Analysis of Jhumpa Lahiri's Hell-Heaven - 1820 Words | My Paper Hub
Jhumpa Lahiri is an American Indian
writer born i...
Jhumpa Lahiri is an American Indian
writer born in London in 1967, but they moved to America two years after she
was born. Lahiri's parents were first generation Bengalis from Calcutta and
settled in Rhode Island where her father got employed at the University of
Rhode Island, a position in the library. Lahiri’s mother, on the other hand,
worked as a school teacher. The story of her life reflects what she writes in
most of her works meaning that her stories are based on most of her life
experiences if not all. The characters in the Hell-Heaven story bring as close
to her life where the story talks about a Bengali family. The family originates
from Calcutta where the narrator’s mother and father move to Berlin as her
father attended the school of microbiology there. The family later moved to
America after her father accepted a job as a researcher in Mass General. The
narrator by the name Usha begins the story by telling of a young man by the
name Pranab Chakraborty who is also an immigrant from Calcutta and came to
America to further his studies. Pranab later becomes a friend of the family,
and they even feel like he is part of the family. Usha’s mother becomes fond of
him, and she longs to spend more time with him (Lahiri).
The story identifies more with the author’s real life than any other story.
Other than the family, we see an additional character who is Deborah, and we
see the consequences of her presence as she affects the life of the narrator’s
mother greatly. Lahiri focuses the story on the struggles of being an immigrant
and trying to fit in amidst the confusion brought about by the cultural shock
for the first generation of the immigrants and the riff between the two for a
second generation while trying to determine which one to follow.
The first critical article to be
referred to in this paper will be that of Dr. Anil S. Sugate, Home, Hybridity,
and love: Diasporic Relocations in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Hell-Heaven. Dr. Anil
presents a clear idea of what the hell and heaven mean in the context of the
story. An example of an indicator he uses to explain hell is the situation of
the narrator’s mother. They move to America for the sake of her husband, and
she is, therefore, living a very dull life and only waits for the moments when
her daughter gets home as she is not employed. Her husband is also not a
cheerful person, therefore, making the life more boring and unbearable. An
instance of heaven is where they meet with Pranab, and they become friends.
Pranab becomes part of the family and the narrator’s mother finds new happiness
when spending time with Pranab. She seems to look forward to spending time with
Pranab every day. Dr. Anil also proposes the idea of home for the people in the
story as being heaven and the alien land which as America being hell as they
have to change their ways to adapt to their new environment (Sugate 1). The
second article that this paper will borrow from is that of Dr. Mr. Chandran and
T. Senthamarai. Female Diasporic Sensitivities in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed
Earth. The article takes a general analysis of the entire book as the themes
contained in the stories are similar. Our focus in this, however, will be in
areas relating to the Hell-Heaven story. Dr. Chandran on this paper focuses on
the diasporic alienation of the characters in the stories contained in the
book. He focuses on the cultural shock the characters experience in the new
country as they try to identify with a culture as they feel displaced. The
alienation can be felt for example when Pranab gets homesick and decides to
abandon his dreams and go back to Calcutta because the life he experiences in
America is not the life he is used to at home. The same can be seen with the
narrator’s mother who tries as much as possible to maintain her culture by way
of dressing as she does not want to lose her identity. This paper unlike the
two above will look at the main characters and try to explain that as much as
they feel alienated from the American culture, it is through holding on to the
traditions they practice at home that they are not able to adapt to the
country’s traditions easily.
Usha is a second generation Immigrant
from India and knows nothing about where her parents come from. The only
information she has about her origin is what she has learned from her mother.
The culture she knows is the American as this is where she has grown up, and it
is what she has experienced. Usha gets it hard to relate to her mother as her
mother imposes traditions she knows nothing about on her. The whole idea,
therefore, makes her feel alienated, and as Dr. Anil put it, her home with her
parents is hell. Her heaven is when with Deborah who she feels comfortable with
as she can speak English freely not like home where she is forced to speak
Bengali (Sugate 6). Although Usha remembers her life in Berlin, she does not
get overly sentimental about it hence being able to adapt very easily to the
new environment which is America.
