The Lowland

The Lowland

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Lowland: Part 6, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gauri has a dream—or a nightmare—of sitting in her and Udayan’s bedroom in Tollygunge with Udayan. In the dream, Udayan tells Gauri that Sinha has been arrested, and then begins undressing her. As he removes Gauri’s hair from its braid, she realizes it has gone gray—she has aged, but Udayan is still in his twenties, yet is “blind to this disjuncture.” Gauri tries to tell Udayan that she is married to Subhash, but he does not listen and continues to undress her.  As Gauri wakes from the dream, she wonders what Udayan would look like now, and reflects on the secrets she has kept for him all these years.
Decades after Udayan’s death, Gauri is still haunted by memories—and dreams—of him. The line between the two is blurred, but Gauri continues to be assaulted by visions of Udayan in which she must confess the things she has done in his absence—and when she wakes, she is forced to remember the things she did for Udayan that haunt her present.
Themes
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
When Gauri first arrived in California, it was the living that haunted her—not the dead. She feared Subhash or Bela turning up on her new campus and confronting her or exposing her. In twenty years, though, no one from her past has come to her, and she has not been summoned back to Rhode Island.
Whether it’s the living or the dead that Gauri fears, the web of secrets and untruths her life is based upon seems to dog her each day, no matter the physical distance she puts between herself and the things she is trying to outrun.
Themes
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Gauri left because she felt she had made errors during the early years of Bela’s life that she could never fix. Because she’d failed to build a good foundation with her daughter, she believed no attempt to build a relationship with her would succeed. She had also convinced herself that she and Subhash were rivals for Bela’s attention and affection, though she now sees that she had “painted herself into a corner” with her own hands.
Gauri knows she made many mistakes in her relationships with both Bela and Subhash. At the time, those mistakes felt insurmountable; Gauri now sees that she could have repaired them if she had put in just a little more effort to commit to the family she agreed to create.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After moving around California to take various teaching jobs over the years, Gauri has at last settled in Southern California, where she teaches philosophy and forges close relationships with her students. Though initially Gauri wanted to live an anonymous life, she has found comfort in her relationships with her loyal, admiring students and colleagues. Gauri has published three books in her life, one of which grew out of the first essay she wrote for Otto Weiss’s class. Gauri is fluent in German now, and attends conferences around the world a few times a year. On each plane ride, she brings the turquoise shawl Subhash gave to her back in Calcutta.
Gauri has made the life she always wanted for herself. She is widely published, successful in her own right, and has secured the most important thing of all—her independence. In spite of all of this, she holds on to small touchstones from her former life—most notably, the turquoise shawl Subhash gave her, itself a symbol of the potential for rebirth, escape, and the search for more.
Themes
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
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Gauri has lived a mostly isolated life and has steered clear of romance and physical intimacy alike—for the most part. She has had some dalliances with fellow academics but has never been “unraveled” by anyone other than Lorna, a female graduate student who came to Gauri’s office one day, expressing her admiration for Gauri’s work and asking her to serve as a reader on her dissertation. As Gauri and Lorna began working together, Gauri began experiencing an attraction to Lorna. She never acted on any of her desires, though, until one evening when Lorna showed up at Gauri’s office with wine and cheese, ready to celebrate the completion of her dissertation. Lorna kissed Gauri, and the two began a physical relationship. After Lorna’s dissertation defense, however, she was offered a job in Toronto, and moved away. The two still see each other occasionally at conferences, but their relationship is now strictly professional.
For a woman who once imploded her life to pursue her own desires, Gauri has, in her “new” life, kept a cap on her feelings of desire for other people. Gauri has always been aloof and has always desired isolation—even as a girl in Calcutta, she preferred observing the world from her balcony over participating it. Gauri has a difficult relationship to her own desires—emotional, material, and physical—and has only allowed for the expression of those desire in small, scattered doses.
Themes
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Gauri lives a simple life; she owns few things and sticks to a strict routine. She does not have many indulgences, feeling that her existence as it is now is indulgence enough.
Gauri is grateful for her freedom and independence—she knows how difficult her life could have been had she stayed in Calcutta, and that there was once a chance she’d not have been able to have a life at all.
Themes
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
One afternoon, Gauri receives a piece of patio furniture she’d ordered out of a catalog. When she removes it from its box, the smell of teak reminds her of the smell of her bedroom furniture back in Tollygunge. Gauri feels the smell breaks through the time and distance that have separated her from her memories of her previous life. She begins wondering about Bela, and why her daughter has never contacted her, but ultimately concludes the silence between them is “just punishment for her crime.”
Gauri is assaulted by memories of her past in this scene, and reveals that she does, after all, have a longing for many of the things she left behind—primarily Bela. Gauri accepts the silence between them, though, knowing that what she did was and is unforgivable.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Gauri knows that what she has done to Bela is “a crime worse than anything Udayan had committed,” and can never be undone. She hopes that Subhash has found happiness—she is grateful to him for having taken her away from Tollygunge, and, too, for releasing her when it was time.
Gauri knows she owes a debt to Subhash that she has not paid. She is remorseful about the actions she has taken in her life and how ungrateful she has been, and her quiet, internal expressions of gratitude are an attempt to ameliorate that.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon