A short-term MatterIntroductionAuthor BiographyPlot SummaryCharactersThemesStyleHistorical ContextCritical OverviewCriticismSourcesFurther ReadingJhumpa Lahiri1998


"A short-lived Matter" was originally published in the brand-new Yorker in April 1998 and is the very first story in Jhumpa Lahiri"s debut collection, Interpreter the Maladies (1999). The repertoire won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, a rare accomplishment for a short-story collection.

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The story takes location over 5 days, start March 19, at the suburban Boston residence of a married couple, Shoba and also Shukumar. Throughout this week, as soon as they should cope with a one-hour power outage each evening, the grief and alienation that the two have actually suffered since the stillbirth of your child 6 months earlier builds come a climax.

Author Biography

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London, England, in 1967. Her parents, natives of Bengal, India, soon relocated the family members to Rhode Island, where Lahiri thrived up. Lahiri"s father, Amar, is a librarian at the university of Rhode Island, and her mother, Tia, is a teacher"s aide. Indigenous childhood, Lahiri made constant trips come India to visit relatives.

After receiving a bachelor"s level in English literary works from Barnard College, Lahiri earned master"s levels in English, an imaginative writing, and also comparative studies in literature and also the arts, all from Boston University. She walk on to knife a doctorate in Renaissance research studies at the same university.

"A temporary Matter" very first appeared in the brand-new Yorker in 1998 and was among Lahiri"s first published stories. That is the very first story in the arsenal Interpreter that Maladies (1999), for which Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize because that fiction in 2000. The collection"s location story also won one O. Henry award and also the PEN/Hemingway award in 1999.

Lahiri lives in Brooklyn, new York, through her husband, Guatemalan American journalist Alberto Vourvoulias, and also their young son, Octavio. Her very first novel, The Namesake, was released in the loss of 2003.

Plot Summary

The story opens up with Shoba, a thirty-three-year-old wife, getting here home at the end of a workday. She husband, Shukumar, is food preparation dinner. Shoba reads him a notice from the electric company stating that their electricity will be turned turn off from 8 p.m. To 9 p.m. For 5 consecutive days so that a line can be repaired. The day shown top top the an alert for the very first evening that the outage is today"s date, march 19. The notice seems to have been mailed.

The narrator mentions that Shukumar has forgotten come brush his teeth that day and often does not leave the home for days at a time, although Shoba remains out more as time go on. Climate the narrator describes that six months earlier, in September, Shoba had experienced fetal fatality three weeks prior to their infant was due. Shukumar, a doctoral student, was in Baltimore because that an scholastic conference at the time, having gone just at Shoba"s insistence. Shukumar regularly thinks of the last time he saw Shoba pregnant, the morning the left for the conference. As he rode away in the taxi, he had imagined himself and Shoba control in a station wagon through their children.

By the time Shukumar had obtained news that Shoba"s premature birth labor and returned to Boston, your baby had actually been stillborn.

Now, Shoba leaves at an early stage each morning for her proofreading task in the city. ~ work, she goes come the gym. She additionally takes top top extra tasks for work-related that she does in ~ home during the evenings and also weekends. Shukumar remains in bed fifty percent the day. Due to the fact that of the tragedy, his scholastic advisor has arranged for him to be spared any type of teaching duties because that the spring semester. Shukumar is claimed to be functioning on his dissertation; instead, he spends many of his time reading novels and cooking dinner.

When Shukumar remarks the they will have to eat dinner in the dark since of the power outage, Shoba argues lighting candles and also goes upstairs come shower prior to dinner. Shukumar notes the she has left she satchel and also sneakers in the kitchen and that because the stillbirth Shoba has "treated the home like a hotel." He brushes his teeth, unwrapping a brand-new toothbrush in the below bathroom. This leader him come recall the Shoba provided to be ready for any eventuality. In enhancement to having actually extra toothbrushes for last-minute guests, Shoba had stocked their pantry and also freezer v homemade foods. ~ the stillbirth, she had actually stopped cooking, and Shukumar had used up all the stored food in the past months. Shukumar also notes that Shoba always keeps her bonuses in a financial institution account in her very own name. He thinks the this is because that the best, because his mom was unable to manage her jae won affairs once his dad died.

The narrator defines that Shoba and also Shukumar have actually been eat dinner separately, she in former of the tv set, he in prior of the computer. Tonight, they will eat together since of the power outage. Shukumar lights candles, melody the radio to a jazz station, and sets the table through their finest china. Shoba comes into the kitchen as the electricity goes off and also the lights go out. She states that the kitchen watch lovely and also reminisces about power outages in India. She speak Shukumar that at family dinners at she grandmother"s house, as soon as the power went off, "we all had actually to to speak something"—a joke, a poem, an amazing fact, or some other tidbit. Shoba suggests that she and also Shukumar carry out this, but she further suggests that they every tell the other something they have never revealed before.

Shoba begins the game, telling Shukumar that early in their partnership she peeked right into his deal with book to view if she was in it. Shukumar reveals the on their an initial date he forgot to tip the waiter, for this reason he went back to the restaurant the next day and also left money for him.