Pranab is a character introduced to us
by Usha at the beginning of the story. Usha refers to him as Pranab Kaku which
meant uncle although he was not anything close to an uncle. Pranab first
encounter with the family was a day he had stalked them after he had realized
they were Bengali. Pranab represents first generation Indian immigrants to
America. Unlike Usha, Pranab finds it hard to adapt to the alien land at the
very first time where he holds on to his Bengali culture until he cannot cope
with the American environment anymore. The difficulty in dealing for Pranab
could be felt when the narrator explains the hardship he hard to go through
during the first few months of his stay in America. One of them is that Pranab
lost weight as the life in America was not what he was used to at home in
Calcutta. Pranab never used to do anything for himself as he came from a
wealthy family. Usha explains that by the end of the first week of his arrival,
Pranab had resolved to pack his bags and leaving America for good but changed
his mind at the last minutes. The situation was hell to him, and he needed a
heaven which was home and the familiar environment he was used to in Calcutta
(Sugate 3-4). He was trying to look for
something that could remind him are could connect him to home, but he could not
find it. It is until he meets the Usha and her mother that he feels that
America could be welcoming after all. The dedication that he has in following
the two and finding out whether they were Bengali was a clear indicator that he
was desperately looking for a connection with his culture and his roots.
Pranab later on in the story gets
attached to Usha’s mother to quencher his cultural shock. The two share a lot
in common considering that they both come from the same area back in Calcutta
and their interest in food, music, Poetry and politics. The aspects made him
feel at home even though he was still in America. It is an aspect of life that
he could have avoided if he was more open to the American culture and welcoming
enough to change. If he was, he could not have been in a desperate need to
spend time with Usha’s mother for him to feel like he was at home. Pranab could
have spent more time exploring America and learning how the country works and
how to adapt.
The time Pranab spent with Usha’s mother
became more valuable to him, and he became more comfortable in America, a
situation indicated by him buying a vehicle. The act was an indication that
Pranab had felt the comfort of being home with the little that the family was
offering and was ready to let go and adapt the American life. The change was
helpful as it was a situation Dr. Anil would refer to as heaven created in the
alien land (Sugate 5). Pranab started taking Usha and her mother on tours using
the car that he bought which was an indication that he was ready to let go the
barriers that he had created and those that prevented him from exploring the
world. It was through bringing down the barriers that he was able to open up
and interact with Americans from an individual level and to spend time with
someone from his hometown. Pranab got into a relationship with Deborah who was
an American lady with no attachments with the Bengalis. The relationship got
serious, and they even got engaged which came with cultural issues. Pranab had
a wife chosen for him at home where he was expected to return after his study
and marry as the customs of marriage for Bengalis dictate. He however rebelled
and went ahead to marry Deborah without his parent's blessings. The rebellion
was an indication of him fully adapting to the American life just like Usha at
some point in her life where she went behind her mother’s back and went to
parties with friends even though her mother did not approve of this. Through
this, Pranab attained a level of happiness just for a while as after 23 years
Deborah and Pranab divorce as he resolves to have an affair with a married
woman from his roots.
Usha’s mother is a conservative lady
whom from the beginning of the story we see trying as much as possible to
connect with her culture even in the alien land. She dresses like a Bengali
woman as identified when they first meet with Pranab and also cooks the Bengali
traditional meals as she offers Pranab the meal he has missed most since he
arrived in America (Dr. M.R. Chandran and Senthamarai 546).
Usha’s mother just like Pranab finds comfort in spending time with him and
feels a real connection with home one that she never felt with her husband as
their marriage was an arranged one. Usha’s mother even looks forward to the
arrival of Pranab where she even prepares herself psychologically what to cook
for the following week. The situation however changes and she goes back to the
dull moments after Pranab gets into a relationship with Deborah. It is not
until she lets go some of her traditions and adapts to her environment that she
attains true happiness at the end of the story where she even connects with her
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