Social interaction is an essential part of any relationship; it is the determining factor for one’s perceptions of the society around them and their own identity. Relationships are initially built upon mutual interests and acceptance and this is closely linked with one’s innate desire to be able to affiliate with a group or another individual. Both these ideas are explored in the ‘Namesake’ by Jhumpa Lahiri and the picture book: ‘The Lost Thing’ by Shaun Tan. Lahiri explores the importance of shared values and experiences in a relationship for it to prosper rather than the need for social interaction.
This notion is shown through the relationship Ashoke and Ashima forge throughout their life. Despite having an arranged marriage, without having known each other beforehand, Ashoke and Ashima form a powerful emotional bond during their married life. Throughout the book, the interaction between Ashima and Ashoke is somewhat limited in speech but their bond is shown through emotive passages instead. An example of this is when Ashima tries on Ashoke’s shoes; this action is a symbolic harbinger of how well they both ‘fit’ together over the years.
Furthermore, the quote: “Eight thousand miles away in Cambridge she has come to know him” illustrates how the challenges of being migrants together and the mutual experiences in America and in India serve to strengthen their conjugal ties. Their relationship, hence, is an intuitive one instead of one where verbal communication is needed. The ostracism experienced by one unable to interact with others is shown in ‘The Lost Thing’ by Shaun Tan. The lost thing is an anomalous creature in a bureaucratic society searching for a place to fit in.
However wherever it goes, it is met with an apathetic attitude from the citizens. The citizens of this society are so innately obsessed with practical outcomes that they have lost all sense of creativity and even conversation for the sake of conversation. Tan illustrates the austerity of this world by depicting it with rigid angles and an overall sepia tone. However one boy forms a relationship with the lost thing out of pity and tries to find its home. The boy provides food, shelter and care to the lost thing and these simple actions fuel their temporary feelings of belonging.
Their relationship is encouraged by the need to fulfill an action; in this case-finding the lost thing its home. The brevity of their relationship is highlighted by the abrupt separation of the two: “It seemed as good a time as any to say goodbye to each other. So we did. ” The objective language and the truncated sentence demonstrate the brief and conditional nature of their bond. Once the condition was fulfilled, the need to belong was abated. This shows the necessity of interaction in creating a sense of belonging; had the citizens of the society acknowledged the presence of the lost thing, the lost thing may have remained there.
Lahiri also goes on to demonstrate how social interaction can lead to one’s compromise of their identity. Gogol is a prime example of this; as a child of migrants, Gogol is confronted by two different cultures and feels he must be one or the other. As Gogol’s relationship with Maxine develops, we see him conform to Maxine’s standards, hiding his Bengali identity: “She is surprised to hear certain things about his life: that all his parents’ friends are Bengali, that they had had an arranged marriage, that his mother cooks Indian food every day, that she wears saris and a bindi. .. ’But you’re so different; i never would have thought that’. He is not insulted, but he is aware a line has been drawn all the same”. To be a part of Maxine’s life, Gogol realises that he has to live her way of life; the American way. This compromise of identity led to even more confusion on Gogol’s behalf and in the end, as he starts to embrace his heritage, he rejects Maxine and her life. This shows how one’s perceptions of identity are crucial in determining and maintaining relationships with others.
The need for conformity in the society of ‘The Lost Thing’ in order to gain acceptance is shown by Shaun Tan. As the boy takes the lost thing around town, it is taken to the boy’s home. There, it takes up a huge amount of space and is impossible to ignore, however the parents of the boy do not even glance at it. Another instance where this lack of acknowledgement is shown is when the lost thing stands in line of banal, grey citizens. The lost thing clearly stands out as it is big, red and round, but no one notices it.
Tan uses this confining imagery as a way to effectively convey the segregation between society and the lost thing. The lost thing is unable to integrate itself into the society as it is both unable to conform to the dull criterion of the society and unable to gain acknowledgment of its presence. The shunned lost thing finds no admission into this society where the citizens do not dare stray from their quotidian routine for fear of exclusion. There is a place in this society that odds things are taken o: “The Federal Department of Odds and Ends” with the motto “sweepus underum carpatae”. At the end of the book, the lost thing does not find its home but it does find a place where its individuality is accepted. The boy even goes as far as saying “I mean, I can’t say that the thing actually belonged in the place where it ended up. In fact, none of the things there really belonged. They all seemed happy enough though, so maybe that didn’t matter. ” Consequently, what is shown here is that social interaction is needed, no matter what form of interaction, to gain a feeling of acceptance.
Ultimately, social interaction is inherent in all aspects of belonging. It is the basis of all relationships and also a factor for one’s self perception of identity. This complex process is vital for one’s mental and physical health as it challenges the barriers in place that one automatically establishes in a new setting. The ‘Namesake’ by Jhumpa Lahiri and ‘The Lost Thing’ by Shaun Tan explore the ways in which social interaction can affect relationships and identity which in turn affect one’s perceptions of belonging.
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