Writing on Women Writers

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“A Temporary Matter”


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This past week, one of my RAs had a program in my residence hall about henna designs and it was a big hit! Naturally, I got covered on both hands in squiggles, loops, dots, and flowers (Who doesn’t love pretty flower tattoos that you aren’t stuck with forever?!). As I sat down to write my blog, I got frazzled because I realized that parts of my henna had already rubbed off-UGH! While looking at the remnants, I had to chuckle; the irony of the situation was just too funny! In class we just finished reading the works of Bharati Mukherjee and Jhumpa Lahiri, and discussing fragile relationships between Indian individuals. How ironic that, like my henna tattoo, the relationships described in the stories were temporary!

In “A Wife’s Story”, Bharati Mukherjee describes an culturally unusual Indian couple consisting of a man living back in India, and a woman making a way for herself in America alone. On page 547 the unnamed woman thinks, “I’ve made it. I’m making something of my life. I’ve left home, my husband, to get a Ph.D. in special ed. I have a multiple-entry visa and a small scholarship for two years”. This advanced lifestyle puts a strain on the couples’ marriage; a strain that only gets worse as the woman repeats the phrase “The special ed. course is two years,…I can’t go back.”(553). The couple’s story is left ambiguous in the end, but Mukherjee implies that the marriage has ended with phrases such as, “Tomorrow he’ll be on his way back to Bombay. Tonight I should make up to him for my years away, the gutted trucks, the degree I’ll never use in India. I want to pretend with him that nothing has changed” (553).

Similarly, in “A Temporary Matter”, Jhumpa Lahiri chronicles the relationship of an Indian couple whose relationship is slowly deteriorating after the death of their child. Through the activities of daily life, and the added factor of darkness due to a lack of electrical power, Lahiri exposes each of the individual’s thoughts about the marriage and the direction it has taken. For example, husband Shukumar thought “how he and Shoba had become experts at avoiding each other in their three-bedroom house, spending as much time on separate floors as possible…He thought of how long it had been since she looked into his eyes and smiled, or whispered his name on those rare occasions they still reached for each other’s bodies before sleeping”. When Shoba attempts to make conversation with him, Shukumar admits to himself, “He couldn’t think of anything, but Shoba was waiting for him to speak. She hadn’t appeared so determined in months. What was there left to say to her?”. It is through the lack of knowledge, of trust, and of comfort, that the reader sees the crumbling foundations of their marriage. Even more blatantly, Lahiri displays the lack of love with quotes such as: “He had held his son, who had known life only within her, against his chest in a darkened room in an unknown wing of the hospital. He had held him until a nurse knocked and took him away, and he promised himself that day that he would never tell Shoba, because he still loved her then, and it was the one thing in her life that she had wanted to be a surprise”.*

With both of these relationships, the reader sees the affects of marriages that are built on faulty emotional and communicational connections. An even more interesting approach to these stories is to consider the cultural aspects behind the relationships. I found this documentary by an Indian film maker that explores the idea of unhappy Indian marriages and the social trials and tribulations that individuals must go through if they choose divorce over unhappiness. 

I was also interested in the historical context of how Indian cultures view marriage, as well as divorce, and I found this cool website with fables, legal positions, and religious standpoints from a Hindu perspective. Have fun! 🙂

All in all, I really enjoyed reading these works from foreign authors. I think the multicultural perspective on universal topics such as love, marriage, and divorce is extremely eye opening in many ways; maybe we aren’t so different at the core of our beings?; or even, maybe we shouldn’t judge others’ actions and feelings before knowing the basis of their perspectives? Hmm..things to think about!

*Quotes from “A Wife’s Story” taken from The Longman’s Anthology of Women’s Literature by Mary K. DeShazer

Quotes from “A Temporary Matter” taken from link to excerpt on ANGEL site