Textverständis "Stepping into his shoes" by J. Lahiri
Hinweis: Die Angaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.
Answer the following questions using your own words as far as is appropriate. Quote correctly.
- Describe the situation Ashima finds herself in when she comes home. Examine and interpret her reactions. Refer to lines 1-16. (30%)
- Describe and analyse the different stages of Ashima’s first encounter with her future husband. What role do the young people’s families play in the meeting? (35%)
- Characterise Ashima and her future husband, taking into account the forms of characterisation used. (35%)
Immediately when Ashima comes home, her mother takes charge and tells her to “prepare herself” (l. 2) as a man is waiting for her. Ashima is not surprised, because he is the third suitor in three months. She is still relieved that none of the other two have picked her. The reason for this is that she is a student and in no hurry to get married. Nonetheless, she obediently puts on the robe that her mother has prepared for her, and smiles to herself as she overhears her mother somewhat exaggeratedly praising her knitting skills. She is aware that she will be married off sooner rather than later, and accepts this as well as the fact that her mother tries to make her appear to be a good catch.
Ashima herself is “without expectation” (ll. 7/8), she rather impassionedly remembers her other two suitors, a widower with four kids and a man who had lost his arm in an accident. There is only the mentioning of her studies and her young age which, to her, still take precedence over marrying.
Ashima’s meeting with her future husband can be divided into two stages:
The first stage is reached when she arrives in front of the room where he and both sets of parents are already waiting for her. Stepping into the corridor, she sees a pair of shoes that appear strange to her, and thus arouse her curiosity. She is convinced that they belong to her new suitor. As she is still unobserved, she examines them closely and finally steps into them. This is an exciting experience to her: “...it was the closest thing she had ever experienced to the touch of a man.” (ll. 27/28) To her, these shoes reveal more intimate knowledge about their owner than any personal encounter she has had so far. Noticing that one shoe has not been properly laced, she feels a little more at ease, because to her, this indicates a hint of imperfection.
The second stage is reached when she enters the room. From this moment on, the attention of everybody is focused on her and her future husband, but none of them has any opportunity to actively take part in the following encounter, although he makes an effort to do so once. This gives Ashima time to secretly but closely observe him. She takes in quite a few details about his outward appearance when she enters the room (cf. ll. 33ff.). And despite the fact that he avoids looking at her directly, she feels his gaze upon her when she crosses the room.
Their parents lead the negotiations, with his father praising his academic career and her having to recite a poem to prove her knowledge. She is also asked if she could imagine living abroad in a country with a much colder climate and without her family.
At the end of the meeting, she is still unaware of his name, which she will only learn after the engagement.
Ashima is 19 years old and “in the middle of her studies” (ll. 6/7). She is comparatively tall and slim (ll. 45/46), and lives in Calcutta with her mother, her father and her brother.
Being a student, she is familiar with English literature, and she is able to recite Wordsworth’s “The Daffodils”. But she does not know very much about the USA or about modern technology (“Ashima had never heard of Boston, or of fiber optics”, ll. 50/51).
She is innocent, as she has never touched a man before (ll. 27/28), and she does not want to get married (ll. 5ff.). Yet she accepts the situation and does not protest. She even manages to find her mother’s “salesmanship” (l. 14) amusing. At this point in the text, a special characterization technique of the author becomes apparent: The author provides the reader with direct information about the characters’ outward appearance (in ll. 45/46 Ashima is described as “...”tall” weighing about “ninety-nine pounds”, and her suitor is, according to ll. 33ff., “slightly plump”). He also informs the reader about their backgrounds.
However, this does not correlate with the direct characterization her mother provides of her skills as a housewife, as she wants to make the suitor and his family believe that Ashima is a good housewife and a good student.
Despite the role she dutifully fulfills, she is open to change and ready to leave her country and family behind, to ‘step into the shoes’ of a man whose name she doesn’t even know. This readiness is an example of Ashima being implicitly characterized through her actions as courageous and even adventurous. Another example for actions that implicitly give information about her character is her humorous question “Won’t he be there?” (l. 54) when she is informed that she might have to live alone abroad. Of course, this same question could also be interpreted as an expression of disrespect, uncertainty or disbelief, so that one must always consider the other information given to establish a coherent picture of the character.
The future husband is young, slightly overweight and “scholarly-looking” (l. 33)
Ashima characterizes him directly as well-dressed and well-groomed, with “an elegant, vaguely aristocratic air” (ll. 35/36). But he is also implicitly characterized at the same time as being a little careless, as one of his shoes is not laced properly (cf. ll. 29/30).
He, too, is educated, and earned a PhD in Boston. He wears American shoes, which implicitly implies that he is open to parts of Western culture.
But, on the other hand, he obviously respects his parents and their traditions very much, which can be concluded from his actions: He obediently accepts that his father and his future parents-in-law are planning his future, and he does not show any open interest in Ashima. The latter might also be an indication of shyness (cf. ll. 38-41).