Sumita, the American - "Clothes" by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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The United States of America is known by many names: “the land of opportunity,” “land of the free and home of the brave,” and “the land of milk and honey,” to name a few. It is still the ultimate destination for immigrants from across the world. People come to America to live their dreams. Some try to clutch to the familiar culture of their home lands, while others do their best to fit in. In Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s short story “Clothes,” Sumita moves from her home country of India to live with her new husband in California. She experiences culture shock, but she eventually discovers her own identity through the American clothes, her relationship with Somesh, and being widowed.

When in India, Sumita wears saris, the traditional women’s clothing. She loves her vast collection, and it brings her comfort when going to America. “Somewhere down below me, low in the belly of the plane, inside my new brown case which is stacked in the dark with a hundred others, are my saris… I know then that everything will be all right.” (Divakaruni 254). When she finally arrives, and spends time with her husband, she learns that she loves American clothing, and so does he. “I model each one for him, walking back and forth, clasping my hands behind my head, lips pouted, left hip thrust out just like the models on TV, while he whispers applause. I’m breathless with suppressed laughter… and my cheeks are hot with the delicious excitement of conspiracy.” (254). She eventually gains the courage to wear even a nightie. She shows her resolve to stay in America by wearing the untraditional clothing to tell her parents that she will not be leaving. “In the mirror, a woman holds my gaze, her eyes apprehensive yet steady. She wears a blouse and skirt the color of almonds.” (258).

Sumita’s relationship with her new husband, Somesh, is strained at first. It is an arranged marriage, and she doesn’t know him well. He backs down when she isn’t ready to consummate the marriage. “”Shhh,” he...
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