Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Hell-Heaven” Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Sep 22nd, 2019


‘Hell-Heaven’ is a story that revolves around a family. The narrator’s family is not socially stable and her mother, Boudi, falls in love with Pranab, a stranger that the family has taken in as a friend.

Pranab however falls in love with Deborah, revealing Boudi’s level of vulnerability. This paper seeks to discuss the characters in the play, as revealed by the narrator. The paper will analyze the characters’ appearances, actions, speech, and conscience.


The major characters in the story are the narrator, her mother, Pranab and Deborah. Pranab, a foreign student in America comes across the narrator’s family, with whom he shares a cultural origin. Pranab is taken into the family, and as the narrator notices, her mother develops affection for Pranab.

Parnab, a college student spends most of his time in the family’s house and the Boudi exhibits changed behavior and attitude towards pleasing him. The narrator’s mother becomes jealous when Pranab falls in love with Deborah. She, out of jealousy, predicts a breakup, which never occurs.

The two gets married and Parnab’s visits to the family completely stop. Boudi maintains her jealousy though she later denied the feelings to Deborah who admitted her own initial jealous feelings towards Boudi. The narrator, now a grown up girl, is involved in parties, drugs, and sexual behaviors (Lahiri, 60-84).

Characters appearance

The narrator, though young at the beginning of the story, is able to describe the characters in terms of their appearances. She for instance describes her mother’s appearance during their first encounter with Pranab.

Her mother, is described a cultural woman. In reaction to Pranab’s question on their first encounter, the narrator notes that her mother’s appearance should have identified her, not just as a Bengali woman, but one who is already married.

Boudi’s appearance is also identified with a dissatisfied look that she cannot hide. This is her particular appearance before she meets Pranab. Every time her daughter arrives home from school, she would meet the discontented look in her mother’s face (Lahiri, p. 61).

Similarly, the narrator is able to describe Pranab’s natural appearance. He is particularly thin and tall, actually the tallest of the characters. With a significantly “high forehead and a thick mustache,” Pranab is described as an attractive young man.

The narrator, through her mother, also describes Pranab as having huge hips. Owing to his smocking behavior, his hands are always trembling. The narrator however offers no succinct description of her appearance. While Boudi’s appearance symbolizes her origin, Pranab’s appearance represents the American youthful generation (Lahiri, p. 62).

Characters actions

Actions of the major characters are identified through their relations in the story. The narrator’s mother is defined with a high level of passive communications. She is passively involved in the activities in her life, which she leaves to be determined by destiny.

Her marriage is for example described as a destiny, something that she was brought up to realize. She plays a passive role in entering her marriage and is not actively influential in directing the marriage. Boudi’s passive nature is also expressed in her relation to Pranab.

While she falls in love with the young man, she is not able to confront both her emotions and Pranab in order to express her feelings. She instead ventures into initiative to please, attract and retain the man and yet conceals her feelings to herself.

Boudi’s passive nature is also realized through her marriage. While she is not satisfied and knows that her husband is not committed to her, she is not able to either initiate resolutions or move forward with her life (Lahiri, 60-84).

Pranab on the other hand adopts a more active role in his life. He for instance follows the narrator and her mother and gets to know them. At the same time, he directly makes initiatives to become part of the narrator’s family.

Similarly, his active moves win him people’s affection. While the narrator is a young child and controlled by her parents, especially her mother, she is an opportunist who attends parties at every chance and is involved in drugs (Lahiri, 60-84).

Characters’ speech

Boudi is not effective in speaking and mostly resort to implied actions for her communications. She for instance makes appealing implied advances to express her feelings towards Pranab. When she wants to take her daughter from Pranab’s wedding, she uses gestures instead of oral communication.

Pranab, Deborah and Asha are however active speakers. The characters’ speech is important in maintaining harmony in the story. Boudi’s ineffectiveness negates conflict in the story while the other characters’ speech bonds the group (Lahiri, 60-84).

Characters’ consciousness

Boudi is a very conscious character who is aware of her emotions and her environment. She is conversant with her feelings for Pranab, the fact that she cannot be with him as well as the poor condition of her marriage. The narrator is also informed of her environment, as she is able to describe the other character’s consciousness.

Pranab and Deborah are however not very conscious as they often lack proper understanding of the circumstances around them. Their feelings are not explicitly described (Lahiri, 60-84).

Works Cited

Lahiri, Jhumpa. Unaccustomed earth. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009. Print

This essay on Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Hell-Heaven” was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Read more