Essay on Juxtaposing Short Stories: The Third and Final Continent and Who’s Irish

Published: 2021/12/02
Number of words: 1258

One of the most outstanding scholars and philosophers of ancient Greece, Socrates, once posited that the secret of change is to focus all the energy not on fighting the old but on building the new. This quote speaks to the dominant theme of coping with the challenges of adapting to a new world’s milieu in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Third and Final Continent and Gish Jen’s Who’s Irish. In both texts, tensions between generations of immigrant parents and their children are widely exhibited. Conspicuously, immigrants face an incessant sense of alienation and challenges of living in a new world as they seem to focus their energy on preserving their identities. For this reason, they end up feeling like strangers, alienated from other people and from the world they occupy. Seemingly, these challenges are not profound in their children who do not have strong ties to their home countries. Jhumpa Lahiri and Gish Jen’s texts utilize literary elements such as character, theme, diction, and setting to depict the challenges of foreignness, alienation, and loneliness experienced by immigrants as they cling to their identities.

Both texts are similar in their use of character to advance the theme of isolation and loneliness among immigrants. In Third and Final Continent, this theme manifests in the lenses of the unnamed narrator and the relationships he forges with other characters in the story. Interestingly, the narrator immigrates to two countries moving from India to England and then to the United States. Transitioning to the United States appears to be more definitive for the narrator as he tries to familiarize himself with the Western fashion of living. The main character is revealed to be an Indian Bengali man who wishes to create a better future in a new continent (Lahiri 1). He struggles to practice his homeland customs, such as eating egg curry with his hands and presenting himself for an arranged marriage. While he is able to adapt quickly to the American traditions like drinking milk with milk and cornflakes for breakfast, his wife, Mala, finds it challenging to adapt to the customs. Their lonely situation is exacerbated by the strangeness of living together as man and wife without a connection.

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There exists a parallel between the experiences of Lahiri’s immigrant characters and that of the narrator in Gish Jen’s story. The latter is an elderly Chinese woman who struggles to conform to her daughter’s lifestyle. She is tasked with caring for her granddaughter, who is three years old. Her struggle is evidenced through the attempt to adapt to a new society without giving up her roots. Jen communicates the grandmother’s perspective through her contradicting way of thinking. For instance, she finds it uncommon that she is not allowed to spank the child to instill manners even though it does the job and finally stops the child from taking off her clothes (Jen 5). She cannot understand why a mother would fathom her child’s behavior of war games in the name of imaginative play. Her fixation on her Chinese culture and roots alienate her from the daughter’s way of life and the society she lives in, culminating in her ejection.

Apart from characterization, the authors also utilize setting to accentuate the challenges of the new world. In Third and Final Continent, the regional setting involving the house in London, the trip to Calcutta to marry, and Mrs. Croft’s apartment building inform the immigrant experience of the narrator. In London, the narrator lives among three to four Bengali bachelors who shared “ a single, icy toilet and took turns cooking pots of egg curry” (Lahiri 1). This setting demonstrates the challenges that immigrants went through in a new world but highlights the centrality of adopting a cross-cultural approach as the students adopted the Western culture alongside their Indian traditions. This is evidenced by how they would drink team smoke Rothmans, watch Cricket but still lounge barefoot in drawstring pajamas and eat egg curry with their hands. The same cross-cultural setting manifests in the narrator’s experience in America through adjusting to eating cornflakes and milk and walking barefoot in Mrs. Croft’s apartment building.

On the other hand, the setting in Who’s Irish is not just about the physical place or its description but significantly focuses on juxtaposing Chinese culture and the American culture. Physically, the audience learns that the story happens in America even though the narrator is an immigrant from China. This situation is evident from the narrator’s statement, “when I come to this country, I have no money and do not speak English” (Jen 1). Part of the story also happens in a park in which the narrator visits with her grandchild. Nevertheless, the cultural setting is the most salient in Jen’s narrative. The narrator compares Chinese culture and American culture severally. For instance, in China, daughters are supposed to take care of their mothers, but in America, she ends up taking care of her daughter’s family. The narrator notes that failure to do this will lead to the daughter’s lamentation that the “mother is not supportive” (2). In yet another instance, the narrator faults the Western disciplining techniques to stop negative behavior. She has set standards of how Sophie should behave like a Chinese girl. Succinctly, these instances show the challenges newcomers are likely to experience as they try to live in different cultures.

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One of the striking similarities between the two texts is the tension that exists between generations. However, the authors use different styles to depict the differences and tension between characters. Jen utilizes syntax and diction to depict the lack of connection between the narrator and her daughter in the story. The author uses diction to portray the mother as a foreigner in the US who finds difficulty adjusting to how Americans live. The use of broken English is prevalent throughout the text, and it elicits the feeling of being out of place in the narrator’s environment. It also demonstrates the distance between the mother and her daughter and denotes their vast differences within the audience’s imagination. The epitome of these differences is the resolution in the story whereby the narrator is sent out of the daughter’s home to live with “someone else’s family” (10). Similarly, the tension between generations in the Third and Final Continent is evidenced by the characterization of Mrs. Croft and her daughter. Mrs. Croft belongs to a generation that has long passed by, often questioning her daughter’s behavior, including her dress code. This tension is also denoted by the narrator’s fear that their son may not care about their culture enough to uphold it after they die.

To sum up, this paper has discussed how the two texts compare in the use of various literary elements to depict the challenges of foreignness, alienation, and loneliness experienced by immigrants in a new world. The authors of both stories focus on the differences and conflicts that exist between cultures. However, this paper finds that the Third and Final Continent offers a solution to the problem that persists in both texts. Notably, Who’s Irish resolution involves widened differences between the narrator and her daughter. However, in Lahiri’s story, the immigrant characters do not abandon their beliefs and cultures but instead combine both Indian and American cultures to settle in the new world.

Works Cited

Jen, Gish. Who’s Irish?: stories. Vintage, 2012.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “The Third and Final Continent.” Woven Words (1999): 62.

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