mentions, “Where’s Mina?” Mr. Das asked. Mr. Kapasi found it strange that Mr. Das should refer to his wife by her first name when speaking to the little girl” (337). Mr. Das was inquiring of the whereabouts of his wife, and did so by using her first name. The lack of Mr. Das’ term of respect for his wife, especially in front of his child, is shocking to Mr. Kapasi. Mr. Kapasi probably has been socialized to use respectful terms to refer to one’s wife, and this norm is emphasized when in the company of a young child who must likewise, understand the importance of respect. However, Mr. and Mrs. Das were raised in American, an individualistic society, and it is seen as normal, in American standards, for an individual to be called by her first name. It does not matter who the audience is as long as she is regarded as an individual. Of course, this is all very strange to Mr. Kapasi, who has not experienced American culture first-handed. However, Mr. Kapasi has been able to peak into American life through the watching of television programs. Lahiri writes, “Their [the Das family] accents sounded just like the ones Mr. Kapasi heard on American television programs” (339). The Das family spoke fluent English with the lack of an Indian accent, showing the displacement of their Indian heritage in their speech. The Das family has acquired English as their main language, and has long forgotten any Indian languages. Language is important as it connects to one’s cultural knowledge, and since the Das family knows English well, they are able to take on the behaviors and norms of the American culture, yet their lack of knowledge of any Indian languages subsequently causes their lack of knowledge of Indian culture. Besides these observations of the parents, Mr. Kapasi also notices how Tina, the daughter, has already been socialized into American culture. Lahiri writes, “She was holding to her chest a doll with yellow hair” (337). This doll that Tina is holding can be noted to be the iconic American Barbie doll. Tina is not holding an ethnic doll; she is holding a fair-skinned, blonde doll that is an object of popular American culture. The signs of the family’s socialization in American culture can seen amongst the parents, as well as amongst the next generation, their children.
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