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Character Development

To develop characters in “Interpreter of Maladies,” Lahiri layers small, specific details in her descriptions of each character, giving them depth and richness. From the first paragraph of the story, details such as the bickering about who will accompany Tina to the bathroom and the fact that Mrs. Das does not hold Tina’s hand tell us that Mr. and Mrs. Das are at odds, at least in some small way, and that Mrs. Das is a somewhat careless mother. These details are important because the narrator tells us few explicit facts about the Das family. Rather, we must infer information about them from the way they act. We learn about Mr. Das’s distance and willful ignorance from his picture taking and absorption in his guidebook, and we learn about the children’s insolence through small behaviors, such as Tina’s playing with the car locks and Ronny’s approaching the goat with gum. Mr. Kapasi infers what he knows about the Das family from the same set of details.

The small pieces of information that we have about Mrs. Das almost overwhelm her big confession toward the end of the story. What we know of her character is based less on the substantial knowledge that she has committed adultery with her husband’s friend and borne a child of the affair and more on the less significant fact that she does not share her puffed rice with her children or husband, does not care to be in the photographs they take at the monastery, and wears insensible shoes while she goes sightseeing. Mrs. Das is, with Mr. Kapasi, the most important character in the story, but what we know of her comes from the fact that she wears sunglasses, wears a shirt with a strawberry on it, shaves her legs, and carries a large, overstuffed purse. By providing so many small, specific details, Lahiri vividly portrays Mrs. Das but also allows for some ambiguity. Mr. Kapasi perceives the same details but misconstrues what they mean about Mrs. Das, mistakenly believing that she shares with him some problem or connection.

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