The next evening, Shoba comes home previously than usual. Castle eat together by candlelight again. Then, instead of each going come a different room, Shoba suggests that lock sit outside, because it is warm. Shukumar knows that they will certainly play the game again. That is afraid of what Shoba might tell him. That considers yet then discounts numerous possibilities: the she had actually an affair, the she does no respect him because that still gift a college student at thirty-five, or the she blames him for being away once she lost the baby.

Shoba tells Shukumar the she as soon as lied to him, saying that she had to occupational late once actually she went out through a friend. Shukumar speak her the he cheated on an exam many years earlier. He explains that his dad had died a couple of months before and that he to be unprepared for the exam. Shoba take away his hand, and also they walk inside.

The following day, Shukumar thinks all day around what he will tell Shoba next. The evening, he tells her that he went back a sweater she provided him as an anniversary gift and also used the money to acquire drunk in the center of the day. The pullover was a gift for their third anniversary, and also Shukumar was disappointed due to the fact that he assumed it unromantic. Shoba speak Shukumar the at a social gathering through his superiors from the university, she deliberately did not tell him the he had a little of food top top his chin together he chatted through the department chairman. They climate sit with each other on the sofa and kiss.

The fourth night, Shoba speak Shukumar the she go not prefer the only poem the has ever before had published. He tells her the he as soon as tore a snapshot of a woman out of one of her magazines and carried it v him for a week because he wanted the woman. They walk upstairs and make love.

The following day, Shukumar goes come the mailbox and also finds a notice that the electrical repairs have actually been perfect early. Shukumar is disappointed, yet when Shoba arrives home she says, "You can still irradiate the candle if friend want." they eat through candlelight, and also then Shoba blows out the candles and also turns on the lights. When Shukumar inquiries this, she speak him that she has something come tell him and wants that to watch her face. His heart pounds. The thinks that she is going to tell him that she is pregnant again, and he go not desire her come be. She speak him, instead, that she has signed a lease on an apartment because that herself.

Shukumar realizes that this revelation has been her planned ending for the game all along. He decides come tell Shoba other he had actually vowed to himself the he would never tell her. Shoba go not understand that Shukumar hosted their baby at the hospital while she slept. Shoba go not also know the baby"s gender and has stated that she is glad that she has actually no knowledge around the shed child. Shukumar tells Shoba that the baby was a boy and goes on to describe his illustration in detail, consisting of that the baby"s hands were closed right into fists the means Shoba"s are as soon as she sleeps. The 2 sit at the table together, and each of castle cries because of what the other has revealed.


Mr. Bradford

Mr. And also Mrs. Bradford are next-door neighbors of Shoba and Shukumar. Shoba and Shukumar watch them go by, eight in arm, ~ above their way to the bookstore ~ above the 2nd night the the power outage. The Bradfords it seems ~ to it is in a happily married couple and together such provide a comparison to Shoba and Shukumar. The narrator mentions the the Bradfords placed a sympathy map in Shoba and also Shukumar"s mailbox once they shed their baby.

Mrs. Bradford

Mr. And Mrs. Bradford are neighbors of Shoba and Shukumar. Shoba and Shukumar view them top top the second night the the power outage, and Shukumar sees lock again, through the window, on the last evening that the story. The an initial time the Bradfords appear, Mrs. Bradford asks Shoba and also Shukumar if lock would favor to join her and also her husband on their walk come the bookstore, but they decline.


Shoba is a thirty-three-year-old woman who is married to Shukumar. She is defined as tall and also broad-shouldered. She seems to have been born in the United claims of immigrant parents from India, and also she has spent significant time in India visiting relatives. She and also her husband now live in a house outside Boston.

Shoba functions in the city together a proofreader and additionally takes top top extra projects to do at home. She functions out at a gym regularly.

Six months prior to the time of the story, Shoba"s very first child to be stillborn. This tragedy has readjusted her habits and also her relationship with she husband. While she was previously a neat and also enthusiastic housekeeper and cook, she has come to be careless around the house and also has stopped cooking. The narrator remarks that she previously had actually the habit that being prepared for anything, from maintaining extra toothbrush on hand because that last-minute guests to autumn the freezer and also pantry with homemade Indian delicacies.


Shukumar is a thirty-five-year-old doctoral student who is married come Shoba. The is a tall man with a large build. He, too, appears to be an American-born son of Indian immigrants, yet he has spent much less time in India than Shoba has.

Because the the ns of his child six months earlier, Shukumar has actually been provided a semester away from his teaching duties. The is an alleged to use the time to focus on creating his dissertation ~ above agrarian revolts in India. However, Shukumar perfect little. He continues to be in bed until midday, doesn"t leaving the residence for days in ~ a time, and also often forgets to brush his teeth. He has actually spent the previous months prepare dinners because that himself and also Shoba using the foods she has stored in the freezer and also pantry.



