Arun is jogging for the first time, so exhausted that he feels sick, through the suburbs surrounding the Patton’s house. Cars zoom past him, and he reflects on all the ways America seems built to accommodate cars—gas stations, highways, motels off of highways. He thinks of it as a land so rugged that only cars can break through, while pedestrians can get nowhere. When Arun returns to the house, Mr. Patton is angrily putting away bags of raw meat, asking Mrs. Patton if she knows where their kids are. He is very concerned about whether anybody is “Doing work,” and when Mrs. Patton says that Rod is working out, he responds, “And Melanie...What’s she in training for, Huh?” He is angry that Rod works out all day, but does no visible chores when he returns home. He doesn’t ask how they are—only what they’re doing. Arun escapes silently to his room.
Surrounded by the brawny, athletic Patton men, Arun begins to judge himself by the American ideal of manliness that they represent. By pushing himself to physical sickness the first time he jogs, Arun mercilessly pressures his body to meet the ideal. The roads begin to embody the impossibility of American standards: a human can’t travel the roads without a car, a sign of American wealth and power. Mr. Patton’s fixation on whether or not his children are “doing work” shows how much he values productivity as the symbol of a healthy household—instead of their mental or emotional health.
That night, Melanie is in the bathtub, water running, with her cassette player. Arun is waiting outside because he needs to take a shower. When she finally comes out, she looks exhausted and pale, but says nothing. He hears her going into her room, and he thinks he hears her crying. Arun finds Rod, who is doing leg-lifts and stationary cycling in his room, and shyly tells him that he worries Melanie might be ill. Rod isn’t surprised at all; In a matter-of-fact way, he tells Arun that of course Melanie is ill, because all she does is eat candy bars and purge them up. He criticizes her for using this way to maintain her body, instead of exercising like he does. Arun is shocked, and wonders to himself “what is more dangerous in this country—the pursuit of health, or the pursuit of sickness.”
The American obsession with thinness is foreign to Arun. It shocks Arun that Melanie would intentionally make herself sick, because in his country, sickness is something to be avoided. Arun is shocked by Rod’s casual reaction because it shows how emotionally removed Rod is from Melanie’s wellbeing and how commonplace girls starving and purging seems to him. Rod is as obsessed with his physique as Melanie, and the effect of this obsession seems to Arun to blur the line between health and sickness in a way that disturbs him deeply.