My Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama had a stimulating conversation about the characters of “Interpreter of Maladies.” They were divided into three groups, and each group was given a major character: Mr. Das, Mrs. Das, and Mr. Kapasi. Each group was then tasked with gathering “textual evidence” from the story that are important to our understanding of the characters. I asked them to walk through each page of the story – paragraph by paragraph – and note what the writer reveals about that character.
The purpose of this exercise was to understand characterization that is based on text. Often students read through a story rather quickly and come away with a generalized “feeling” toward the characters. Mrs. Das is a selfish, cheating bitch… for instance. Mr. Kapasi is a dreamer… for another instance. Mr. Das is a poor victim in a loveless marriage. Sometimes these feelings are founded and sometimes they are not (result of less-than-careful reading). Instead of thinking a certain way about a character, then trying to defend that feeling… I asked the students to see what the writer says about the characters step-by-step, then create a portrait based on those “facts”.
By the end of the class, the students seemed to understand the complexity of each character. Mrs. Das is not just a selfish bitch. Mr. Das is not just a victim – he has faults too. Mr. Kapasi may be a dreamer… but he also has many flaws.
The big lesson learned from this was to slow down our reading experience. To notice how the writer builds her characters.
Next class, we’ll discuss what this better understanding of these three characters reveal about the theme of the story. It’s not just a story about two unhappy marriages…