The story takes place six month after the stillbirth the Shoba and Shukumar"s first child, and the two room still overwhelmed through grief. Shukumar has withdrawn from the world and seldom leaves the house. He stays in bed half the day, unable to summon the energy and also concentration come make development on his dissertation. Shoba, ~ above the various other hand, stays away indigenous the home as much as she can. She provided to be an attentive housekeeper and enthusiastic cook, but the residence seems to remind she of her loss. Follow to Shukumar, she treats the residence as if it were a hotel and would eat cereal for dinner if that did not cook. The narrator also reveals that Shoba and Shukumar no much longer go out socially or entertain at home.

People who experience the ns of a love one regularly go v a period of not wanting to go on life themselves. They may feel can not to make the effort required come go around daily life. Sadness may drown the end all optimistic emotions. This appears to it is in true for this couple, and especially the Shukumar.


Shoba and also Shukumar"s grief has actually led castle to withdraw from each other. Until the nightly power outages began, castle avoided every other. Shoba pipeline for work beforehand each morning, returns late, and often brings residence extra work to occupy her evenings and also weekends. Once Shoba is home, Shukumar retreats come his computer and pretends to job-related on his dissertation. He has put the computer in the room the was to be the nursery since he knows that Shoba stays clear of that room. She come in briefly every evening come tell that goodnight. That resents also this short interaction, i beg your pardon Shoba initiates only out of a feeling of obligation.

Shoba and Shukumar carry out not attempt to comfort or assistance each other. Every withdraws indigenous the relationship, and also they endure your grief together if they were two strangers living in a boardinghouse.


Through the game that Shoba and Shukumar beat of revealing secrets, readers discover that deception has been a theme in your relationship. They have lied to every other, and also the lies have actually been selfish ones—told not to spare the other"s feelings but to allow the person telling the lie come escape part discomfort or sacrifice. Come avoid having dinner v Shukumar"s mother, Shoba lied and also said she had to job-related late. Shukumar said Shoba that he lost a sweater she had provided him, once in truth he changed the sweater and also used the money to get drunk.

As these examples of deception are revealed throughout the story, it is clear that Shoba and Shukumar"s emotional estrangement began prior to the lose of your baby. Lock have constantly dealt with difficult situations and also unpleasant emotions by lying and also keeping secrets. Once Shoba breaks the stalemate the their grief has actually caused through initiating a deceptive game, she is following an developed pattern. Throughout the mainly of strength outages, Shoba shows up to be getting to out come Shukumar. In truth, she is design her last separation indigenous him.


Realism with Details

Lahiri provides dozens of day-to-day details to develop a realistic context in i m sorry the story takes place. When Shukumar recalls the morning the left for Baltimore, that remembers the the taxicab to be red through blue lettering. Once he wakes up each morning, the sees Shoba"s "long black hairs" on her pillow. The crib in the nursery is made of cherry wood; the transforming table is white v mint-green knobs. Taken together, such details comprise a human being that readers discover familiar. The realism of the atmosphere makes the personalities who live in it and the events that take ar in the seem genuine as well.

Conflicting Clues

As the story unfolds, Lahiri provides readers v two conflict sets of clues regarding how it could end. Each evening Shoba and Shukumar it seems to be ~ to attract closer to each other both emotionally and physically. As they share lengthy withheld secrets, they hold hands, kiss, and also finally do love. It seems as if ghosts that have haunted their marital relationship are gift exorcised.

Topics for more Study

Shoba recalls access time to she grandmother"s residence in Calcutta. Execute research come learn around living problems in Calcutta for civilization at various economic levels. What execute you think Shoba"s grandmother"s home was like? What kinds of memories might Shoba have of her visits there, besides those of strength outages?A layout that runs throughout Lahiri"s body of work-related is the of the difficulties faced by immigrants and children of immigrants who have to strive come meld two societies in your lives. Walk this theme show up in "A momentary Matter"? describe your answer.What is your opinion that Shoba and also her actions towards Shukumar? specifically, what perform you think of the means she chose to call Shukumar that she to be leaving him? was she trying to spare his feeling by breaking the news gently, or was she being manipulative and unfair?Do study to learn about the difficulties faced by couples who suffer the tragedy that a stillborn child. Shoba and also Shukumar"s marital relationship does not endure their loss. How common is this? What space some other difficulties that together couples may face, and also what perform medical professionals recommend to aid prevent or minimization them?Lahiri had in the story brief descriptions of both Shoba"s and Shukumar"s mothers. She accomplished this by having actually the narrator recall a visit from every woman. Why perform you think Lahiri contained these recollections? What carry out they add to the story?

At the exact same time, the video game that appears to be illustration them together also reveals a previous filled through deception. Things have not always been as they seemed in between these two people. In addition, readers learn at an early stage in the story the Shoba has constantly been one to setup ahead and also that she keeps a separate bank account. Readers room left come wonder whether the sample of deception will be damaged or intensified.

