The Management of Grief Summary & Study Guide

Bharati Mukherjee

The Management of Grief

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The Management of Grief Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 20-page guide for the short story “The Management of Grief” by Bharati Mukherjee includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Navigating Cultural Divides and Tribal Loyalties.

“The Management of Grief” is a short story by Bharati Mukherjee. It was published in 1988 as a part of her collection entitled The Middleman and Other Stories. It also appeared in The Best American Short Stories of 1989 and in The Best American Short Stories of the Eighties.

“The Management of Grief” is narrated from the perspective of Shaila Bhave, a middle-aged Indian window and an immigrant to Canada. She has recently lost her husband Vikram and her two sons Vinod and Mithun in a plane crash, thought to be the result of a Sikh terrorist attack. The story opens in Bhave’s house in Toronto, now filled with her neighbors and fellow mourners. They have just heard about the plane crash; Bhave has been given Valium to manage her shock, and she feels numb but not calm. She tolerates her well-meaning neighbors and commiserates with her friend and neighbor Kusum, who has lost most of her family in the crash. Only her wayward daughter Pam is left, and Kusum is unable to hide her disappointment in having lost her better-behaved daughter.

Bhave is approached by Judith Templeton, a young Canadian government official, to act as a liaison and translator for her group of mourners. Templeton wants to aid the group in getting their affairs in order and moving on with their lives. She mistakes Bhave’s composed demeanor, brought on by shock and Valium, for true composure, and tells Bhave that she has heard that she is a pillar of the community. Bhave reluctantly agrees to help Templeton, while reflecting that among her own community, her calm affect is not a mark of maturity, but of strangeness. The title of the story comes from Templeton’s conception of “grief management”—her belief that grief proceeds in orderly stages, and that it is an emotion to be controlled rather than given in to.

Bhave and her group of mourners then fly to Ireland, where they must identify the remains of their families, as the plane crashed near the Irish coast. The remains of Bhave’s own family have not yet been found. She visits the coast with Kusum and with Dr. Ranganathan, another mourner, who has also lost his entire family in the crash. Despite his loss, Dr. Ranganathan maintains an optimistic, pragmatic attitude. He suggests to Bhave that there is a possibility that some crash survivors may have been able to swim to safety, briefly filling Bhave with hope, as her sons were strong swimmers. Dr. Ranganathan later accompanies Bhave to an interview with a police officer, who believes that he may have identified her older son, Vinod. She does not recognize Vinod from the photograph he shows her, though there is a strong likelihood that his features have been so distorted by drowning that she does not want to recognize him.

The mourners then fly from Ireland to India, where they visit the families whom they have left behind, in their migration to Canada, and take up some of their old forgotten rituals: “We play contract bridge in dusty gymkhana clubs. We ride stubby ponies up crumbly mountain trails” (190). Bhave’s wealthy and elderly parents are progressive and rational, and do not believe in spirits or in mystical rituals. While at a temple with her mother, she is “visited” by her husband, a visitation that she hides from her mother. However, this visitation is a sign to her that she must return to Canada and take up her old life. The other mourners in Bhave’s group have meanwhile all coped with their grief in different ways. Kusum decides to remain in India and to become an ashram devotee. Dr. Ranganathan finds a job in Texas, where he plans to tell no one about the crash, although he still cannot bring himself to sell his old family home.

Once in Canada, Bhave meets again with Judith Templeton. Asked by Templeton to meet with a grieving, elderly Sikh couple, Bhave fails to convince them that they need assistance from the government. She is also disheartened to realize that she is now suspicious of them because they are Sikhs: “I stiffen now at the sights of beards and turbans” (193). The encounter causes Bhave to reject both Templeton and the role that Templeton has assigned her.

The story ends on an equivocal note, with Bhave having begun a new life as a widow and moved into a new apartment in the city’s downtown. While she has in some ways followed Templeton’s advice regarding “grief management,” she remains in communion with her family. In the story’s final scene, she has what she describes as a last visitation from her family, in a park in downtown Toronto. She then sets her shopping package down on a park bench and begins to walk off in a random direction.

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