The character I have chosen for analysis from Jhumpa Lahiri short story, “The Third and Final Continent,” is the narrator, a very dynamic character who adapts to the traditions and lifestyles of the continents he travels to especially America. The narrator exhibits the most characteristics than any other character in the story because he is talking about his life and the actions that he takes when encountering a certain obstacle. The narrator also shows the most change than any other character. Living from one continent to another continent and then to another continent again can dramatically change how a person lives, thinks, and even eat. Despite all the changes that he experiences he still retains some traditions from his culture of origin with the help of a stranger that he meets. This is a positive characteristic that distinguishes the narrator from any other character in the story. The narrator’s life contrasts somewhat to other immigrants because they must all undergo a certain type of change and must worry about the passing of traditions to their American born children. The life of the narrator is a clear example of what most immigrants must go through when living in a new continent.
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The tone of the narrator sounds somewhat non enthusiastic or plain due to the fact that both of his parents have passed away. He shows strong love and respect for his parents. “Before we cremated her I had cleaned each of her fingernails with a hairpin. I had assumed the role of eldest son, and had touched the flame to her temple; to release her tormented soul to heaven” (Jhumpa Lahiri 654). The narrator is also a very well educated man, a graduate from LSE (London School of Economics), and he also has a knack for learning new things. “I attended lectures at LSE. I read every article and advertisement, so I would grow familiar with things, and when my eyes grew tired I slept” (Lahiri 650-651).
The narrator faces an internal conflict: how can he be a modern American Indian and retain some of the old traditional Indian ways at the same time? His quest continues with the birth of his son, afraid that his son will forget his Indian traditions. “So we drive to Cambridge to visit him, or bring him home for a weekend, so that he can eat rice with us with his hands, and speak in Bengali, things we sometimes worry he will no longer do after we die” (Lahiri 662). The narrator tells to his son the journey of himself surviving in three totally different continents as a way for his son to gain the morale that he needs to overcome any obstacle. There is evidence in the story which suggest that the narrator is trying to find solutions for his problem because he tries to retain some of his old traditional ways by eating egg curry and walking barefoot in the house and being modern by telling his wife that she does not have to wear her sari all the time. “And took turns cooking pots of egg curry, which we ate with our hands on a table covered with newspapers” (Lahiri 650). “There is no need to cover you head, “I said.” I don’t mind. It doesn’t matter here” (Lahiri 660). Cooking egg curry is his main way of keeping Indian tradition alive. He cooks egg curry in India, in the crowded room in London, and even in his new home in America. He can never abandon his roots and obeys every aspect of his Indian culture. “I regarded the proposition with neither objection nor enthusiasm. It was a duty expected of me, as it was expected of every man” (Lahiri 654). The neutral remarks that he makes towards his arrange marriage shows that he is a very religious man, keeping alive some aspect of his tradition to allow him to survive the toughest of times.
The narrator is astounded when he finds out from Mrs. Croft’s daughter Helen that his land lady is over a century years old. “I was mortified. I had assumed Mrs. Croft was in her eighties, perhaps as old as ninety” (Lahiri 657). He could not bare the fact of a widow living all alone by herself because he once had close encounters with a widow before which drove her insane, his mother. “Widowhood had driven my own mother insane. What pained me the most was to see her so unguarded… And so it was my job to sit by mother’s feet” (Lahiri 657). When he realizes that Mrs. Croft is very old and also a widow for so long he starts to take care of her as if she was his own mother. “At times I came downstairs before going to sleep, to make sure she was sitting upright on the bench, or was safe I her bedroom” (Lahiri 658). This shows the narrator’s strong bond between stranger and stranger which later strengthens his relationship with Mala.
His encounters with his land lady, Mrs. Croft guided him with his new life in America. He shows admiration for Mrs. Croft because she has survived for so long while keeping all of her old traditions intact and passing them on to her children. “She added that it was also improper for a lady of Helen’s station to reveal her age and to wear a dress so high above the ankle” (Lahiri 657). This paves the way for how the narrator should live his life and teach his son about Indian traditions. Mrs. Croft also symbolizes the narrator’s mother saying that Maya “is a perfect lady!” (Lahiri 662), as though she is approving of Maya to be the narrator’s wife.
“For immigrants, the challenges of exile, the loneliness, the constant sense of alienation, the knowledge of and longing for a lost world, are more explicit and distressing than for their children. On the other hand, the problem for the children of immigrants, those with strong ties to their country of origin, is that they feel neither one thing nor the other” (Lahiri 663-664). This quote from Lahiri herself is basically what the theme of “The Third and Final Continent” is all about. It strongly interprets the narrator’s character in the story as an immigrant and the emotions that he feels when he enters a new country. It also explains the inner conflict in which he is trying to overcome of being a modern Indian and a traditional Indian at the same time, while explaining to his son how important it is to keep a little bit of tradition alive within you. Although not every immigrant’s life in America can relate to the narrators, it is true however that they all must undergo some type of change when living in a new country for the very first time.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Chapter 20/Fiction For Further Reading.” Literature Reading, Reacting, Writing. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. 650-64. Print.
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