Two Sisters in “Two Ways to Belong in America” by Bharati Mukherjee

Subject: Literature
Pages: 4
Words: 1127
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College


Of all the social issues that have developed in the U.S. over the entire course of its existence, the question of race perpetuates all of its domains, including sociocultural, sociopolitical, and socioeconomic ones. The challenges of belonging and, quite often, even surviving the weight of racial and ethnic prejudices in the U.S. frequently turn out to be nearly unbearable for its diverse citizens. The specified problem percolates into the realm of the public discourse, which, in turn, leads to the emergence of works such as “Two Ways to Belong in America” by Bharati Mukherjee. Although the lives of the two sisters are strikingly different, they have to experience similar struggles that are predicated upon their cultural legacy, which is expressed through the unique use of logos, ethos, and pathos.



Though the narrator remains the same throughout the story, the use of some of the modes of persuasion in the description of each sister and her life is slightly different. For instance, the use of logos, namely, the logical reasoning behind the choices that each sister makes, changes slightly as the focus of the narrative shifts from Bharati to Mira. Specifically, when depicting her choice of a more rational and sensible approach toward accommodating in a new sociocultural and sociopolitical environment of the U.S., Mukherjee uses logos to represent a string of reasonable decisions. Namely, Mukherjee states at some point the following about her choice: “I was prepared for (and even welcomed) the emotional strain” (Mukherjee 1).

In contrast, rational reasoning becomes barely noticeable when the narrative turns toward her sister Mira: “America wants to play the manipulative game” (Mukherjee 2). The specified change in the use of logos allows emphasizing the difference in the nature of Mira’s and Bharati’s decisions. Specifically, it shows the former choosing her culture and expatriation despite the obvious problems, and the latter sacrificing her culture to become an American. As a result, the change in logos throughout the story serves to show that, even though the philosophies of Mira and Bharati represent polar opposites, they still have had to experience similar challenges of living in the U.S. cultural setting.


Likewise, the emotional core of the narrative shifts slightly whenever the narrator talks about her experience or that of one of her sister. At the same time, the emotional core of how ethos is used in the narrative remains in its place, making the audience focus on the challenges that immigrants, whether legal or illegal ones, have to face in the U.S. environment. Remarkably, Mukherjee does not resort to overly simplistic ways of earning an emotional response from the reader by describing the trials and tribulations that she and her sister have had to endure. Instead, the narrative elicits empathy from the reader by providing a concise yet rather accurate account of the failure of the existing immigrant control tools: “I feel manipulated and discarded” (Mukherjee 2).

As seen in the quote above, the tools that Bharati uses to appeal to her audience’s emotions are quite simple. Naming the emotions of the protagonists clearly and straightforwardly could seem as lacking sophistication, yet it produces the desired effect of being instantly relatable. As a result, the pathos of the story supports the idea of the continuous challenge that immigrants such as Bharati and her sister Mira have to endure in the U.S., as well as the drastic dilemma that they have to solve when choosing between their culture and well-being.

The context created by the author implies that Mira’s frustration with the challenges faced when trying to retain her legal immigrant status in the U.S. is defined by her stubborn refusal to accept Bharati’s perspective. However, there is still an obvious sense of empathy toward Mira and her issues. Bharati clearly emphasizes with Mira, even though she does not share her perspective on the issue of citizenship: “Mira’s voice, I realize, is the voice not just of the immigrant South Asian community but of the immigrant community of the millions who have stayed rooted in one job, one city, one house, one ancestral culture, for the entirety of their productive years” (Mukherjee 2).

Thus, the pathos conveyed in each story has a similar impact, yet is defined by different sentiments, namely, that one of an immigrant is accepting complete assimilation and that one of an ethnic minority member is unwilling to yield her culture.


Finally, the use of ethos as the appeal to the reader’s ethical standards also transforms within the narrative as the life of each sister is put into the limelight. However, even though Mukherjee introduces a fairly objective account of her and her sister’s lives and choices, some of Mira’s decisions evidently do not fit Bharati’s perception of ethics, which is why the shift in the standpoint is barely noticeable. Namely, the narrator clearly struggles to understand how Mira can be happy in what Bharati sees as a “loveless marriage” with the U.S. government and its legal migration policies (Mukherjee 2).

Therefore, ethos is the most consistent rhetorical device used in the story. Though the specified detail, namely, the fact that ethos has been left intact when changing the perspectives from the life of one sister to that one of another, could seem incidental, it, in fact, has a deeper underlying significance. The integration of a single ethical approach to framing Mira and Bharati’s story allows reinforcing the key message, namely, that one of the hardships that immigrants have to face in the U.S. Specifically, it reveals the fact that they must oscillate between their culture and the opportunity to be accepted into the U.S. community.

As a result, the narrative becomes all the more dramatic and compelling with the ethos of the story remaining in the same frame throughout its development. As a result, Bharati’s use of rhetorical devices and their change as she shifts narratively from her life to her sister’s gains particular substance and weight.


Despite the fact that the lives of the two sisters depicted in Mukherjee’s essay have taken entirely different paths, both Mira and Bharati have to tackle a common issue of prejudice and its effect on minorities in the U.S. The specified idea is expressed masterfully in the short story with the help of ethos, pathos, and logos in a unique and convincing manner. As a result, Mukherjee concludes that, having to choose between the loss of their immigrant status and the surrender of their cultural identity, ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S. have to develop unique survival strategies. Therefore, even though the two sisters in the story are not merely different, but, in fact, represent the polar opposites in terms of their attitude toward their culture as immigrants, the struggles that they face echo each other.

Work Cited

Mukherjee, Bharati. “Two Ways to Belong in America.The New York Times. 1996. Web.