Mrs Sen’s by Jhumpa Lahiri
In Mrs Sen’s by Jhumpa Lahiri we have the theme of culture, change, isolation, independence and identity. Taken from her Interpreter of Maladies collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Lahiri may be exploring the theme of culture and just how difficult it can be for an individual (Mrs Sen) to adapt to a new culture. Mrs Sen is an Indian woman living in America yet she is frightened to try and adapt to what would be considered a normal American way of life. Driving as an example. Mrs Sen is fearful of driving on her own. Though the reward is freedom she never conquers the obstacles she has placed in front of herself. It is as though Mrs Sen lacks the ability to change or become accustomed to life in America. The letters that she receives from India are also interesting as they have the ability to drag Mrs Sen back into her past. It is not that the past should be forgotten but an individual should try and embrace the future. Something that Mrs Sen does not do throughout the story.
Mrs Sen also dresses traditionally as though she was still living in India. Likewise she prepares food on the ground when she has a table in her apartment that she can use. If anything Mrs Sen is unable to let go of her tradition. It appears to be all that she has. Whereas Mr Sen seems to have had an easier time adapting to his new surroundings on the university campus. This may be important as Lahiri may be suggesting that unlike Mr Sen, Mrs Sen does not have much to do. This might explain as to why she decided upon minding Eliot. A job that might help to keep her preoccupied. Mrs Sen also doesn’t venture out of the apartment very much. Once a week she might go to the fishmonger and get fish but apart from that she is isolated from the outside world. It might also be important that Mrs Sen does not feel independent of Mr Sen. She relies on him heavily throughout the story and some readers might suggest that Mrs Sen’s reliance is inappropriate. It is as though she expects him to be at her beck and call in minutes despite the fact that he is working.
It is however noticeable that Mrs Sen does try to adapt to her new surroundings. Though she does not take a leap of faith. The driving being an example of this. Eliot appears to know more about driving than Mrs Sen does. Life for Mrs Sen in America is not an adventure or a new challenge to be welcomed. She is still emotionally and mentally attached to India. Which would be very normal but at the same time it is possible to acclimatize oneself to a culture that is different to your own and still not lose your sense of identity. If anything Mrs Sen has to be really pushed when it comes to expressing herself as an independent woman. The event of Mrs Sen deciding to drive to the fishmonger’s for herself being an example. Unfortunately things do not go as planned and Mrs Sen crashes the car. It is also interesting that when talking to the policeman Mrs Sen gives details about Mr Sen. As though Mr Sen is able to make everything okay again. Something that may have been the case in India but not in America. Mrs Sen is responsible for her own actions even if she cannot see this.
The end of the story is interesting as the reader realises that Mrs Sen has been beaten. Through Eliot the reader realises that Mrs Sen after the car crash is crying in her bedroom. It might also be possible that Mrs Sen’s tears similarly reflect the frustration she feels over the type of life she is living. America for many would be considered a place where dreams can be achieved. However this is not the case for Mrs Sen. The reader left feeling as though if anything Mrs Sen just wants to return home to India and her family. There is no sense that Mrs Sen has found happiness in America and she may never return to India due to Mr Sen’s position in the university. In reality the reader is left with the sense that Mrs Sen is trapped. She loves and is obedient to her husband but it’s just a case that Mrs Sen is deeply uncomfortable with the life she is living. Through no fault of her own she is unable to adapt to life in America. Life in India was simpler and Mrs Sen knew what role she had to play (with her family). In America things are totally different. Mrs Sen has the opportunity to live a relatively independent life but it may not be what she wants.