Discussion: “Sexy,” Jhumpa Lahiri

Please use the following questions as a starting point for your response to the Jhumpa Lahiri story “Sexy”. You don’t need to answer all of the questions, or even answer any of them in full, but please keep your response focused and relevant.

  • How do the stories of these two women, Miranda and Laxmi’s cousin, complement one another? What is Lahiri accomplishing by juxtaposing them in this way?
  • This is very much a story about stuff–eye cream, the silver dress–and places–like the Mapparium, and Rohin’s obsession with world capitals. What role do you see commodities playing in this story? What about locations, and geography?
  • What do you make of Rohin’s visit? What effect does his arrival have on this story?
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11 thoughts on “Discussion: “Sexy,” Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. The stakes of this story and the suspense in many ways comes from the difference between Laxmi and Miranda. Who they are as individuals and their stories alone would not have much depth or texture for a story but it’s their contrast that drives the story forward. There is this element of dramatic irony when we have Laxima talk about her cousin’s husband and how she would react in a similar situation and Miranda doesn’t say much more than agree, but we are aware of her relationship with Dev. While the dramatic irony may make the story itself interesting, it how the dramatic irony makes the contrast between Miranda and Laxmi stronger that gives the story it’s stake. Lahiri’s juxtapositioning of these two characters doesn’t only highlight their differences however, but it also allows for more opportunities for the characterization of Miranda and Laxmi. The characters also become defined by the way they respond to each other and interact with one another.

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  2. Laxmi’s ramblings in the office about someone who is a victim of adultery are juxtaposed with Miranda who is committing the adultery. The dynamic between the two women casts this catastrophic mood over everything, given how Laxmi talks about murdering her cousin’s husband and mistress if she were in her position, and this catastrophe is realized later on when Miranda comes to the epiphany that Dev is never going to appreciate her in the way that she was hoping for.
    Looking at two objects in particular, I see the mapparium and the almanac as attempts to collapse the boundaries of physical distance. With the Mapparium and the almanac that Rohin is fascinated by, vastly different locales can be viewed within the same space and appear to be one in the same. The paradox of this relationship is that while these physical distances appear to close, in the way that Miranda is able to have this relationship with a man from Bengal, the emotional distance between the characters remains un-traversable.

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  3. By Samuel Antezana

    The relationship between Laxmi and Miranda is quite ironic because of the fact that Laxmi’s cousin (i believe) is someone who is being cheated on, while Miranda is the one who is engaged in an affair with a married man named Dev. To me, this story was very dark and it served as an exploration of the human soul, as well as a delving into the idea of “love” and what it truly means, or if it is even real.
    Moreover, I liked that Jhumpa Lahiri tied in the word “sexy,” making it as much of a part of the theme as anything else in the story was. I believe the relationship that Miranda and Dev has is only kept alive by all of the compliments Dev gives her. The arrival of the young boy Rohin serves to shed light on the reality of Miranda’s relationship with Dev and that it will never stretch further than an affair, Dev will never feel true love for her, not the same type of love that he has for his wife, whom he (in essence) described her as more beautiful than Miranda. Rohin also serves to show how horrible adultery is, because it is destroying the relationship of his mother and father, as well as disturbing him in very dark ways, which he reveals to Miranda when he calls her sexy and she realizes that it is a mere word with not real meaning behind it.

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  4. The juxtaposition of Laxmi and Miranda, seemed to me, to be mainly a plot device, and I did not really enjoy the dramatic irony until the end. It did work to set up a tension in the story and it was very tight and concise in the way that this complex emotional dilemma evolved through the use of the four characters in their similar but different scenarios. The part that seemed to be the best connection was when Rohin was introduced and the night that they spent together. This phrasing itself makes it sound weird and sexual, but I also think that was a part of the appeal. The bizarreness of the encounter was something that pushed this story into something great in my eyes because this was the point that Miranda unraveled as a character and had her epiphany, but not in a paragraph of self-realization, but in a slow, not eloquent but intuitive understanding of her situation. This could be conjecture, as most literary analysis is, but I believe that the use of Rohin was to show to Miranda without her knowing, that she was not in love with Dev for the right reasons but was just happy to have change and unfamiliarity in her life. She moved to Boston to be away from the normalcy of her existence and the anecdote about the Dixhit family shows her previous feelings towards the unfamiliar. She thought she was better than this. Than her hometown. The seclusion she lived in. So she loves Dev because he is all that is unfamiliar and because she loves that she can love him. She is also lonely. The ability to be with Dev lets her be a part of society and a part of Boston, giving her the sense of community that she had in her small town but that she wants to divorce herself of. Rohin, I think, shows this to her, that she is in love with Dev for his unfamiliarity, because the qualities that he attributes to him, for her love, are soon the qualities she sees in Rohin. Rohin and Dev are very similar and in the weird sexual part of the night she sees how similar they are, and how Dev is not the polished perfect person she idealizes him to be, just something different in her life. Rohin does not know what he is talking about, but acts like he does, and Dev is the same. I think Rohin serves not only as a moral counterweight to the consequences of her action but as a realization of Mirandas true intention with Dev and the source of her quick ardent love for him; that once noted for its novelty, slowly disintegrates as she finally does what she came to Boston to do: grow. But this is all based on my own bias and reading into things.

