Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Inescapable Past

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Inescapable Past

Article excerpt

Kiran Desai's novel, The Inheritance of Loss, illustrates what happens when cultures clash. The world is full of prejudices and people are continually separated and treated differently based on culture, race, and class. The novel jumps between two main settings: Kalimpong, India, and New York City. Although the novel is set mainly during the 1980s, it frequently weaves in and out of a variety of time frames as far back as the 1940s.

During an unstable political period in the mountainous region of Kalimpong, in a crumbling old Scottish mansion named Cho Oyu lives Sai, a seventeen-year-old girl, with her grandfather, a retired Judge. Completing the household are the Judge's beloved dog, Mutt, and his faithful cook. In New York, Biju, the cook's son, desperately tries to survive as an immigrant with no green card, which unfortunately requires working less than desirable jobs for no pay. As Desai suggests, people are very much a product of their environment; how they were brought up and the cultural identity they were trained to know is constantly carried with them. Globalization today brings cultures together, encouraging ideas and traditions from one culture to meld and blend with others. Although there are many aspects of this mixing that are positive, it can also stir up old hatreds, causing new troubles and resentments. Most of the characters in Desai's novel, including the Judge, Sai, Gyan (Sai's boyfriend), Noni and Lola (Sai's tutors) and Biju, all have experiences where their identity comes in contact with a foreign culture. Unfortunately, each of these experiences results in a strong negative reaction, illuminating the division between cultures that still exists today.

In the very beginning of the novel, as the main characters of Kalimpong are introduced, Desai's overall theme of cultural differences is symbolically represented by the geography and atmosphere of the region. The main setting of the novel, Kalimpong, is part of the border country of northern India below the Himalayas. Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Assam, and Bangladesh are just a few of the other countries that meet in this diverse environment. Kalimpong is a rural section of India that is plagued by almost constant rain and fog. Desai describes how the mist slowly invades Kalimpong, and "replaced everything with itself, solid objects with shadow, and nothing remained that did not seem molded from or inspired by it" (2). The mist fills the air and intertwines everything it touches, but at the same time it obscures objects and people, separating everything as well. People, in the same way, are always connected by being human, by simply having the same desires and needs all people share. However, people are constantly separated by the differences among them such as culture, race, ethnic identity, and class. In today's advanced society, with rapid travel and technology like television and the Internet, different cultures are continually confronted with each other. When separate cultures meet sometimes they simply bounce off each other, but often they begin to integrate even though this may be unconsciously done. There are no longer many examples of truly pure cultures that have not adopted at least some foreign ideas and traditions. Sai and the Judge, for example, immediately think of American films and actors instead of popular Bollywood movies. The cook has a fetish for modern western appliances. Sai speaks English as her first language instead of a more indigenous Indian language. The mist, therefore, also represents this idea of globalization and integration among different people all over the world that has blurred the division between cultures.

Although there are main characters in The Inheritance ofLoss, the novel is very much focused on a central theme, instead of a central character. To illustrate the novel's interest in cultural division, the story progresses by presenting glimpses into the lives of each character. One of the first characters to be further described is Jemubnai Patel, most often referred to as the Judge. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.