The story is of a 60-year widow, Mrs. Dutta, who leaves India for the US to stay with her son Sagar. She experiences culture shock amidst the Americans and eventually decides to go back to India. For the two months she's in India, she convinces herself that she is happy because she feels guilty for feeling unhappy. According to Indian customs, the wife duty lies to her husband and family, and her happiness revolves around them. Some occasions make her reminisce home, but the hallmark is when she overhears an argument between her son and daughter regarding her behaviors. The story unfolds surprising Indian traditions and American culture.
Mrs. Dutta writes a letter: Themes
The short story describes the differences between Indians living in India and Indians living in America through the main character Mrs. Prameela Dutta. She is an Indian mother and wife who comes to the US to her son's place to be taken care of in her old age. Throughout the story, the author tries to bring out the difference between the Indian and American culture. The plot consists of Mrs. Dutta, her son Sagar, her son's wife Shyamoli, her two grandchildren Mrinalini and Pradeep, her friend from India Mrs. Basu. The story tells of two months in which Mrs. Dutta stays with his sons and many flashbacks which provide context to the current situations. Mrs. Dutta is an old widow who gets sick and has to fly to America to live with her son. She is nostalgic and unhappy living in the foreign land and eventually decides to go back to India to pursue her happiness (Lincy, 2017).
Upon arriving in America, Mrs. Dutta does not get assimilated into the American culture like her sons family. She had not learned about the American culture before moving to California. Mrs. Dutta is shocked at how Americans live and associate with each other. For instance, she is shocked when Shyamoli, her son's wife, addresses her husband by his first name and orders him to fold the laundry especially because the laundry includes her underclothes. Back in India, the wife is submissive to the husband and does all the household chores. According to Hindu culture, the wife puts the needs of others above her own (Lincy, 2017). However, Shyamoli is a modern working woman and expects her husband to help out in the house because they all go out to work. Also, the American culture is more permissive than Indian. For instance, In India, Mrs. Dutta was always the first one to wake up as the woman of the house, however in this homestead, she is told to refrain from this behavior since she bothers everybody else with the noise. After she wakes up late the following day and goes to the bathroom, the children complain that she takes too long in there. She views this as disrespect and expects the child to get disciplined, which does not happen, leaving her utterly shocked. Mrs. Dutta was also shocked by the lack of socialization which the American people portrayed. The children would rather play video games or watch television rather than listen to their grandmother's tales. When she looked outside, the streets got deserted unlike in India where there were salespeople, hawkers, peasant women and even livestock on roads. She solved her culture shock by going back to her country, India.
All through her life, Mrs. Dutta had followed the ways and traditions of the Indian people. Upon coming to America, she discovers that these traditions differ from the rest of the world. She is especially critic about her son's wife Shyamoli who abandoned the Indian ways and became fully assimilated into the American culture (Lincy, 2017). According to her traditions, the wife gets devoted to her husband and children. Traditions also dictated that a wife stayed with her husband and if dead, with her son. Mrs. Dutta went to America to live with her son to comply with traditions. She also talks about how she had to wake up early before anyone else which became habitual for the 42 years she lived with her husband. She also prepares a traditional Indian meal which Shyamoli criticizes that it has too much cholesterol that would make them fat. According to the Indian traditions, the mother had the responsibility of disciplining children, but Shyamoli raised her children the American way. Mrs. Dutta was also shying from using the washing machine and instead prefers to traditionally wash her clothes by hand and sundry them by hanging them on a fence. All these traditions differ from the American way of doing things which leads to Shyamoli worrying the negative image portrayed to neighbors who might label them savages.
According to Mrs. Dutta, a woman's role is towards her family and especially her husband. Both Shyamoli and Mrs. Dutta had arranged weddings back in India. The plot compares the difference in responsibilities both women have to their family. The Indians traditions taught that a woman measure of happiness depended on those around her. She had always woken up early to prepare breakfast for her family, however; Shyamoli woke up with the rest of the family. At one time Mrs. Dutta felt unwanted because her illness did not inconvenience anyone in the house (Gale, 2007). She was used to be depended on even when sick. In America, women were equal to men, and household chores got shared, but according to Indian traditions, women were supposed to be subservient to their husbands. Women living in the US enjoy their freedoms and can financially support themselves as seen when Sagar argues with his wife, and she threatens to leave him.
The central theme in the story is cultural conflict and the divide it could bring. According to her religion, Mrs. Dutta is not supposed to leave dirty laundry in the same room as her gods as it brings bad luck (Gale, 2007). But according to her son's ways of doing things, laundry is kept in a laundry basket until the end of the week when they got washed. Furthermore, she is unable to break her habit of waking up before the rest of the household as her mother in law had taught her, "a good wife wakes before the rest of the household." Additionally, she does not condone the habit of Americans honoring mothers on for a day because, in India, mothers get honored every day. Further, she does not like the washing machine or leaving leftover meals in the freezer. In addition, she does not like the toothbrushes or toothpaste as they do not clean her teeth as her traditional toothbrush did. This cultural conflict was the cause of unhappiness in America, and she resulted in deciding to go back home to India.
This theme is brought out when the children would rather watch television rather than listen to their grandmother. Their grandmother does not understand the television shows they watch. She is also overwhelmed by the washing machine and other electronics in the house. She feels the generational gap when Shyamoli orders her husband to do laundry which no traditional woman would dare do to a husband. Further, Mrs. Dutta remembers her mother-in-law and her strictness towards her. Once, she got punished for burning dessert, and she cried after everyone left the house. Presently, she cannot do the same to her daughter-in-law. Instead, Shyamoli scolds her when she steps in to do laundry for her son.
Mrs. Dutta came to America looking for satisfaction which depended on serving her sons family but instead, goes back to India where her roots lie. The author brought out the difficulties that Indian women face upon immigrating to America. The same traditions that she has upheld although her life help her understand that the only way she was going to be happy is by going back to her way of life
Divakaruni, C. B. (1998, April). Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/04/mrs-dutta-writes-a-letter/377092/
Gale, T. (2007). Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter. Retrieved from https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mrs-dutta-writes-letter
Lincy, M. A. (2017, October). CULTURAL CONFLICTS IN CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI'S, "MRS.DUTTA WRITES A LETTER. Retrieved from http://www.shanlaxjournals.in/pdf/arts-science-and-humanities/2017/9/volume5special-issue1-162-164.pdf
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