Female Subjects and Negotiating Identities in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies

Bahareh Bahmanpour

Abstract


Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories mostly concerned with the diasporic postcolonial situation of the lives of Indians and Indian-Americans whose hyphenated Indian identity has led them to be caught between the Indian traditions that they have left behind and a totally different western world that they have to face culminating in an ongoing struggle to adjust between the two worlds of the two cultures. It is this in-between situation of such characters of diasporic identity that makes the collection receptive to postcolonial studies. In its discussion of four of the stories of the collection in which women have a more central role, namely “Mrs. Sen”, “This Blessed House”, “The Treatment of Bibi Heldar” and “Sexy”, the following essay draws on ideas, theories and key words of two major postcolonial theorists, Homi K. Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak whose concerns with postcolonial cultural-identity crisis and cultural hybridity on the one hand and the predicament of female subaltern on the other hand, make them most relevant and beneficial to the concerns of the present study. Through an exclusive attention to female characters, this essay then explores the process of transition and formation of new cultural identities, blatantly engages itself with notions of “hybridity” and “liminality” and examines the way, if any, through which Lahiri gives voice to the subaltern experience. The essay’s findings revolve around the fact that by allowing the female subaltern to be voiced, Lahiri’s stories prepare a space through which the subaltern can speak. Dealing with the trauma and the possible success, failure or resistance of female subjects who in their confrontations with the culture of the Other negotiate their new identities, this essay presents the problems involved in negotiating such new identities through an exploration of the inevitable Self/Other confrontation which takes place in the process of identity-formation. Keywords: Diasporic Identity; Self, Other(ing); Hybridity; Liminality; Female subaltern

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968%2Fj.sll.1923156320100106.006

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