Close Reading Guide—Point of View in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies.”
Note: The following questions can be used to guide a closer reading of the text. Students should read through the story once, framed by an essential question, and then look back through at several of the specific instances, guided by their responses.
Essential Question: Why is the story being told from Mr. Kapasi’s perspective?
What is the point of view? From whose perspective is the story told? Write this on the top of the story.
After reading the first page, what is the initial conflict? What does Mr. Kapasi want?
Describe Mr. Kapasi.
Describe Mrs. Das. What evidence is there that she is not a good mother?
Mark all the places where Mr. Das’ camera is mentioned. After finishing the story, explain what is significant about the camera.
What does Mr. Kapasi do as a result of Mrs. Das?
What is Mr. Kapasi’s other job?
Explain how Mrs. Das’ interest in Mr. Kapasi’s other job creates pressure for him?
How does Mrs. Das asking for his address create pressure?
Looking back at the first question, why is this story told from Mr. Kapasi’s perspective? What would happen if it had been told from the perspective of another character?
3rd Person Limited-Omniscient. Mr. Kapasi’s perspective.
Tina needs to use the restroom so Mr. Kapasi has to stop to let one of the parents take her. They bicker about this, putting further pressure on Mr. Kapasi, and his interest so far in Mrs. Kapasi, checking out her legs in conflict with her lack of motherly qualities, makes the pressure more complex.
He is in his mid-forties and very particular about his looks, custom ordering an outfit in which to give tours.
She is young, born in America. She looks Indian, but does not speak the language, and it is clear from the songs the shirtless men sing that she is attractive. She wears a skirt above her knees, a close-fitting blouse, pink nail-polish and lipstick.
Mr. Das is described early with the camera and it continues to appear at intervals, reinforcing Mr. Das’ tourist qualities, wanting to capture every moment of something Mr. Kapasi sees weekly. It puts pressure on Mr. Kapasi when he is forced into a picture with Mrs. Das, who herself is pressured to be in a ‘picture perfect’ relationship. The last line of the story say, when Mr. Kapasi sees the slip of paper with his address fall out, knowing that “this was the picture of the Das family he would preserve forever” reinforces the idea of a camera capturing a moment but also failing to capture the change that occurred within Mr. Kapasi.
He notices her painting her nails and so he tries to make the ride go smoother.
He is an interpreter of maladies. He speaks a local language that the doctor does not so he interprets the symptoms people have for the doctor.
Mrs. Das, who up until this point in the story has been relatively reserved, suddenly takes an interest in what Mr. Kapasi has thought of more as a burden. He found the job through the sickness and loss of his son, and despite earning more money, it is a continual reminder to his wife, who does not see it as romantically as Mrs. Das is seeing it now. She views it akin to the jobs Mr. Kapasi wanted to have, which is now creating pressure because that respect, especially from a woman, is something he wants. The interest she takes in him is described as “mildly intoxicating.” It prompts him to say more about his occupation.
Mr. Kapasi starts to daydream about the possibilities of their correspondence. It continues his internal pressure, driving him towards Mrs. Das, which is what he wants by this point. However, he is not allowed to get what he wants; he worries that he printed the address wrong and that their correspondence will never occur. So, even when something positive happens, it still creates pressure.
Quite simply, it is Mr. Kapasi’s story. The change that occurs is his. He takes his profession for granted until it is suddenly brought alive by a girl he desperately wants to be with. He will no longer be able to see his life, which had become routine, comfortable, again.