The Lowland

The Lowland

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Lowland: Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The day after hearing Gauri’s story of Udayan’s death, Subhash goes out into the city to the tailor to have new clothes made, though he knows he will have no use for them in Rhode Island. After visiting the shop, Subhash stops in front of a store that sells embroidered shawls to light a cigarette. The shop-owner invites him in, and Subhash selects a navy-blue shawl for Bijoli. Though it is against tradition, as Gauri is a widow and must wear drab colors, Subhash picks out a bright turquoise shawl for her as well.
As Subhash begins to process the true story of his brother’s death, he attempts to isolate himself from his family. He cannot stop thinking of Gauri, though—when he purchases the bright shawl for her, he is symbolically demonstrating how unfair he feels it is that she is being made to behave as a widow at such a young age, after such a short marriage.
Themes
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When Subhash returns home, he confronts his parents about their treatment of Gauri, shaming them for forcing her to dress in dull colors, abstain from eating fish and meat, and dine separately from them. Bijoli insists these are their family’s customs, but Subhash tells them that they are demeaning Gauri, who is carrying their grandchild. Subhash’s mother, though, believes that Gauri is “too aloof to be a mother,” and suggests that once the child is born, Gauri should leave the child to them and go off to continue her studies. Subhash begs his parents to accept Gauri and treat her with respect, for Udayan’s sake, but his mother angrily warns him not to tell her how to mourn her own child.
Since his arrival, Subhash has been able to sense that something is off with regards to his parents’ treatment of Gauri. Now, after this conversation with his mother, he understands that his parents do not think Gauri is fit for motherhood and are purposefully excluding her in hopes of edging her out of mothering her own child. Subhash is shocked by this seemingly cruel act but cannot yet see that his parents’ suspicions are perhaps more well-founded than they seem.
Themes
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That night, Subhash cannot sleep. He thinks about how Udayan’s death was in vain—dedicated to a movement that has caused only destruction, and which has already effectively been dismantled. He also laments that Udayan inserted Gauri into the family, only to “strand her there.” As Subhash considers Gauri’s predicament, he realizes that the answer is right in front of them: he cannot console Bijoli and his father, and he wants to leave Calcutta. He is afraid to leave Gauri behind, when he knows his parents’ cruel treatment of her is intended to drive her out. He realizes that he must take Gauri away—and to do so, he must marry her. To follow Udayan in this way, Subhash thinks, feels both “perverse [and] ordained.”
Subhash wrestles with how the atmosphere of political violence Udayan became involved with has brought personal violence into their family. Subhash wants to smooth out the pain his brother’s death, and all its “violence,” has brought into his parents’ home, and sees that the only way to do this is to do the opposite of what he has been trying to do for years now: he must follow in Udayan’s footsteps once more, in a new and “perverse” way.
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Duty and Desire Theme Icon
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Related Quotes
Subhash is sick of being alone in Rhode Island—and, he admits, is attracted to Gauri. The next morning, rather than going to his parents, Subhash goes to Gauri directly. He gives her the shawl and helps her to wrap it around her shoulders. He tells her that he hates how Bijoli and his father treat her but cannot say any more—he loses his nerve, realizing the absurdity of his plan. Subhash knows that Gauri is mourning his brother—he himself means nothing to her.
Subhash has selfish reasons, too, for wanting to marry Gauri and take her away from Calcutta. When the moment of truth arrives, though, he feels sheepish and ashamed for thinking that he could convince Gauri to come away with him and decides not to ask her to marry him yet.
Themes
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The next afternoon, two policemen and an investigator arrive at the house and ask to speak to Gauri. They ask her if she is sympathetic to Udayan’s beliefs, and whether she is a current member of any political organization. She says she is not. They show her some photographs and ask if she recognizes anyone in them; she tells them she doesn’t. They mention a few names to her and ask if she recognizes any of them: among them are Nirmal Dey and Gopal Sinha. Gauri denies knowing the names, but Subhash realizes she is lying—even he remembers Sinha from the meeting he attended long ago.
As it becomes clear to Subhash that Gauri was more involved in whatever Udayan and the party were up to than she initially let on, another reason why leaving Calcutta seems necessary for her emerges. Subhash sees that Gauri is lying about her knowledge of higher-ups in the party, and wonders what else she knows that she has not shared with him.
Themes
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After the investigators leave, Subhash joins Gauri on the terrace. He asks her when the policemen will come back; Gauri says they won’t, as she has nothing to tell them, but Subhash does not believe her. He tells Gauri that she is not safe in Calcutta—even if the policemen leave her alone, Bijoli and his father will not. He tells her what he knows of his parents’ wishes that Gauri will leave the child to them. Subhash then tells Gauri that no one in America knows about the Naxalite movement; no one there will bother her. Subhash tells her that he knows she still loves Udayan and does not expect love from her. He urges her to understand, though, that if she joins him in America, they will be far from both political and personal harm.
A complicated ballet of rhetorical manipulation is happening in this scene. Subhash has already established, privately, that he wants to marry Gauri for selfish reasons as well as noble ones. He finds her attractive, and on some level feels that marrying his brother’s bride—however “perverse” it may be—would be the ultimate victory against Udayan. At the same time, Subhash doesn’t want Gauri or her child to face the political persecution that claimed Udayan’s life. His true intentions are a mix of various desires and feelings of obligation.
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That evening, Gauri privately reflects on the investigators’ questions. She knew most people in the photographs, and though she did not know the name Nirmal Dey, she cannot shake the feeling that she is “not in ignorance of this man.”
Lahiri allows her readers to see things from Gauri’s point of view, for a moment, to confirm that Gauri’s involvement in the party runs deeper than anyone knows, and possibly puts her and her unborn child in danger.
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The next morning, Gauri tells Subhash that he does not have to shoulder the burden of marrying her—Udayan would not have wanted “this.” Subhash says he understands, but Gauri reveals that Udayan did not want a family. In fact, she says, Udayan often said that because he had married before Subhash, he wanted for Subhash to be the first to have a child.
As Gauri reveals that Udayan always hoped his brother would have a child first, yet another “perversion” of desire occurs. What Udayan wanted in life is coming to pass—but only because of his death.
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