INTRODUCTION This text is an excerpt from a novel entitled Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, which was published in 2008. The story seems to focus on one main character, Amit. His parents are Indian and had to move frequently to different countries, because of the father's job, as a result, Amit was sent as a border to Langford. The extract folds into three paragraphs, appearing like flashbacks of Amit's teenage life. The first part runs from l.1 to 9 and refers to the moment when Amit's father gave him his admission papers to Langford University where he would be a boarder. The second part runs from l.10 to l.21. It consists in Amit's Christmas holidays in Delhi. The last part runs from l.22 to the end and is about his life at Langford. Amit's parents have a particular vision of success but what are the consequences of their interfering with their child's needs and dreams? My analysis will be divided into two parts. First, I will concentrate on the search for excellence. Indeed Langford is seen as a leading high school, especially by Amit's father who stands as a figure of success. Second, I will focus on Amit's feeling of estrangement, as he met with difficulties in adapting to a new environment and also felt abandoned by his parents. But these hardships may lead him to gain independence.
1. THE SEARCH FOR EXCELLENCE
a. Langford: a leading highschool
Amit quickly realizes the high standard of Langford high school. Indeed, the rules at Langford are different from the ones he knew when he was at Winchester high school. Not only “jeans [are] not allowed” (line 37) and “boys [are to be called] by their last names” (line 36), but also he has to attend church every Sunday “and attend chapel on Sundays”, lines 28 and 29). Besides, the social background of his schoolmates is not the same, as we can quote from lines 28 to 30 “Quickly he learned that his parents' wealth was laughable compared to the majority of Langford boys”. Furthermore, Amit has to work harder to keep being a good student as Langford academic level is high. Indeed, one can read line 27 “he'd had to work doggedly to maintain his grades”. His parents have chosen Langford because it is a prestigious high school from which a large percentage of students go on to the Ivy League. I can read from lines 4 to 5 “the percentage of Langford graduates who went on to Ivy League colleges”. Moreover it will allow continuity in Amit's American course of studies, and will allow him to succeed like his father.
b. Father: A Figure of Success
His father is a well-known scientist. He is an eye-specialist. Amit's family is rich and they have a high social status. They must belong to the upper class, as his father works as an eye-surgeon and their flat in India is “full of servants” (line 11). Amit seems under pressure from his father's success and feels he has to live up to his father's ambitions, so he does not dear confiding his difficulties in him. This idea is illustrated by the following lines “though he admitted it to no one, especially not his parents when they called from Delhi every week-end, he was crippled with homesickness...” (Lines 30 to 32). What is more, the father is not attentive to his son's feelings. He announces his decision to send Amit half way across the world in a boarding school by simply showing him the “admissions packet” when sitting in a restaurant. The reason why he doesn't ask for his son's approval, is probably because he wants the best schools and university for him, so that he can succeed and have a wide range of opportunities in his future life. Nevertheless, to what extent can we say that his parents' choices have an impact on Amit's life and feelings?
2. FEELING ESTRANGED
a. Difficulties to Adapt in a New Environment
Langford is a new environment for Amit, which he has no time to adjust to. He is singled out as the only Indian, as we can read from lines 22 to 23 “Amit was the only Indian student, and people always assumed that he'd been born and raised in that country and not in Massachusetts”. Moreover he no longer finds himself at the top of the social ladder in his school, no longer being either the richest or the smartest. This idea can be found from lines 28 to 30. He has to conform to new habits to fit the mould: the dress code is different since he has to wear jackets and khakis, because jeans are forbidden (lines 37). The academic level is higher than that of his previous school “it was superior to the school he'd been attending” (line 4). Moreover, he feels lonely and homesick; as we can read line 32 “he was crippled with homesickness”. He is sticking to past memories of Winchester but also of Calcutta. Indeed, the language barrier prevents him to communicate properly in Delhi, as his “broken Bengali [was] of no use in that city” (lines 12-13). That is one of the reasons why he misses Calcutta, along with the fact that it is “where all his relatives lived, where he was used to going” (line 13).
b. Feeling Abandoned by his Parents
He is resentful to his parents for all those reasons and for sending him to Langford and leaving him in America. Moreover, Amit may feel completely lost because of the fact that his family never had a permanent home. Indeed, after living in Winchester, they moved to Delhi, then to Houston (Texas) and eventually to Switzerland. Amit resents being left behind. Besides the fact that he could not have his word in this decision, he was not ready to live by himself and would rather have followed his parents to India, even though the level of education is lower there, he bears them a grudge for leaving him no choice. Despite the obstacles he met with and his resentment, he “learned [...] to enjoy it” (lines 37-39). He reached a new stage in his life, he got integrated and tried his best to fit in, to adopt the others' customs, as well as to reach the other students' high academic standard. He gradually became autonomous thanks to the ordeals he had to go through. He learned “to live without his mother and father, as everyone else did, shedding his daily dependence on them”, as we can quote lines 37-38.
CONCLUSION We have seen that Amit's parents have a particular vision of success, since his father is a well-known and wealthy scientist. That is the reason why they sent him to Langford, a leading high school. We have demonstrated that his parents' choice of leaving him there had a great impact on his life. Indeed, he felt estranged in his school as well as in Delhi. Moreover, in a very few sentences, the author manages to express the deep resentment a child can have toward his parents, when having to live without them for several months. Thus, it can be said that this story contains the narrative of the inner conflict of an Indian-American boy, who lives a straddled life between America and the several places his parents chose to live in. By exploring the impact of parental expectations, Jhumpa Lahiri, underlines the complexity of building one's identity. On the one hand, this experience gave Amit mixed feelings towards his parents, forcing him to undergo hardships. On the other hand, he progressively gained strength and learnt to appreciate independence.