The Third and Final Continent by Jhumpa Lahiri
In The Third and Final Continent by Jhumpa Lahiri we have the theme of change, connection, control, identity and struggle. Taken from her Interpreter of Maladies collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed male narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Lahiri may be exploring the theme of connection. The narrator while living with Mrs Croft and afterwards makes a connection with Mrs Croft. He is amazed that she is one hundred and three years old and knows that Mrs Croft is from a generation that has long passed by. Though it seems that both the narrator and Mrs Croft may have very little in common. Simple things like sitting with Mrs Croft when the narrator returns home from work strengthens the bond that the narrator feels he has with Mrs Croft. Apart from the narrator’s work colleagues, who are never mentioned, she is the narrator’s first introduction to America. She is also a proud woman. Something that is noticeable by the fact that she on several occasions reminds the narrator that America has put a man on the moon. There is also a sense that Mrs Croft without her knowing it is attempting to change the narrator when she tells him on several occasions to say ‘splendid.’ It is as though the narrator is being controlled. Something he does not necessarily like.
This sense of control may play on the theme of identity. The narrator struggled when he was in London. Getting used to his environment and just as Mrs Croft is a proud American. The narrator may also be a proud Indian. He may not necessarily be open to change but he knows he must when he is in London. It is also interesting that the narrator follows family tradition when he marries Mala. He is not physically attracted to her and if anything their first five nights together the narrator is cold towards Mala. Something which would further play on the theme of connection. However the narrator knows that he must grow to love Mala. Though he also knows that this will take time as they are in reality strangers to each other. It is also noticeable that the narrator is unable to look after himself when he first arrives in America. His diet appears to consist of just cornflakes. This may be important as the narrator is most likely used to a woman preparing his food for him. Something that leaves the reader suspecting that Mala will have a traditional role to play in her marriage to the narrator. She will prepare the narrator’s food just as his mother might have.
It may also be a case that Lahiri is attempting to highlight the difficulties that an immigrant can incur while trying to balance their own culture with a new culture. Something that Mala at first has difficulty with. Just as the narrator had difficulty with the differences in culture when he lived in London. At first Mala prepares rice for the narrator’s breakfast till the narrator tells her that he will have cornflakes. Though this is a simple change it is still nonetheless important as it highlights the struggle that Mala may feel trying to acclimatize to life in America. It’s not that the narrator is suggesting that Mala or indeed the narrator himself should abandon their beliefs or culture but rather they should combine both Indian and American culture. They are after all living in a different world. A world that they have settled in. There is also a sense that the narrator knows that he is on a journey. He is a married man who has yet to get to know his wife. He is also living in a country in whereby things are culturally different.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader gets an insight into how well the narrator and Mala have adapted to life in America. They have settled into their own home, which they own, and their son is in Harvard. It is also interesting that neither the narrator nor Mala have forgotten their traditional values. Ensuring that their son is able to speak Bengali. The fact that the narrator and Mala are also American citizens could be important as it suggests that they have embraced life in America while still not forgetting India. The reader aware that the narrator, Mala and their son visit India every few years. Despite the concerns that the narrator had about being married to Mala. He has not only overcome any anxiety he has but he has remained married to Mala. If anything the narrator and Mala have flourished. Most likely because the narrator could identify with Mala’s apprehensions when she first moved to America. Apprehensions the narrator too had when he moved to London. It is these apprehensions that may have formed the initial connection or spark that resulted in the narrator and Mala having a successful and happy marriage.