The Lowland

The Lowland

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Lowland: Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One weekend in September, Joshua is visiting his father, and Holly suggests she and Subhash take a ferry to Block Island for the weekend. There, Holly gifts Subhash a pair of binoculars. The two go bicycling, and Subhash is reminded of learning to ride a bike with Udayan in Calcutta. He thinks of a letter he recently received from his brother, which tells of how mundane Udayan’s life has become—but still makes oblique reference to a fascination with Castro. The letter caused Subhash to wonder whether his brother has “traded one passion for another,” and committed fully to a quiet life with Gauri.
As Subhash’s connection with Holly continues to intensify, his connection to home, and to Udayan, becomes muddier . He has not seen his brother in a long time and cannot gather what is truly going on with Udayan from the tone of his letters. Subhash is conscious of this disconnect, but uncertain of how to mend it—he is too wrapped up with Holly, and too far removed from Udayan. 
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Subhash and Holly see a turtle in the road, and Subhash moves it back into the grass, away from harm. The rest of the evening, Holly is withdrawn and pensive, and that night the two go to sleep without making love for the first time since their affair began.
Subhash has been lamenting how far removed he has become from his brother—in this moment, it becomes evident that he is further removed from Holly, too, than he realized.
Themes
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
On the ferry back to the mainland in the morning, Holly tells Subhash that their affair must end—she is going to try to make things work with Joshua’s father. When Subhash protests, Holly points out that in a few years Subhash has said himself that he will return to India. Subhash feels as if their relationship is the turtle in the road—Holly has picked them up and pulled them off “the precarious path they were on […] putting their connection to one another out of harm’s way.” In his hurt and anger, Subhash takes Udayan’s most recent letter from his pocket, rips it up, and drops the pieces into the ocean.
Subhash and Holly have both known that they were on borrowed time. This fact, though, was unspoken between them. In this way, Holly and Subhash were conspirators in a lie they told one another—that their relationship was fine. As a result of Subhash’s pain, he rips Udayan’s letter up—symbolizing his desire to estrange himself not just from Holly, but from everyone close to him.
Themes
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
It is Autumn of 1971, Subhash’s third fall in Rhode Island. The changing leaves’ fiery colors remind him of the vibrant spices his mother Bijoli pounded each morning in preparation for the day’s meals. Subhash is struck by how these colors have followed him to such a vastly different part of the world. He is flooded with memories of Calcutta as he realizes the holiday celebrating the many-armed warrior goddess Durga is taking place there right now. For the past two years, his parents have sent gifts to mark the holiday—this year, only a telegram arrives. It consists of only two sentences: “Udayan killed. Come back if you can.”
At the height of Subhash’s homesickness and feelings of disconnection from the traditions of his youth, a thread reconnecting him to Calcutta appears—in the most painful form imaginable. The curt letter puts an end to his romanticizing of the Calcutta of his youth and brings him back to an awareness of the fact that things there are darker, and more dangerous, than they seem.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
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