The balance seems to transition decisively in favor of a happy finishing when, ~ above the fifth evening, the narrator declares, "They had survived a difficult time." Shoba"s silence that evening has been understood as the patience after a storm. But that interpretation is as misleading as Shoba"s habits has been. Readers, like Shukumar, have been offered mixed signals and only discover at the finish which set of ideas was reliable.

Historical Context

Indian Americans

According come the 2000 census, over there were practically 1.7 million Indian american in the United states at that time. This was much more than dual the number for 1990, making Indian american the fastest-growing group in the nation. Together of 2004, Indian Americans are the 3rd largest group of asian Americans, ~ those of Chinese and Filipino origin. California, brand-new York, brand-new Jersey, and also Florida are amongst the says with huge numbers of american of Indian origin.

Indian americans are amongst the best educated and wealthiest of all Americans. In 2000, your median family income was more than $60,000, compared to a average of just over $41,000 for non-Hispanic white Americans. Substantial numbers that Indian Americans work-related in the high-tech sector and likewise in various engineering and health treatment occupations. This is unsurprising given India"s strong tradition of education and learning in math and also science. In addition, the fact that many Indian immigrant arrive in the United claims speaking fluent English is an financial advantage. English is among the main languages that India, a legacy of its long status together a colony of Britain.

As the number of Indian american grows, so does their affect on American culture. Indian foods items are increasingly easily accessible not just at restaurants—many of them owned by Indian Americans—but likewise in suburban supermarkets. Many big American cities have at the very least one Hindu temple. The works of Indian American writers and also filmmakers have usually been well received by one American public passionate to know an ext about India and about Indian Americans, that are more and an ext likely come be among their neighbors and coworkers.

Critical Overview

Interpreter the Maladies, the arsenal in i m sorry "A temporary Matter" appears, won extensive praise indigenous American doubters when it appeared. As well as the nearly universal approval bestowed on the book, the most remarkable feature of the criticism is that almost every reviewer contrasted Lahiri come one or much more literary predecessors and no two reviewers seem to have connected her through the exact same writers.

New York Times book Review movie critic Caleb Crain declares that "Samuel Richardson"s recent heir is Jhumpa Lahiri," a reference to Richardson"s eighteenth-century novel Pamela in i beg your pardon a family servant is the unwilling object of a affluent young man"s lust. The connection in between Lahiri and also Richardson is not evident to all, yet Crain likewise compares Lahiri come Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemingway. "There is naught accidental around her success," Crain concludes, "her plots are as elegantly constructed as a good proof in mathematics."

Writing in the mountain Francisco Chronicle, David Kipen sees similarities through Philip Roth and also Lan Samantha Chang. Like the former"s Good-Bye, Columbus and also the latter"s Hunger, Kipen writes, Lahiri"s work-related "transcends mere country exoticism." that praises her use of "simple, acquainted tools—subtle characterization, meaningful but never portentous detail."

Ellen Emry Heltzel, composing in The Oregonian, calls Interpreter that Maladies "an superior start, signaling the arrival of yet another notable Anglo-Indian writer in ~ a time when, in literary one at least, India is all the rage." The comment is an comprise comparison to Bharati Mukherjee, Chitra Divakaruni, and also other writers who address themes similar to those uncovered in Lahiri"s work.

In general, critics in Asia and other non-Western countries have not been as providing as have Americans. Reviewing Interpreter that Maladies in Time global magazine, Nisid Hajari writes, "At times the 3 stories that attend to the souring the love … read favor journal entries, or schematics to the collapse of a relationship. Their declines are nearly too measured, too scholastic to evoke much sympathy or uncontrived sadness." Hajari nevertheless referred to as the arsenal "assured and powerful" and implies the Lahiri"s next effort may it is in an improvement.


Candyce Norvell

Norvell is an independent education writer who specializes in English and literature. In this essay, Norvell discusses the story together "the interaction between an active woman and a passive man."

The human being that Jhumpa Lahiri create in "A short-term Matter" is one in i beg your pardon women room in charge. Ladies act; men react. This state of affairs is a reversal of traditional gender functions in India, the country from i m sorry both Shoba"s and also Shukumar"s parental emigrated, and the unified States. This function reversal offers the story a strongly contemporary feel.

Both the author and also the doubters who analyze her work-related categorize Lahiri in addition to other mrs Indian American authors whose work deals with the social conflicts faced by immigrants and also their children. Yet Lahiri"s story in general, and also this one in particular, perform not seem to grapple with social issues as much similar to gender issues. The dynamic the drives "A momentary Matter" is the interaction between an energetic woman and a passive man. It is the kind of case that today"s readers would discover credible and compelling even if it is the characters were children of immigrant or descendants of the Pilgrims.

That Shoba and Shukumar room second-generation american of Indian legacy is incidental. Castle eat Indian food. And also when a visit native Shoba"s mommy is recalled, readers learn that she is a Hindu. However these facts have no influence on just how Shoba and Shukumar respond to the lose of their child or behave toward each other. The husband and also wife might just also eat Italian food or rapid food, and the visiting mother can just as quickly have to be a Catholic or a Jew. Shoba and also Shukumar are reportedly divorced native the religion and traditions of their forebears. Far from struggling come balance two traditions, they have set themselves adrift from every traditions. They space thoroughly contemporary and secular, and also their story can be the story of any type of educated thirty-something couple.

