Isolating Identity Essay

Submitted By orrger323
Words: 1051
Pages: 5

As we wake each morning, shave, style our hair, fasten our ties, and zip up our skirts, consciously or not, we subscribe to the dominant cultural norms that pervade society. Rarely does someone question these practices or consider their purpose, they simply are. Societies demand our conformity and those who fail to meet these capricious mandates struggle to not only find an identity, but also the solace associated with community. Although, utilizing the motif of isolation in This Blessed House, Jhumpa Lahiri forces her audience to reconcile not only the identity crises that individuals suffer because of conformity, but also the autonomy that those who resist the need to conform discover. An examination of the two main characters from Lahiri’s story, This Blessed House, illustrates this aforementioned tension and emphasizes the discontent associated with isolation. Sanjeev, the disgruntled husband of the story, ironically isolates himself from American society by an unrelenting loyalty to his native Indian culture. As a result, his happiness is curbed due to an unwillingness to conform to western society. In fact, Sanjeev’s marriage represents a hollow attempt to assuage the contrived need for companionship forged within his culture. Sanjeev’s proclivity to rationalize his marriage by acknowledging Twinkle’s superior education and “suitably high caste” only reinforces this tragic reality (149). Furthermore, Sanjeev’s anticipation of the dinner party amplifies not only his isolation but also troubled identity. This passage denotes a dutiful obligation, grounded in his native culture, to exhibit his material success to members of a foreign culture imposing entirely different standards. Certainly, it is ironic that Sanjeev arduously prepares to impress people that he “only associates with being alone” (145). His inhibition to release himself from the expectations of Indian culture coupled with his reluctance to conform to western society stands in opposition to Twinkles propensity to find the “hidden wonders he [cannot] anticipate, or see” (142). Sanjeev’s self-imposed isolation from society is further manifested in his recollections of his college years. His old textbooks “remind him of a time in his life he recalled with fondness, when he would walk each evening across the Mass. Avenue bridge to order Mughlai chicken…from his favorite Indian restaurant…and return to his dorm to write out…problem sets (138).” The prevalence of Indian culture and absence of American culture throughout this memory are significant. Sanjeev’s love for Indian food further reveals his stringent loyalty to Indian culture and an unwillingness to eat, or experience, the conventions of American culture. This is reinforced throughout the narrative as he only consumes Indian food, showing a complete aversion to American customs. Additionally, Sanjeev returned to his apartment each night not to socialize with American roommates, but to further isolate himself from foreign culture via homework. This fondness of isolation opposes the experience of Twinkle, a Stanford graduate. While Sanjeev remained impervious to American influence during her college career, Twinkle exits college personifying American culture with her “suede three-inch leopard-print pumps and chenille sweater (141).” Sanjeev’s perspective of his marriage and the circumstances leading toward it underscore his inability to assimilate into American society and escape the demands of Indian culture. “He thought of a flicker of regret of the snapshots…of prospective brides who could sing and sew and season lentils without consulting cookbook (146).” Sanjeev not only longs for this contrived bride, but this blueprint is a stark contrast to Twinkle, who cannot perform any of these aforementioned duties. Furthermore, these ideals have been imposed upon him by his culture, not freely selected; they reflect the feminine values prevalent in Indian culture, values that Twinkle certainly detests.