I’m reading “The Lowland,” by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s lovely, set in Calcutta and Rhode Island. I’ve read other work by Ms. Lahiri before, and I’ve noticed her male characters to be very sympathetic ones. (“The Lowland” is about, and I’m grossly simplifying, two brothers.)
But I’m irked.
The main female character in this book, Gauri, is described as highly intellectual, and independent, remarkable, etc. And she is a mother. But she’s not the mothering kind. Her mother-in-law could tell, knew this about her. Motherhood is “not enough” for her, does not define her life, does not give her contentment. (Gauri does not follow Indian tradition or social mores.)
It seems it’s her high intellect that blunts her mothering instinct. Or at least, I’m getting that impression. And it irks me. I guess it irks me because its converse would indicate that motherhood suits women who do not seek other things, who have no other intellectual pursuits?
This really, really irks me. I’m only halfway through the novel, so maybe I’ll be less irked as pages go by. But it seems to happen often in literature: women who are unhappy mothers are unhappy because they are, basically, too *smart* for motherhood.
I have had friends, mothers of young children, say that they need to work, that they need to “use their brains.” Each time I hear that, it’s like a little stab wound.
I am intellectually stimulated all the time. If not by the day-to-day parenting, then by the things I read, or hear, or see. And I enjoy motherhood, parenting as the at-home spouse. I have never thought, “I want to get back to work so that I can use my brain.” I want to get back to work, actually, so that more people, besides my husband and children, can enjoy all my brain has to offer. I just want to share, and show off a bit, coincidentally, if not intentionally.
Hmm. I’m now less irked by “The Lowland.” Gauri, the new mother, seems happier when she receives validation for actions that serve only herself–actions that have nothing to do with mothering, or being a wife. Who doesn’t feel better when they, and they alone, are rewarded, recognized, and remembered? She’s not too smart for motherhood. She just wants attention for herself, and not just for her time with her child, not just for her marital status. Who doesn’t want that?
We have egos for a reason. Why deny them?