Freedom from legacy leaves Shoba and also Shukumar to job-related out the regards to their connection on your own. Individual personalities, complimentary of cultural restrictions, shape their relationship and also their lives. And in this marriage, that truth puts Shoba in the driver"s seat.

Although Shoba has been changed by the loss of she child, she has uncovered the strength and also determination to restart she life. She walk to she job, and she also works out at a gym. She still has the will certainly to setup ahead and also to take the initiative; she simply channels her power in new directions. Instead of fall the pantry and planning parties, she very closely plans how to extricate it s her from her marriage. She initiates a game designed to slowly open a channel that communication between Shukumar and also herself the is wide enough come accommodate the message she needs to deliver. In ~ the same time, she finds and also leases an apartment because that herself. Her an answer to trying situations is to set about transforming them.

Shukumar, on the various other hand, is a passive victim of those same circumstances. He continues to be in bed late and does not leave the house or even brush his teeth regularly. He seldom initiates communication with Shoba; instead, he reacts to she action. Once she pipeline her gym shoes and satchel in the kitchen, he moves them the end of his way without speak anything to her. Once Shoba says that lock eat through candlelight, the searches the end candles and lights them. As soon as Shoba starts the game of revealing secrets, it i do not care the focus of his days. That spends hrs thinking around what she can say come him and what he have to say to her that evening. If Shoba is out interacting with the world and also creating a structure for her future, Shukumar languishes. The is involved with no the current nor the future. In fact, he is paralyzed.

The duties in this marriage, those of the active woman and also the passive man, were created long prior to the tragedy. At an early stage in the story, readers discover that Shukumar find Shoba"s capability to setup ahead astonishing. In a description of their previous trips to a farmer"s market, Shoba leads him with the crowds and does every the choosing, haggling, and buying. Shukumar is checked out "trailing behind her through canvas bags." Shukumar"s trip to the conference in Baltimore, which led to his being away at the time of the stillbirth, was made in ~ Shoba"s insistence. He had actually not wanted to go, however he did together she told that to.

These incidents and others collection the phase for Shoba"s manipulation that Shukumar during the mainly of the strength outages. Readers know that Shoba is leading and also Shukumar is adhering to long before it is clear whereby they room going. Shukumar, however, go not also realize that Shoba is top him until the game has play out.

Shukumar"s passive function is not restricted to his partnership with his wife. Both Shoba"s and also Shukumar"s mothers make quick appearances in the story with recollections of their visits. Both females share Shoba"s active, live independence nature, and both dominate and intimidate Shukumar.

Shoba"s mommy is one immigrant, born and brought increase in a Hindu society in which wives were intended to it is in humble and also obedient servants to their husbands. Men led; ladies followed. Shoba"s mommy lives in Arizona now. Perhaps not coincidentally, her husband—Shoba"s father—is not mentioned. It is unclear even if it is he is still living.

Shoba"s mother pertains to stay for 2 months after ~ the stillbirth. Back her practice of Hinduism web links her come the society in i m sorry she was lugged up, she is surprisingly contemporary and self-sufficient. Not just does she cook dinner every night, as Shoba as soon as did, she also "drove it s her to the supermarket." This is more remarkable than it can seem. In another of Lahiri"s stories, a Hindu housewife a generation younger than Shoba"s mommy is no able come drive. Reader learn, too, the Shoba"s mom once held a job in a room store.

What perform I review Next?

Lahiri"s an initial novel, The Namesake (2003), is a story that started with an incident in the author"s childhood. In she parents" Bengali culture, every child has two names, a pet name offered by family and friends and a "good name" used more formally. Lahiri"s an initial American teacher found her good name too difficult and started using the private, pet name without understanding just how inappropriate this was. The occurrence was such a an effective example the the cultural dissonance knowledgeable by immigrants and children that immigrants the Lahiri made the the starting point of she novel.The Unknown Errors of ours Lives: stories (2002) is a repertoire of nine stories v female protagonists. That is author, Chitra Divakaruni, is an American immigrant native India that explores the same concerns as does Lahiri, however from the point of watch of the enlarge generation born abroad.

In classic Indian society, a woman frequently goes from gift a young wife in a subservient place in she father-in-law"s family to being an elderly widow in a subservient position in her son-in-law"s household. Therefore, Shoba"s mother could be meant to act Shukumar with deference. Yet there is nothing subservient or deferential about this woman. Back she is normally polite come Shukumar, as soon as he mentions the fatality of his child, Shoba"s mommy says to him accusingly, "But you weren"t even there."

