Similar to the narrator’s experiences, the lives of Lahiri and her parents not only span decades but also continents: Asia, Europe, and North America. Lahiri was born in England, raised in America, and traveled often to India during her childhood (Wcislo 2001). The story parallels closely with her family’s history: a father who worked as a librarian and a mother who meticulously adhered to Indian traditions regardless of where or how long she lived (Wcislo 2001). Everyone in the Lahiri family is represented in the story. Her father is the narrator. Her mother is both the narrator’s wife, Mala and Mrs.
Croft. Lahiri herself is both Mrs. Croft’s daughter, Helen and the narrator’s son. It begins with the narrator’s move from India to England “to educate and establish [himself] abroad” (Lahiri 173). He eventually adapts to the British way of life but does not do so alone as he lives in a “house occupied entirely by penniless Bengali bachelors like [himself]” (Lahiri 173). The fact that he is able to surround himself with people who truly understand where he comes from, is advantageous for him as it eases him into his new life rather than abruptly throwing him into the deep end.
His time in England is the first occasion that Lahiri uses to show that by actively keeping one’s cultural identity intact one can make anyplace their home. Another case in point would be the constant reference to “egg curry” in the story: for no matter where the narrator finds himself he is able to bring an affordable, yet nostalgic taste of home wherever he goes (Lahiri 173). Keeping even the most trivial of traditions alive is what essentially keeps him together. Life in America is no different, as he learns to adapt in much the same way, though by now he has annexed another culture to his arsenal of coping mechanisms, that of the British.
But that is not to say that he has abandoned his Indian roots entirely. No, in fact he opts to use both to his benefit. His recollection of his “first meal in America” is an image of cultural duality in and of itself (Lahiri 175). In addition to being a concession to the American way of life, the bowl, spoon, milk and cornflakes were a direct result of a shopping trip to a store “whose name [he] recognized from London” and where he “[converted] ounces to grams and [compared] prices to things in England” (Lahiri 175). The food items themselves were chosen in accordance with the religious beliefs of his omeland; since the consumption of “hamburgers or hot dogs, the only alternative [he] could afford” would have been sacrilegious in the eyes of Hinduism (Lahiri 175). He finds solace in such customs of his past and uses it build a home for himself and his wife in Boston. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when the world around you never ceases to change. The aging process and immigration have similar if not identical cognitive effects on the human psyche as both induce traumatic life changes. One minute you’re riding a covered wagon in the 1800s and the next you’re watching someone plant an American flag on the moon.
One day you’re living with your parents and extended family and the next you’re halfway around the world, alone in a strange country with your husband that you’ve only known for five days. Essentially binary manifestations of Lahiri’s mother, Mala and Mrs. Croft dealt with such circumstances with a steadfast resolve to never abandon the values by which they were raised. Such traditions were the only constant in their lives, an invaluable source of stability that transcends time and space, ultimately allowing them to do the same. Striving to be “a perfect lady” each character had comparable standards as to what constitutes a lady (Lahiri 195).
Like Mrs. Croft, it was important to Mala to be a Renaissance woman for her husband as she was expected to be able to “cook, knit, embroider, sketch landscapes, and recite poems by Tagore” just as Mrs. Croft must have been expected to play the piano, dress modestly, yet impeccably, and host “chaste conversations in the parlor” (Lahiri 181-189). In addition to their preoccupation with trying to live up to their respective ideals, Mala and Mrs. Croft worry most about passing on their traditions to their children as that turns out to be the true test of their spiritual endurance.