Analysis of Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri


The short story is based on one-day experience of a tour guide, Mr. Kapasi. His usual profession is working as an interpreter of maladies to a doctor. His responsibility is to explain the patients’ saying in Gujarati to the doctor who has no idea about that regional language in India. He works as a tour guide as a part time job as he is burdened with financial requirements. On a tour with a family of complex cross cultural identity, he encounters a real patient who requests his expert idea to overcome a desperate condition but Mr. Kapasi who too undergoes mental turbulence fails to respond to it properly.


Plot Summary

The story is built upon two plots: one is the visible story of Mr. Kapasi and Das family going on a journey to the Sun Temple and the other one is the fantasy of Mr. Kapasi of having an emotional relationship with Mrs. Das. Both the plots have their own story line and a climax which makes the story is interesting to read on.

The Journey

Mr. Kapasi, a part time tour guide gets a job to take a family to Sun Temple in Konarak. The Das family – Meena, Raj and their three children Tina, Roni and Bobby are not the ideal type of parents in the eyes of Mr. Kapasi. Though they have Indian roots, they were born Americans. This cross cultural clash is seen throughout the story. On the way, Mrs. Das admires the job interpreter as something romantic and responsible which touches the heart of Mr. Kapasi whom was never appreciated neither in his job nor in his unsuccessful family life. All go to the Sun Temple and spend the day time there. On their way to the hotel, Mr. Kapasi suggests a detour to the monastic dwelling in Udayagiri to prolong their journey - to which everybody gave their consent to. At the dwelling, Mrs. Das reveals one of her well-kept secret of betrayal to Mr. Kapasi that Bobby is not Raj’s real son. She requests Mr. Kapasi to relive her terrible feeling of guilt using his expert knowledge at such psychological dilemmas. However, the return question by Mr. Kapasi makes her furious, failing his job as an interpreter. Day is going to be over with the dissolved hope of Mr. Kapasi to have a prolonged relationship with Mrs. Das as he sees the piece of paper is blown away to the sky with his address written on it.


Fantasy of Mr. Kapasi

Mr. Kapasi is a great observer wearing his Indian-culture glasses on. Through his strictly - Asian view point he sees the mismatches between Mr. Das and Mrs. Das. He sees that they are too young to be parents and less responsible too. On the other hand, he himself suffers from an unsuccessful marriage life as his wife is not what he expects to be. His observations generate a spark of infatuation towards Meena whose appearance and behaviour are appealing to his senses. The admiration of Meena about his job enkindles an idea in the mind of him as she too has the similar feeling towards Mr. Kapasi. So, he enlivens a fantasy to have a mutual relationship with Mrs. Das. Knowingly or unknowingly, the behaviours of Mr. Das and Mrs. Das give feathers to his fantasy. He makes plans to have a prolonged relationship with her after they leave the country. However, His dream starts shattering as he realizes Mrs. Das is not what he intended to be. As she reveals one of her dirty secrets of life, he comes to the real world from is illusion. His failing to give proper interpretation to the malady of Meena, closes every door to have a relationship with her. The address he given to her is blown away symbolically suggests their formal end of the relationship.



Communication can be strongly decisive in family life. It is visible that Meena suffers from her lonely life without having one to share her feelings. The lack of proper communication is evidently has made a huge chasm between them making their family life is an unsuccessful one. She finds a good companion, Mr. Kapasi who listens her well.

Cultural identity and cultural difference are evidently visible throughout the story. Mr. Kapasi’s Asian ideologies and Western way of living keep on clashing throughout the story.



Irony and humour play a major role to highlight the dark realities of human beings under their shadows and human weaknesses in working as a hole. Each major character has their own negative personalities and are not visible to the outer world.

The point of view is controlled: therefore, the reader can only see the story through the eyes of Kapasi who has only a limited span on Western culture rather than Asian culture.

Monkeys play a symbolic role throughout the story. It may symbolize the untamed, wild nature of human desires or temptations.

The story is visually so rich and descriptive. The writer gives a clear account of characters in the places in the story. This is also an indication that Mr. Kapasi is a good guide as well as a good interpreter.



Mr. Kapasi plays a duel role as an interpreter as well as a guide. He suffers financially and leads an unhappy life both as an interpreter and a husband. His marriage life is not favourable and it does not give the sensual fulfilment he craves for. This might be a reason for him to be obsessed with the personality of Mrs. Das. He develops an infatuation towards her and lives in that fantasy till he is disillusioned. So, his life of disappointments has another failure to be counted.   

Mrs. Das is an Indian descendent whose grandparents were Indians. She too leads an unhappy life as a housewife. She craves for an emotional fulfilment which she does not find from Raj. She considers her marriage is as a set up by her parents and she has to bear a solitary battle with children at her young age. She had nobody to share her pain until she meets Mr. Kapasi. We see she has developed a faith and trust towards this old person which too ends up with disappointment. She wields a secret that can entirely destroy her family life. This feeling of guilt, anger and boredom makes her a less affectionate mother who seemingly do not care enough about her children.

In contrary, Mr. Das – Raj leads a contented and a care free life and happy about spending time with his children. He has no idea why his wife is so dull and unhappy as he is preoccupied with his own affairs. He is a less supportive husband who has no idea to share the burden that carried on the shoulder of his wife. This nature leads her to have an unethical relationship with his friend.


This short story unwraps the complexities of characters in the world we live. It is further an another extension of the East-West conflict that we see in most Indian stories. It further gives the moral that communication is a key factor to lead a better family life and the secret one carry can ruin a person psychologically.

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