Less is revealed around Shukumar"s mother. She, too, continues to observe the religious traditions of she homeland. She visit come Shoba and Shukumar"s home is time to note the twelve-year anniversary that Shukumar"s father"s death. What is noteworthy is that Shukumar"s mom comes for a two-week stay throughout which she imposes ~ above Shukumar, in his very own home, particular traditions that average nothing to him. Further, Shukumar dreads having actually dinner through his mommy without Shoba over there "to say much more of the best things since he come up with only the dorn ones." Clearly, Shukumar is intimidated through his mother"s power to i charged her will upon him and by her habit of finding fault through him. Once again, Shukumar is at the mercy the a powerful, take-charge woman.

What lies in ~ the love of this story is no a conflict in between cultures no one a strength struggle in between the genders. The 2 sides are not same matched enough to do for a struggle. Although Shukumar hurts Shoba in the finish by revealing a disastrous secret, he is choose a wounded pet whose lashing out is impulsive and, ultimately, ineffectual. Provided what has transpired in between Shoba and Shukumar, readers have actually no doubt that she will recoup from the blow and make a life because that herself. Shukumar"s fate is much much more uncertain.

Source: Candyce Norvell, crucial Essay on "A momentary Matter," in brief Stories because that Students, Gale, 2004.

David Remy

Remy is a freelance writer in Pensacola, Florida. In the complying with essay, Remy examines Jhumpa Lahiri"s use of irony in "A temporary Matter."

"A short-lived Matter," the first story in Jhumpa Lahiri"s debut Pulitzer Prize–winning repertoire Interpreter the Maladies, catches a pivotal minute in a couple"s relatively short however eventful marriage. At times absurdly funny, at others heartbreakingly sad, Lahiri"s story examines how a disastrous loss deserve to lead to indifference and also a failure in communication between two world who as soon as loved every other. The author"s use of irony in various creates makes the transition even more poignant, for it underscores an facet of suspense together it brings around the story"s denouement.

Lahiri rises the ironic quality of the story by setting up a instance in i m sorry the emotionally distant couple must interact an ext closely. Because the utility firm will turn off the electricity for one hour each night for five consecutive nights to make repairs after a recent snowstorm, Shoba and also Shukumar, deprived of their usual distractions, should turn to each various other for companionship. Come heighten her characters" isolation, Lahiri educates the leader that that is only the dwellings on the "quiet, tree-lined streets" that experience the nightly strength outages and not the shops near the trolley stop.

Although the utility agency assures the citizens of the ar that the inconvenience is just "a short-term matter," the blackout has a transforming effect on the neighborhood and its residents. Despite the cold, neighbors chat with one an additional as they stroll up and down the street moving flashlights. The darkness and also cold, fresh air instill a restless feeling while obtrude a feeling of community. "Tonight, with no lights, lock would have to eat together," says the narrator, relenten the instance inside Shoba and also Shukumar"s house. The strength outage pressures a readjust in routine—from voluntarily separation to compelled interaction.

Ever because the loss of their kid in September, Shoba and Shukumar have lived separate resides under the very same roof. Within the expectations of just a couple of months, castle have created for us a regimen structured top top the avoidance of every other and the horrible truth that has changed their married life forever. In an initiative to hold-up her homecoming and also an unpreventable confrontation with her husband, Shoba security long hours at work and at the gym. Shukumar, on the various other hand, continues to be ensconced ~ above the 3rd floor, ostensibly creating his dissertation. Both husband and also wife space depressed, and neither is willing to recognize that your marriage has lost something vital, something much more than simply romance.

Until recently, Shoba had always been neat and tidy, however now she deposits her briefcase in the middle of the hall and leaves her clothes strewn about the room; she is therefore weary that she does not even bother to untie she shoes prior to removing them. In ~ thirty-three, she look at "like the kind of woman she"d once claimed she would never resemble." Shoba"s contempt rumpled illustration reminds Shukumar that a time once she was an ext carefree and all "too eager to collapse into his arms." Alas, those days room no more, and also her rumpled appearance expose a different perspective toward Shukumar.

The relationship has actually deteriorated to the point that Shukumar never ever leaves the house, not even to retrieve the mail, and also sleeps until it is practically lunchtime, drinking coffee Shoba had brewed previously that morning. The cannot discover the an inspiration he demands to end up his dissertation however reads novels instead. Everything in his life seems to have actually lost color, vibrancy. The love he when felt because that Shoba has lost that ardor, for he sees she beauty fading. "The cosmetics that had actually seemed superfluous were necessary now, not to improve her however to specify her somehow." The woman he as soon as loved has actually disappeared and also with her his very own passion.

What proves even much more ironic is the Shukumar"s cultivation alienation toward his mam is exacerbated by the knowledge that the is reciprocated. The pair has reached a stalemate, an impasse the has quickly led come indifference. The 2 live different lives, however they pretend to participate in a marriage. When Shoba lastly stops in to greet him at night, Shukumar tries to look busy. "Don"t occupational too hard," says Shoba ironically, aware, perhaps, the the dissertation is not proceeding smoothly. Shukumar looks for to escape his wife"s attention by relocating his office to the nursery, a ar Shoba avoids. "It was the one time in the job she sought the out, and also yet he"d involved dread it. That knew it to be something she forced herself come do." Shoba and Shukumar occupy separate floors that the house, masquerading as a couple—that is, till the lights go out.