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  5. “Sexy”, as mentioned in the prompt, is in many ways about stuff. Each significant object is in someway symbolic of a part of the relationship between Miranda and Dev. The eye cream is from the day they met. The dress from her attempt to keep his interest after he is reunited with his wife. I think many of the objects, however, are also tied to Miranda’s identity and her struggle to determine where she fits in. She definitely seems to be struggling to reconcile her Indian culture with her American upbringing and lifestyle. This can be seen clearly when she goes to the Indian grocery store and feels out of place, or when Laxmi is eating the Hot Mix, or when the portrait of the goddess Kali haunts her from her childhood. These objects show Miranda’s obvious discomfort with things that are “Indian” and she often seems to feel guilty or saddened by her inability to relate to them.

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  6. The stories between both Miranda and Laxmi compliment each other because Laxmi’s cousin is suffering the fate of her husband committing adultery, while Miranda is the one committing adultery. The purpose of this is present irony when Laxmi discusses what she would do if she was in her cousin’s situation to Miranda, who is a mistress to a married man. It also is done to facilitate Miranda’s reaction to her relationship with Dev overall.

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  7. The moment that I realized the Miranda was in the middle of the same kind of business that was the cause of Laxmi’s cousin I tears, it had a significant effect on me. Learning of it so near to her introduction left the impression that she wouldn’t feel so sorry for what Laxmi’s cousin was going through, and was reluctant to tell Laxmi about her relationship with Dev because of current sensitivity to the issue. Later after Rohin arrived and overturned some of Miranda’s feelings about the relationship, it was revealed that Miranda does have issues with it and feels like she is the wrong . Rohin defined what his relationship with Dev was, and allowed her to see herself in terms of his mother, to imagine Rohin’s mother in a scenario that helped her clarify how she really felt about things. I did not really see much in the stuff in this story, except for them serving as bridges between people, things that were important to them such as culture, or plot points. For example, cream let Miranda meet Dev and the dress let her hear Rohin’s perspective of ‘sexy.’

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  8. The two stories of the girls compliment each other because one could be because for he other, like a cause and effect. Miranda is committing adultery while Laxmi’s cousin is suffering from her husband cheating on her. There could be a slight hint that Miranda could be the reason that Laxmi’s cousin is suffering, or it could be ironic and/or coincidental.

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  9. The story of Miranda and Laxmi’s cousin complement each other well in the sense that the author is able to present both perspectives on cheating with both of their experiences. From Miranda’s side we are able to see what it is like to be in this sort of exciting and highly charged secret relationship and from Laxmi’s cousin’s side we can see the pain and desperation that this type of relationship can bring the wife when she finds out. However it is not exactly a perfect complement as Laxmi’s cousin husband had this one conversation that apparently changed his life and caused him to start questioning things, eventually choosing to leave his wife while Miranda has an entire affair with Dev and eventually decides to leave him. While the stories happening at the same time does feel incredibly convenient which took me out of the story somewhat, this imperfect symmetry also allows those stories to complement each other without feeling too convenient.

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  10. While reading the stories I enjoyed that one was the nemesis of the other. Here we have a woman who is being cheated on and another who is partaking in the cheating. I felt that by juxtapositioning both stories the way Lahiri did we were able to see Mirida’s apathy to the whole situation.

    Rohin’s visit was definitely epiphanous. Somehow hearing Rohin’s definition of ‘sexy’ made her realize Dev would never leave his wife for her and in fact they were in a convenient situationship that wouldn’t progress to anything of value.

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  11. In “Sexy,” the main storyline is of Miranda and her affair with the married man Dev, while the secondary storyline is about Laxmi’s cousin, whose husband is having an affair with a woman in England. The blatant juxtaposition of these two storylines helps the reader feel for all the parties involved. On the one hand, Miranda is the mistress of a married man; she doesn’t feel guilty except when Laxmi talks about her cousin’s ongoing predicament. The cousin, at the other end of the situation, is severely depressed over her failed marriage. The two parallels create an interesting source of tension in the story; one that only Miranda feels, since she tells no one of her affair with Dev.

    Tying these two storylines together is Rahim, the little boy of Laxmi’s cousin. I really liked how this was done in the story, although he seemed very peculiar for a little kid. When Miranda tries on her cocktail dress, Rahim calls her “sexy,” and when she asks him what it means he says it means “loving someone you don’t know.” This one phrase strikes a huge chord in her, as everything seems to realign, put into a different perspective by this understanding. The men who cheat on their marriage, like Dev, are only looking for something “sexy,” but once the novelty of the mystery wears off, as does the thrill and wild sex appeal, just as with their wives. After that, Miranda never meets with Dev again.

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