Traditions Versus Personal Values in Hell-Heaven, by Jhumpa Lahiri Essay

Traditions Versus Personal Values in Hell-Heaven, by Jhumpa Lahiri Essay

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The average person wants one thing more than anything else, and that thing is to belong. Usha, a young girl from Calcutta, is no different. Already trying the find her place in the world, Usha must now assimilate into cultural society within the United States. Usha’s uncle, Pranab Kaku, came from Calcutta as well having first come to America, his experiences start off worse than Usha’s, which causes him to join the family in an act of social grouping. With the Old World trying to pull them back and the New World just out of reach, both must overcome tradition and develop their own personal values.
Traditions control how one talks and interacts with others in one’s environment. In Bengali society, a strict code of conduct is upheld, with dishonor and isolation as a penalty for straying. Family honor is a central part to Bengali culture, and can determine both the financial and social standing of a family. Usha’s family poses no different, each member wearing the traditional dress of their home country, and Usha’s parents diligently imposing those values on their daughter. Those traditions, the very thing her [Usha] life revolved around, were holding her back from her new life as an American. Her mother in particular held those traditions above her. For example, when Aparna makes Usha wear the traditional attire called “shalwar kameez” to Pranab Kaku and Deborah’s Thanksgiving event. Usha feels isolated from Deborah’s family [Americans] due to this saying, “I was furious with my mother for making a scene before we left the house and forcing me to wear a shalwar kameez. I knew they [Deborah’s siblings] assumed, from my clothing, that I had more in common with the other Bengalis than with them” (Lahiri ...


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...is ultimately backfired on Deborah, because she also disclosed that one of the Bengali women she invited to the dinner party was the mistress Pranab Kaku had abandoned her and their two children for.
A sense of belonging is a primal desire, which both Pranab Kaku and Usha desired. Each one achieved their own personal values in their own way, defying what society expected of them. At some points in their journey, they helped each other through the obstacles ahead them. However, after receiving this new freedom Pranab Kaku decided to return to his old traditions, in the form of leaving Deborah for a Bengali woman, while Usha embraced her new freedom and explored the new world ahead of her.



Works Cited

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Hell-Heaven.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 638-651. Print.

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