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Many people are bound to lose or gain in the process of achieving desires and dreams and doing what is expected of them. The reality of the modern world is that people become so much conflicted about what is right or wrong. This paper investigates what characters in the book The Mistress of Spices people gain or lose as they become more accustomed to American way of living. The Mistress of Spices is a 1997 book by Benerjee Divakaruni. The book is centered on the main character, Tilo, an old Indian woman who settles in Oakland, United States and starts a spices business.


One of the main things that characters lose is their culture. Culture is important in people’s life because it defines them. Culture makes people have an identity. When people abandon culture, they lose identity and/or try desperately to find it. They become conflicted about value what value systems they should take to be happy for the rest of their lifetime. Tilo, the main character in Divakaruni’s book, is one such person. She is at first torn between helping Raven and observing her strict Indian culture. Tilo and Raven meet when Raven has an unfortunate car clash outside her business in Oakland. She is confused whether or not she should tender his injuries. Her tradition prohibits touching other people’s skin.

As characters become more ‘American,’ they feel that they are offending the authority. It makes them feel guilty. Tilo’s mother warns girls about the rules they should follow, or face dreadful consequences. Tilo has a dream about her mother scolding her for touching Raven and proceeding to have a relationship with him. Offending authority actually turns sore for Tilo because spices become angry, causing several accidents to happen. This is especially so after she falls in love with Raven; for example, Haroun gets in an accident, Jagjit joins the wrong crowd in the school and Geeta’s family situation deteriorates (Divakaruni 64).

Characters also gain as they accept American way of living. They are able to lead a life of happiness, away from the strict cultural values and beliefs of the Indian culture. Tilo chooses to be with Raven because that is what makes her happy. Though there were consequences, she ended up with him. Spices recognized that she is ready to give up everything for them and allowed her to have the life she wanted. Since her outmost desire is to be with Raven, she was allowed to continue her relationship and assured that there won’t be any more consequences.

America seduces Indians through one major way; there are no strict cultural beliefs that prevent people from doing what they want. There is the much desired freedom. Spice mistresses felt that they were in bondage. They were not allowed to get out of their stores or touch other people’s skin. America also seduces Indians immigrants who live there because they easily access spices that can protect against them from evil or disperse painful memories.

According to Divakaruni, America also repels Indians

It is a place where there are temptations. It is an environment where we would expect a clash of cultures. Indians who fail to subdue their urges can easily find themselves offending the spices, resulting in consequences for them. India is different from America in that the environment is favorable for various cultural beliefs. In India, cultural enthusiasts reinforce each other and none would be compelled to look out for someone who may think they are being absurd by observing any aspects of religious and other cultural beliefs. Interracial tensions are revealed when Jagjit, a turbaned Sikh boy of India origin, is ridiculed at school. Color immigrants are depicted as people struggling for acceptance in the multi-racial American society. Divakaruni talks about small episodes where intergenerational conflict is witnessed, such as when Tilo’s hopes collide with those of her parents and grandparents. America also repels rich citizens of American origin who appear to be advanced technologically but experiencing a spiritual vacuum.

America seduces Tilo just as her mother had suggested. The attraction to a chosen life of happiness suppresses the need to observe culture. She not only touches an American’s skin, she falls in love Raven and ends up with him (Divakaruni).

There are other characters in The Mistress of Spices who are seduced by America too. Mrs Ahuja decides to end her abusive arranged marriage. Arranged marriages are a common phenomenon of the Indian culture. They are mostly oppressive for women. They take away a person’s freedom of choosing a life partner. In these marriages, men are culturally given extreme authority over their wives and marriages are also bound to last. This contrasts with the American way of life where there is increasing recognition of gender equality and rate of divorce. Rich Indians are attracted to America because they can pay for and enjoy amenities such as chauffeured Rolls Royce cars.


The Mistress of Spices is about clash of cultures. Many characters are conflicted about observing tradition and leading a life of happiness. To the Indian immigrants in the United States, the American way of life offers more freedom. In the process of seeking happiness however, individuals lose their identity. Suddenly life seems meaningless to them. They try to seek their self-identity thereafter. Immigrants are also faced with other challenges. For example, they are seen to be struggling with racial discrimination and intergenerational conflict. These challenges make America repellant at the same time.

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