which narrative style does jhumpa lahiri use in her short story “once in a lifetime”?
B. second-person perspective
It is a little-used style whose success presents increased difficulties, since it has to persuade the reader to assume that he is a character in the story, and that his actions would be his own.
The technique used in the story is instructive and innovative. The story, apart from being divided into three chapters like a novel, uses a combination of points of view. The first chapter is told from a first-person point of view by Hema as the narrator addressing Kaushik; the next told from a first-person point of view by Kaushik as the narrator addressing Hema; and the last chapter written in third person, with the ending section switching back to first-person by a grown-up Hema. In the first-person chapters and the ending, the tone is that of a second-person narrative because of the use of “you”–the effect is like that of a personal letter. I only wish the second chapter, “Year’s End,” continued the warm personal “you” tone. This chapter is mostly first-person, with “you” occurring only a few times. They seem unexpected and isolated–and a little jarring.
Lahiri is obviously a writer of great sensitivity. Her insight into human emotions is touching.
14. What does the reunion in Rome reveal about the ties that bind Hema and Kaushik despite their many years of separation? What does it illustrate about their attempts to escape from the past and their parents’ way of life? What do they come to realize about themselves and the plans they have made as the intimacy between them escalates? Why does Lahiri introduce Hema’s voice as the narrator of the final pages?
“Stunning. . . . Gorgeous. . . . Never before has Lahiri mined so perfectly the secrets of the human heart.”
JL: Some of the culture goes by the wayside, or the link is never made. I was aware of that myself when I had my kids. I really felt a sense that I was the end of a line, and that it was a very short line [laughs]. I knew my parents had parents and so on, but to me, the universe was my parents and they were the far end and I was the near end. There were certain intensities to the experience of that first generation and their offspring that don’t carry over. I’m very aware of my parents’ experience, how I grew up, and now how my children are growing up. There is such a stark difference in those two generations.
JL: My family left when I was two, so I didn’t experience life there, though we were connected to England in many ways and we visited. England and India have had a relationship that goes deep into history, a relationship that India and America have never had and that brings its own complications and presumptions and false assumptions to the mix. The US is a unique country for the immigrant experience, and my general impression is that America, at least for my family and the families I knew growing up, was ultimately a more welcoming place. I don’t mean to say that it was any easier or harder to emigrate to one place or the other. It was hard for my parents to move to England, and it was hard for them to come here.
The aim of this paper is to explore the boundaries imposed over Hema and Kaushik, two second-generation diasporic characters who, despite being born in unfamiliar terrain and thus likely to flourish, consistently feel entangled between delusion, because they almost pathologically search for unattainable desires, and nostalgia and defeat in their personal pursuit of individual, familiar and social happiness, as well as the nourishing interconnectedness among the three dimensions in these stories. In this light, the correspondences and dead-ends in their meaningful quest for belonging and fulfillment as human beings acquire greater significance. The nuances, suggestive associations and contradictions inherent to their search are investigated and the special role of diaspora within the three stories is pondered. Lahiri probes the power of literature through these stories and endows the two characters’ failed relationship with universal significance by placing it in the realm of the possible, enacted through the act of reading.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.