Character of Mrs. Croft In 'Interpreter of Maladies'

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In Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri, one of the best stories in the collection is “The Third and Final Continent.” Mrs. Croft is much of what makes the story so compelling, and much of the story is a vehicle for finding out more about her. In fact, I can’t say that she fits into any character roles, because she makes up so much of the story. She is such a compelling character because she’s awe-inspiring, kind, and anachronistic.

Mrs. Croft is a compelling character because she inspires awe. Awe is one of the hardest human emotions to convey, because it can mean so many things. In its most basic sense, however, it is the feeling one has when one observes greatness, sees something done that they could never do and can barely imagine. In the narrator’s view, Mrs. Croft is awe-inspiring because of her age. Once informed by Mrs. Croft’s daughter of her age, he “was mortified,” and immediately offered to assist her. Later, it is revealed that he did this because he was “in awe of how many years she had spent on this earth.” Rightfully so, because she’s 103, and very few people live to even approach that age. She’s so old that her daughter is already nearing retirement age. However, in the view of most readers, Mrs. Croft is awe-inspiring not because of her age, but because of her achievements. She raised her children after her husband died, by giving piano lessons, in an age when women had few rights. Then, after working so hard throughout her life that she developed arthritis in her fingers, she lived to 103, an age most people can only dream of.

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Another compelling character trait of hers is also related to her age. She is anachronistic, a relic of a bygone age. An age where miniskirt-wearers would be arrested, when it was “improper for a lady … to reveal her age, and to wear a dress so high above the ankle.” In the 1960s, she still believed that “It is improper for a lady and gentleman who are not married to one another to hold a private conversation without a chaperone.” These views were not modern when she expressed them, and their expression makes her more interesting, making her different from the viewer without being so different that her moral standards are repugnant. This is probably a necessary break from reality, as no one wants to read or write about an old lady who’s racist. Still, this break from reality is necessary to the narrative, and she’s a much more compelling character because of it.

Kindness is one of the character traits which make her so compelling, which is most perceptible in how she interacts with both the main character and his wife. One manifestation of her kindness is that even though she was born in a time when racism was extremely widespread, she displays no prejudice against the main character. Another is that, even though the main character wonders if Mrs. Croft has ever met a person in a sari and worries about what she’ll object to, Mrs. Croft is extremely polite and even complimented his wife by calling her ‘“a perfect lady.”’ This trait being included is practically mandatory for Mrs. Croft to be a compelling character, for the reasons given above: no one likes a character who’s a crazy racist or beats up their kids, and most people like kind people.

In conclusion, Mrs. Croft is the most interesting and compelling character in “The Third and Final Continent,” because of her intriguing character traits. She inspires awe, confuses people without startling them, and is somehow kind and politically correct today despite growing up in the 1800s and this story being set in the 1960s. Actually, despite Jhumpa Lahiri’s amazing characterization and description, this is the one bit I can’t believe: that someone who grew up in the 1800s wouldn’t be prejudiced or senile by the 1960s. One of the things I really like about Jhumpa lahiri’s stories is the characterization and description. I can imagine these people, interacting, and it’s really hard to see them as characters on a page and not real people.

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