In addition to highlighting the couple"s estrangement, the power outage add to an element of suspense together it color etc the characters" differences sharply right into focus. Eat dinner that very first night in the dim glow of date of birth candles which Shukumar need to light constantly, Shoba is reminded the the strength failures she proficient as a boy in India. To pass the time, her grandmother would have actually Shoba and the other members the her family members tell a joke, recite a fact, or phone call a story for every to enjoy. Wishing to rest the azer silence between her and her husband, Shoba suddenly has the idea that she and Shukumar need to pass the evening in the very same manner, the only difference being the they should tell each various other something they"ve never told before. While it is ironic that they never ever thought to do such an individual revelations until the lights go out, the idea the a married couple divulging your deepest tricks to each various other adds an air of an enig to the darkness the surrounds them and heightens the suspense of what will certainly actually be revealed.

Upon hear his wife"s idea, Shukumar observes the Shoba "hadn"t showed up so established in months," unaware of the real objective behind her suggestion. An waiting of suspense improves the story more as Shukumar reluctantly agrees to play the game also though that doesn"t have actually a childhood story around India to share. "What didn"t they know around each other?" he thinks, foreshadowing the story"s conclusion. Thus, Lahiri improves the story"s ironic quality by creating a situation through which her characters, isolated in darkness yet sustained by the customizeds of their indigenous land, must challenge each various other with the truth.

At first the revelations room harmless and insignificant. Castle involve boy intrusions the privacy or lapses in thought, white lies called in quick moments the selfishness, or desperate, unconscious attempts to preserve one"s sense of dignity. With each night the passes, the truths that Shoba and Shukumar exchange end up being bolder and an ext honest together the couple struggles come relate and communicate. "Somehow, without speak anything, it had turned into this. Right into an exchange that confessions—the little ways they"d ache or disappointed every other, and also themselves" (emphasis added).

As the nightly video game progresses, Shukumar contemplates what he have to say come his wife. He appears happy to at critical be relieved of the secrets that have burdened him because that so long. He is therefore happy, in fact, that he cannot decide the bespeak in i beg your pardon to make his confessions. Moreover, the believed of what Shoba will certainly say next excites him, creating a feeling of anticipation i m sorry the reader shares. Every revelation appears to lug them closer together (though, together the story"s ironic conclusion demonstrates, any hope the a reunion is beyond reach). "Something occurred when the residence was dark," claims the narrator. "They to be able to speak to each various other again." This enhanced communication between Shoba and Shukumar inspires screens of affection long absent from their marriage. She is kind and patient through him, stop his hand in hair to present understanding, whereas he takes even more pride in planning and also preparing the meals they currently enjoy through candlelight. Top top the 3rd night, Shoba and Shukumar kiss awkwardly on the sofa choose a couple exploring every other"s bodies for the an initial time. Top top the fourth night, they climb the stairs to bed and make love "with a desperation they had actually forgotten," apparently having forgiven each various other for their acts that neglect and selfishness.

But, on the morning of the 5th night, they get a an alert from the utility firm stating the the repairs have actually been completed early, signaling an end to their apparently rekindled romance. "I expect this is the end of our game," Shukumar says when he look at Shoba reading the notice. That is ironic that Shukumar need to make this statement, due to the fact that he doesn"t understand the half of it, for the period of harmony and affection that Shoba and Shukumar have experienced is, choose the strength outage that carried it about, "a momentary matter," the calm prior to the storm—the one that heralds the finish of their marriage. Together, they have played a game in i beg your pardon they have pretended to want the exact same things when neither among them has had actually the courage come state the obvious: their marriage is over. Moreover, the ns of their child has actually proved insurmountable, for neither spouse is willing to experience that sort of pain and sorrow again. "Only he didn"t want her to it is in pregnant again," the narrator claims as Shukumar anxiously awaits Shoba"s last declaration. "He didn"t desire to have to pretend to be happy."

As she prepares to make her last revelation, Shoba alters the candlelight ritual, insisting the they leave the lights on, relocating them at as soon as to a less intimate but an ext vulnerable position, since neither is able come hide: "I desire you to watch my face when i tell girlfriend this," she states gently, though she refuses to look that in the eye.

When Shoba speak Shukumar the she has signed a lease for an apartment on Beacon Hill, that understands instantly that the confessions they"ve make recently have actually served together a preamble because that a far an ext disingenuous revelation. Shoba has not made she confessions in an attempt to regain their relationship yet to prepare herself for a change to a an ext independent life. Lahiri provides suspense come heighten the irony the the scene as the leader anticipates Shukumar"s reaction.

It sickened Shukumar, knowing that she had spent these past evenings preparing for a life without him. He to be relieved and yet he was sickened. This to be what she"d to be trying to tell him because that the past 4 evenings. This to be the point of she game.

The irony the their case is painfully clear to see. The "little ways" in i beg your pardon they have disappointed each various other have come to be for Shukumar plot of betrayal, causing Shoba"s last act of betrayal.

