Interpreter of Maladies

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Camera Symbol Icon

The expensive camera with a telephoto lens that Mr. Das uses to snap pictures throughout the story symbolizes the Das family’s bi-cultural identity and wealth. Mr. Das often uses the camera to take photographs of things that are common sights in India—for instance, the Hanuman monkeys, as well as a man with a turban sitting atop a cart. In presenting Mr. Das taking pictures of these everyday sights, Lahiri positions him and his family as outsiders in relation to their own country of origin. The Das family may have Indian roots, but their identity is ultimately shaped by having been born and raised in America.

On another level, the camera represents the Das family’s wealth, especially in comparison with that of their tour guide, Mr. Kapasi. Mr. Kapasi has to work two jobs to support his family. Mr. Das, meanwhile, not only can afford to go on vacation in India, but can also afford expensive equipment to document the trip. In this way, the camera signifies the gap in affluence that exists between the Das family and Mr. Kapasi, as well as that between India and America more broadly.

The Camera Quotes in Interpreter of Maladies

The Interpreter of Maladies quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Camera. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Knowledge and Fantasy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Mariner Books edition of Interpreter of Maladies published in 1999.
Interpreter of Maladies Quotes

While Mr. Das adjusted his telephoto lens, Mrs. Das reached into her straw bag and pulled out a bottle of colorless nail polish, which she proceeded to stroke on the tip of her index finger.

The little girl stuck out her hand. “Mine too. Mommy, do mine too.”

“Leave me alone,” Mrs. Das said, blowing on her nail and turning her body slightly. “You’re making me mess up.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Das (speaker), Tina (speaker), Mr. Das
Related Symbols: The Camera
Page Number: 15-16
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Kapasi pulled over to the side of the road as Mr. Das took a picture of a barefoot man, his head wrapped in a dirty turban, seated on top of a cart of grain sacks pulled by a pair of bullocks. Both the man and the bullocks were emaciated.

Related Characters: Mr. Kapasi, Mr. Das
Related Symbols: The Camera
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Camera Symbol Timeline in Interpreter of Maladies

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Camera appears in Interpreter of Maladies. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Interpreter of Maladies
Culture and Identity Theme Icon
...to stop the car so that he can take photos of the monkeys with his camera. (full context)
Culture and Identity Theme Icon
...asks Mr. Kapasi to stop the car so he can take a picture with his camera of a barefoot man in a turban, sitting atop a cart pulled by bullocks. Both... (full context)
Culture and Identity Theme Icon
...sun, Mr. Kapasi explains. As the family walks around, Mr. Das takes photos with his camera and reads aloud from his guidebook about the site to everyone. (full context)