The Management of Grief
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Mukherjee’s The Management of Grief represents the varied meanings and symbolisms. However, in this review of Mukherjee’s work, the passage of time, the relationship between space and characters, and the imagery that the author had chosen to express an approval or disapproval of patterns will be the main points of this literary analysis. Mukherjee used the passage of time as an element to express how the unfortunate bombing of the plane where the protagonist, Shaila, had lost her family, changes her or influences on her perspective. The passage of time expresses what the author intends to represent; how people like Shaila manage the grief in some time. Therefore, it was necessary to go on writing a story in the way that it progresses through some time. On the first day after having learned about the bombing, Shaila observes how people around her act and treat her after learning what had happened. Shaila also feels regret for not being more expressive in her feelings towards her husband. The next day, Shaila meets with a government representative, Templeton. The conversation between them shows so far that Shaila is “coping very well”, and that she may just be “the strongest person” of all the people who suffer from grief because of the incident. After four days, Shaila is in Ireland where the plane crashed with Kusum, a friend who also had lost her family in the crash. The scene shows how Shaila is dealing with the event by relying on the medication (particularly, valium), while Kusum turned to religion to understand why something horrible would happen to them. Through religion, Kusum understands that their loved ones are in a better place, and it would not help if the ones left behind sink into depression because this is a sign of selfishness. After three months, Shaila attempts to return to normality but feels conflicted about the pressures of considering other people’s views and feelings about what she should do (to remarry) and how she feels about being widowed. After retreating to India, Shaila finds a reason to go back to Canada after six months. Back in Toronto, Shaila finds her purpose, which is to help other people dealing with their loss. Overall, the progression of time in the story illustrates how the central character, Shaila, deals with her grief. The story follows the stages as marked by the progression of time.
While the progression of time illustrates different stages or phases of dealing with grief in the part of the protagonist, the relationship between the physical space and the central character illustrates her feelings. Shaila’s feelings change in every phase; and the physical spaces in the story both reflect and influence on those feelings. In Shaila’s home, on the first day after the plane had crashed, she feels the sense of community just watching how people around her make an effort to keep her comfortable and to be there with her in the time of her need. When Shaila and Kusum have visited Ireland, they both feel a sense of finality, such as being in the place where their loved ones died brings them to accept fully what had happened. When Shaila and Kusum are in the beach, they talk about the loss and grieving, and what it means to be grieving. At some point, Shaila also asks how different it would be if the facts were not real. Staring into the wide expanse of the beach makes Shaila feel like reaching out, hoping that maybe her family is alive somewhere. In the hospital, Shaila acknowledges that she is not the only person who had lost someone. Dr. Ranganathan mentioned the people who had died and the families he needs to talk to; he makes Shaila realize that she is not alone. When Shaila returns to India, she feels the pressure of having to go back to the normal life without her husband. Shaila feels conflicted about things but when she returns to Canada, she gains a sense of certainty. Shaila feels sure of what she needs to do; and that is to help people to overcome their grief. Ultimately, the physical spaces in the story influence on Shaila’s feelings.
Shaila’s return to Canada gives her a sense of purpose just by becoming the part of the Indian community where people like her lost their loved ones after the plane had crashed. In the beginning of the story, the responses of the people around her, especially the presence of unfamiliar people in Shaila’s life, show the strong sense of community among Indians in a foreign country. The behavior of the Indian community shows they are compelled to support and stand up for each other. Shaila’s experiences upon returning to India and later on, after deciding to go back to Canada, show how the patterns of behavior characterize the social environment. In India, Shaila feels pressure knowing the people’s expectations and listening to what people are telling her to do. The social environment is very traditional and imposing. In Canada, Shaila finds what she wants to do basing on her own decisions. The accepting behavior of people in Canada creates a liberating and supportive social environment.
Overall, the passage of time, the relationship between physical space and the main character, and the behavioral patterns in the story represent the phases or stages of managing grief, the feelings of the main protagonist and the social environment. Mukherjee also used the key words or terms to add the imagery in the story. Shaila and Kusum holding hands, for instance, show the togetherness or unity between two people who had lost their loved ones. Shaila, contemplating about serving samosas, represents her disapproval of Templeton’s presence. Shaila decides not to serve samosas because she does not want to prolong the visit. Moreover, Shaila’s recalling of Valium represents her struggles of keeping all things together. While Shaila and Kusum are talking in the beach, Shaila ruins her sari (a representation of her culture), which means that she disapproves of Kusum’s religious views of why things happen, and that they do not have the right to grieve. In the end, when Shaila is walking in Toronto, the words and imagery of her dropping the package on a bench and starting her walking represents her approval of the fate and her acceptance of what her family had told her that she had to be brave.