But Shoba, in make her recent revelation, has actually unwittingly brought around a reversal in power—the strength to wound—which Shoba think is hair exclusively. Together though the game were continuing, Shukumar counters Shoba"s announcement with one of his own that proves destructive in the end.

Though the death of your child has actually been daunting for Shoba to accept, over there is likewise an undercurrent the resentment, together expressed by her mother, the the ns would have been somewhat simpler to bear had actually Shukumar gone to the hospital for the delivery. Shoba believes the she has actually experienced she loss alone. Moreover, she seeks consolation in the thought that the baby"s gender has stayed unknown, because of this preventing she from forming too deep an attachment to she dead child, for, once an ultrasound to be taken, Shoba declined the doctor"s offer to understand the child"s sex. "In a method she virtually took proud in she decision, for it allowed her to look for refuge in a mystery," says the narrator. Yet now Lahiri add to a twist, make the revelation that, although Shoba "assumed it was a mystery for him, too," Shukumar knew. Ironically, now it is Shukumar who has the strength to wound.

Thus the stage is collection for Shukumar"s final, heartbreaking revelation. "There was something he"d sworn that would never tell her, and for 6 months he had done his best to block that from his mind," says the narrator, yet the present circumstances threaten Shukumar"s resolve to the break point. Contrary to what Shoba and her mom believe, Shukumar arrived at the hospital shortly after the baby was born, only to uncover his mam asleep, and also was then taken to see their child with the hope the "holding the infant might assist him through the procedure of grieving." that day Shukumar "promised self … the he would never tell Shoba, since he still loved her then, and it was the one thing in she life the she had actually wanted to be a surprise." Shoba"s decision to relocate out renders her husband realize the their marital relationship is, indeed, loveless. There is nothing left to tie him come his promise. Shoba, who is "the kind to prepare for surprises, good and bad," find herself unprepared because that the greatest surprise of all.

When Shukumar defines for Shoba just how he had actually held your son, his small fingers "curled shut" like hers while she sleeps, he sees his wife"s challenge "contorted v sorrow," for, despite she has initiated your separation, she totally comprehends the lose that has engulfed them. There is no a word, she turns out the lights and sits down at the table, whereby Shukumar joins her. "They wept together," claims the narrator, "for the points they now knew."

This poignant scene, at when tender and also yet filled v an abandonment significant by despair, could not have been rendered as artfully had the author not led up to the ironic conclusion by delineating the emotional predicament of she characters and also creating a feeling of suspense in the reader about what would occur to their marriage. In the hands of an writer less skilled than Jhumpa Lahiri, the result would have been cool detachment quite than one of profound empathy.

Source: David Remy, an essential Essay ~ above "A momentary Matter," in quick Stories for Students, Gale, 2004.


Crain, Caleb, "Subcontinental Drift," in brand-new York Times book Review, July 11, 1999.

Hajari, Nisid, "The promising Land," gradually International, Vol. 154, No. 10, September 13, 1999, p. 49.

Heltzel, Ellen Emry, "A Voice Echoing in the culture Chasm," in the Oregonian, July 11, 1999.

Kipen, David, "Interpreting Indian society with Stories," in the san Francisco Chronicle, June 24, 1999, p. E-1.

Lahiri, Jhumpa, Interpreter the Maladies, house Mifflin, 1999, pp. 1–22.

Minzesheimer, Bob, "For Pulitzer Winner Lahiri, a Novel Approach," in USA Today, august 19, 2003.

Further Reading

Bala, Suman, Jhumpa Lahiri, the grasp Storyteller: A an important Response come "Interpreter the Maladies," Khosla posting House, 2002.

Indian literary scholar Suman Bala has collected thirty essays through Indian critics and also scholars discussing Lahiri"s story collection. The volume is valuable in offering Western readers with Indian perspectives top top Lahiri"s work.

Jayapal, Pramila, Pilgrimage: One Woman"s return to a an altering India, Seal Press, 2000.

Jayapal to be born in Madras in southern India, grew up in Indonesia and also Singapore, and came come the United states as a teens to finish her education. At the age of thirty, Jayapal went back to India for two years through a fellowship that enabled her to take trip throughout the country and write about her experiences and observations. Jayapal is an international development specialist, and also her rigid is a mixture the scholarly monitoring and an individual narrative—the latter consisting of the hair-raising tale of she son"s birth. The book is a beneficial portrait of India today.

Patel, Vibhuti, "Maladies the Belonging," in Newsweek International, September 20, 1999, p. 8.

In this wide-ranging interview published soon after ~ the publishing of Interpreter that Maladies, Lahiri answer questions around her partnership to India and also her approach to writing.

Zimbardo, Xavier, India divine Song, Rizzoli, 2000.

See more: Section 10.1 The Nature Of Volcanic Eruptions

Lahiri composed the foreword to this book of photographs taken throughout India over a fifteen-year period. The forward speak of she childhood access time to Calcutta and also her responses come India.