The Lowland

The Lowland

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Lowland: Part 7, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bela is home alone with MeghnaSubhash and Elise are out for breakfast. Meghna approaches her mother and tells her that there is someone at the door. Bela assumes it is perhaps Drew stopping by, but when she approaches the door, she does not see Drew’s car parked there.When she opens the door, she is shocked to see Gauri standing in front of her. The two women are the same height now, and as Bela takes her mother in, Meghna comes to the door and encourages Bela to open it.
Bela is shocked into inertia by her mother’s reappearance after so many decades. Lahiri’s decision to point out that the women have grown to be the same height signifies both Bela’s growth in her mother’s absence, and perhaps Gauri’s stuntedness in the wake of having abandoned her family and her history.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Bela lets Gauri in, and the three of them sit in the living room. Gauri asks if Meghna is Bela’s daughter, and when Bela got married. Bela feels that these ordinary questions, coming from her mother, feel “outrageous.” She does not want to share her life with her mother and does not answer her questions. As Gauri begins talking to Meghna, asking how old she is and when her birthday is, Bela shakes with rage. When Meghna asks Gauri who she is, Bela answers on Gauri’s behalf—she tells Meghna that Gauri is an aunt; a friend of Meghna’s grandmother whom Bela hasn’t seen since Meghna’s grandmother “died.”
Bela has so carefully engineered her life to remain inscrutable to her mother that Gauri’s sudden appearance—and thus the opportunity for her to learn about Bela’s life, despite Bela’s best efforts to keep that from happening—feels like an invasion. In retribution, Bela cruelly tells Meghna, in front of Gauri, that Gauri is dead. This scene toys with the theme of presence as absence, as Meghna does not know that her own “dead” grandmother is present.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Meghna, disinterested, goes back to coloring. In the wake of Bela’s shocking answer, Gauri realizes how deep and impenetrable the abyss between her and her daughter is. Though Bela is sitting only three feet away from her, she is utterly unreachable. Meghna asks Gauri to play tic-tac-toe with her, and Bela watches silently as the two play and converse. Once the tic-tac-toe game is over, Gauri sets the divorce papers on the table, and tells Bela to give them to Subhash. Gauri asks about Subhash’s health, but Bela, again, will not respond to her mother.
Gauri is unable to connect with the closed-off Bela—but Bela begrudgingly allows Gauri to interact, however briefly, with her own daughter. The idea of answering Gauri’s questions—and thus fully acknowledging both her current presence and her longstanding absence—is too much for Bela to bear. 
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Overwhelmed by the failure of her visit and the effort of her journey, Gauri says she’ll be on her way. Bela puts a jacket and a pair of shoes on Meghna and tells her daughter to go out to the garden to pick a large bunch of flowers. Once Meghna is outside, and Gauri and Bela are alone, Bela unloads on Gauri. She tells her mother that she cannot stand the sight of her. She informs Gauri that she knows all about Udayan, but that the truth of her parentage does not excuse what Gauri did—nothing could. Bela tells Gauri that she is not her mother—she is “nothing,” as dead to Bela as Udayan is, except for the fact that Gauri left by choice.
In this eruptive, heated confrontation, Bela unloads her feelings of abandonment, and anger on Gauri. Bela is in such pain that the most harmful thing—or the truest thing—she can think to say to Gauri is that she is “nothing.” In negating Gauri’s substance, Bela eases the pain of her abandonment. By telling Gauri she means to nothing to Bela, Bela has reclaimed her own narrative at last, and confirmed that Gauri is what she always wanted to be when she was raising Bela: gone.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Gauri silently takes Bela’s vitriol until Meghna knocks at the back door with her flowers. Bela goes to her and opens the door. Gauri approaches Meghna and bids her goodbye, then walks quickly toward the front door. Bela does not say goodbye, or even look up from what she is doing.
Even in the heat of such a contentious moment, Meghna’s re-entry with flowers seems to suggest that this young girl could, one day, be the bridge between these two women who have hurt and disappointed one another so terribly.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
As soon as Gauri is out of the house, Bela opens the envelope and checks for the signatures. Though the visit was taxing and “bewildering,” Bela is grateful that she was able to shield Subhash from having to confront Gauri; that it was she herself, and not her father, who was home when Gauri called.
Bela knows that as violent as her interaction with Gauri was, it was better that she bore the brunt of the pain of Gauri’s resurgence than her father.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
As Bela listens to the sound of Gauri’s car driving away, she feels strange—she has dreamed so many times of her mother’s return, and yet now that it has happened, the visit itself feels like a dream; ephemeral and inconsequential. She marvels at how angry she was just minutes ago and considers the destructive nature of the hatred she feels for her mother. It has marked all her other relationships. Recalling the day her mother left, Bela feels the urge to strike Gauri, to harm her, to be rid of her forever.
After Gauri departs, Bela can still sense her mother’s emotional presence in spite of her physical absence. She considers how this is true not only of this moment, but of her entire life—she has calibrated her whole existence around the contradiction of her mother’s abandonment, and the ubiquity of her presence in Bela’s thoughts.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon