Tuesday, September 25, 2007

“Mrs. Sen’s”

Another babysitter, another boy charge – this time the boy, Eliot, is American, and the caretaker, Mrs. Sen, is an Indian living in America with her husband. Mrs. Sen suffers the slings and arrows of living in a foreign country with quiet dignity.

The boy’s mother displays a not-so subtle distaste for anything Indian. She seems almost to be self-righteous about it. She wants the simplicity of the standard American servant/employer relationship. Mrs. Sen prevents this by offering the mother food, insisting she come into the apartment, and by letting the mother know that in India, “we have a driver.”

Eliot observed as Mrs. Sen “paced the apartment, staring at the plastic-covered lampshades as if noticing them for the first time.” She also listens to tapes of her family members speaking. I wondered, since Eliot betrays no feelings throughout the story, if he finds Mrs. Sen and her home life as sad as I do. Did you feel sad reading of Mrs. Sen’s daily routines?

I predicted that Mrs. Sen would have a car accident. Did you? Do you see a predictable plot twist as a flaw in a story? Should a story be unpredictable?

What does the fresh fish represent for Mrs. Sen? Her husband? Eliot? How did you feel when Mrs. Sen was reprimanded by the bus driver/ passenger because of the fish’s odor?

What impression will Mrs. Sen have on Eliot in the long term? Do you think he will remember the time he spent with her? Did it mean anything to him?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

We all knew that the driving lessons wouldn't have a happy ending, but since the tragedies in Lahiri's stories are usually gentle and not violent, we didn't expect any carnage.

I think that Elliot might see Mrs. Sen as representing Indian women and think that all of them behave in the manner she did. But since Eliot didn't show his feelings, this is really an unknown,

Connoisseur said...

Eliot seems less a child than a a medium through which we see the story. Though chidlren often don't understand the implications of important things, Eliot is passive about EVERYTHING, he betrays no emotion about anything.
I read this story in the context of culture and the global world. The subtle text is riddled with significance, like the fish that smell on the bus, and the constant juxtaposition against India. America is portrayed as a very lonely place, not only to Mrs. Sen, but Eliot, a born American, also.
But I'm not here to offer analysis haha. I just thought it was interesting that someone actually blogged something I've read before.

Anonymous said...

I felt Eliot´s mom did not trust Mrs. Sen to begin with. She just used the car accident to remove him from the family.

I also feel that Eliot´s mom was jealous of the intimate relationship between Mrs. Sen and him. Cooking is way of creating community and this is why Mrs. Sen has put everything away quickly when the American mom came.

It is intersting how the busdriver
first asks whether Sen can speak English - this situation marks how
she is being perceived as foreign.

I felt sad about Mrs. Sen feelings of isolation, but Eliot´s mom seems
just as lonely. She cheats and spends her holidays inside. Loneliness seems to be part of the culture per se - you only notice when compared to other places maybe.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for discussing this short story. I am reading it right now for my master paper.
There are great essays on food and
Lahiri to be found on jstor.
Greetings from Germany!!