Jhumpa Lahiri possesses an aptitude for communicating the failures and achievements of humanity; more specifically, she writes about the daily, omnipresent adversity that exemplifies human life. Her characters diverge greatly from similar cultural backgrounds (both the guide and the tourists are Bengali); however, both groups have identical difficulties in their lives: loveless marriages. Lahiris choice in type of narration, her constant reminders of commonality within the human race, and her subtle symbolism all intertwine to form a theme about the general hardships and misinterpretations that people face in connecting to one another.
Mr. Kapasi is no typical character: he is educated, works two jobs in which he uses his lingual abilities, and lives daily without affection from his wife. Mr. Kapasi plays an important role in galvanizing the plot and ultimately conveying the beauty and cruelty of life. He is integral in expressing the differences and similarities between the tourists and himself. While he notices that they appear to be Bengali, he also perceives they dress as foreigners (2) and do not understand Hindi (13). Lahiri shows her cynical humor at the end when the interpreter of maladies, Mr. Kapasi, falls into the trap of misunderstanding because of his vulnerability to flattery (79). Mina Das incorrectly infers that he cures the patients, not just interprets for them. Lahiri intends the reader to trust the tour guides point-of-view; he isafter alla tour guide and an interpreter paid to describe the truth to people. His intoxication with Mrs. Das sudden interest in his second job leads him to imagine signs of affection and lust. As Mr. Kapasis assumption leads the reader astray, the end surprises the reader because everything culminates into one big misconception. Mr. Kapasi is attracted to the woman who praises him because he has not felt that attention and connection from his own wife.
Lahiri threads the need to talk to and to connect with people into her story by showing that no matter where people are from they need that human contact. Humanity needs to communicate its messages in order to feel whole. Mr. Kapasis hunger for attention from a female overwhelms his good judgment, and eventually he ends up being disappointed. Mrs. Das does not entrance him because she is an exceptional womanMr. Kapasi never notices any of her beauty in the beginning, but rather because she feeds his need to connect with someone. Neither notices the other until after Mr. Kapasi reveals his second job to the family. Mrs. Das explicitly greets him without displaying any interest in him and continues to ignore him until that turning point (2). The pain that Mr. Kapasi goes through is similar to that of Mrs. Das. His wife never sees his interpreting as commendable, let alone romantic (78, 61). The narrator informs the reader that the job has always signified his failures rather than successes in life; Mrs. Das, though providing a different outlook on his job, simply does it to meet her own needs. Lahiri portrays her as selfish and indifferent, whether it be not sharing her food (28) or not showing interest in her children (36). Mina Das expectations for the miracle cure are crushed when Mr. Kapasi directs a simple question towards her: Is it really pain you feel, Mrs. Das, or is it guilt? (161). Her hostile reaction towards him proves that he may indeed have been correct. Shortly after that scene, Mrs. Das suddenly begins to show extra care and love towards her children. The imagined affection Mr. Kapasi has for her flutters away with his address; reality dashes Mrs. Das hopes of curing her burdensome secret. That common yearning for a bond leads the characters to imagine their final solutions for their pain and hardships.
Lahiri communicates the theme of connections throughout the book, using a variety of objects and settings. Probably the clearest example of symbolism is the Temple of the Sun. The drying of a river created the harsh, dry environment surrounding the temple, which is a symbol of life (94-6). Lahiri appears to suggest that the temple began to deteriorate due to the environmental changes. The reader can interpret the erotic images on the wheels of the chariot as symbols of marital union (97). The whole image of the temple suggests a link between the failing marriages of both parties and the crumbling of their lives. A loveless marriage provides the perfect environment for feelings of pain and loneliness that both Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das experience. Another example of symbolism could even be the puffed rice that Mrs. Das is always eating. Mr. Kapasi notes her as sitting a bit slouched at one end of the back seat, not offering her puffed rice to anyone (28). Through food, people obtain energy or life; Mrs. Das shares her life with no one until the end when she offers the puffed rice to Mr. Kapasialso the time she discloses her secret (139). The desire for a connection with someone and relief from loneliness most connects Lahiris symbolism.
The maladies that Lahiri refers to are isolation, pain, and loneliness. The maladies drive two people to imagine their own reachable solutions. The failed marriages are a symbol of the complete obliteration of contact that humans require. Mrs. Das even goes so far as to say that she has no friends and no job because of her marriage (142-3). Lahiris symbolism indicates how the destruction of that bond can lead to the destruction of the whole, otherwise known as life. Symbolism, the form of narration, and the common problems between the characters achieve a surprisingly strong theme of the significance of relationships and bonds in life.