Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee Summary and Analysis
Bharati Mukherjee’s novels can be divided into two divisions:
(i) The first division consists of her writing as an expatriate writer. These works were written before 1980.
(ii) The second division marks a major shift. She drops the label of an expatriate and begins to write as an immigrant American. Later she calls herself a mainstream American writer. The period covers the novels written after 1980.
In her first three novels, The Tiger’s Daughter, Wife, and Jasmine, the protagonist are Indians who migrate to the USA. These novels reflect her own personal experience in Canada where she experienced racial discrimination and non-recognition on account of being a coloured writer. Her earlier literary model was V.S. Naipaul but later she abandoned him and adopted Bernard Malamud. This was a very significant paradigm shift. She even took up the cause of the protesting against racialism in Canada. She became an activist fighting for the civil rights in Canada.
In fact, the seeds of change were sown while she stayed in India during 1973-74. Her work Days and Nights in Calcutta shows the sign of the change. She began to view herself more as immigrant than an exile. She thought that expatriation is both crippling and self-defeating. She stressed on the need to avoid ghettoisation and adopt the pattern of thinking that accommodates with the host country.
Jasmine was her third novel published in 1990. The character of Jasmine personifies Americanism. She undergoes the experiences as an expatriate in the USA but she accepts it as a part of multicultural experience. Jasmine is rebellious and courageous. She is a born fighter. She rebels against the conventional feudal society of India. She was born in Hasnapur, a Punjabi village. Her family was quite orthodox. Her original name was Jyoti Vijh. She becomes a widow at a very young age when her husband Prakash is killed by terrorist’s bomb blast. She rebels against the orthodox ways of widowhood. She refuses to be bound by crippling traditions and customs. Her free rebellious thoughts can be seen in the following words:
“I felt dead in their company, my long hair and school girl clothes. I wanted to scream “feudalism! I am a widow in the war of feudalism” (Jasmine: 97)
Jyoti is like a fire that cannot be put out. She revolt boldly against the conventions and customs of old traditional Punjabi way of life. She refuses to believe in astrologer and his predictions. She is interested in learning and mastering English. She decides that she will marry a man who could speak English. She has a dream of becoming a doctor and lives in some big city where women are treated with respect.
Jyoti’s grandmother Dida blamed her for her widowhood. She believed that Jyoti’s husband Prakash died as Jyoti did not consult horoscope and refused to believe in Punjabi customs and rituals. She said that God’s wrath got her husband killed. Jyoti said that if it was so, she renounced such a god altogether. These words show her bold atheism.
Jyoti’s husband Prakash is quite liberal and loving. He creates Jasmine out of Jyoti. However when Prakash dies, Jyoti inside her dies forever. She decides to live a fresh life fulfilling her own dreams and the dreams of her husband. Through illegal documents, she begins her journey towards the West. In Amsterdam, a railway porter introduces her to a captain of a trawler. She travels with Half-face who rapes her in a remote hotel. When Half-face tries to rape her again, she kills him. She thus performs the role of Kali, the killer of the monster. Jasmine stuffs her dishonoured clothes in a suitcase and burns it. The suitcase is a symbol of her guilt and burden. She reaches America where she meets Lilian Gordon, a Quaker social worker. She gives her food and shelter. She helps suffering immigrants with love and care. She gives Jasmine the clothes of her own daughter. Here Jasmine undergoes the process of being Americanized. She lives with Lillian for a week where her slit tongue is stitched by a doctor.
Then Jasmine comes contact with Prof. Vadhera, an ideal teacher. Prof. Vadhera had been the teacher of Jasmine’s husband Prakash. He was a progressive man with liberal views. Jasmine was soon bored of Prof Vadhera’s Indianness. She wanted to get rid of Indianness from her psyche. Meanwhile Jasmine comes in contact with Prof. Taylor. She falls in love with Taylor who renamed her as Jase. He arranged to get a job for her in the department of Mathematics. She then got the tutorship in the department of Indian languages. She gets recognition and respect at the University. However, she leaves for Iowa fearing that her identity would be found out by Sukhavinder Singh. Here, her life as Jase ends.
In Iowa, she meets mother Ripplemeyar who offers her food and stay. Bud Ripplemeyer is a banker and farmer. He falls in love with Jasmine. He becomes her spiritual husband. She lives with Bud as Jane Ripplemeyer. The family consists of Bud, his mother, an adopted Vietnamese refugee and pregnant Jasmine. She has become pregnant by Bud. Jane (Jasmine) brings happiness and enthusiasm in Bud’s life. Jasmine realizes that in America, everything is rapidly changing. Relationships are also short-lived. Marriages are usually for convenience. American concept of happiness is difficult to understand.
Du is a Vietnamese refugee, adopted by Ripplemeyers. Jasmine sees in him the vision of Prakash. After three years with Ripplemeyers, Du decides to go to his married sister. He wants to preserve his Vietnamese identity. His transformation is not complete. He is labeled as Vietnamese American.
Darrel is a young graduate who has been influenced by Jane (Jasmine). In fact, he begins to love her. He is a youngman with free ideas. He wants to sell his ancestral property and go to Mexico or Tahiti, at the end, frustrated Darrel commits suicide.
Du’s departure was shattering for Jasmine. She felt that she had lost her son. She sees Prakash in Du’s form. For her, Du was a hero for Jasmine. At the end, Jane got three letters from Taylors. The novel is pathetic at the end in the sense that American society has no permanent relationship. Taylor and Duff’s arrival makes Bud unhappy. Taylor needs Jane though she is pregnant. He is willing to take her with him. Jane had to make a choice between free life and dutifulness. At last, she leaves Baden and goes to California where Du lives with his sister. Du and Jasmine have many similarities. They have seen death closely. They have passed through the worst and survived. Jasmine says:
“We have shrunk and we have swollen and we have swallowed the whole cosmos.”
(Jasmine : p. 240)
The novel starts with the life of a seven years old girl Jyoti. She is the seventh of nine children of her parents. She was born in 1965, eighteen years after Partition of India and its holocaust
Her parents are nostalgic about Pre-Partition Lahore where they lived. Jyoti meets Prakash Vijh and marries him. Prakash gave her the dream of living in America. Jyoti had always dreamt of freedom and luxurious life of America. Only after Prakash’s death, she realizes that her destiny was to fulfill Prakash’s dream. She decides to go to America at any cost. She passes through many hurdles and difficulties but at last reaches America. She transforms herself as circumstances require. She is a true fighter who emerges victorious in the end.
Bharati Mukherjee shows that victory of a person lies in fulfilling one’s dreams and realizing one’s potential. Jasmine remains one of the most effective novels of Bharati Mukherjee. The novelist shows the process of acculturation in a new environment. The novel has multiple themes like the theme of expatriation, feminism, existentialism and multicultural consciousness. Unlike other Diaspora writers, Bharati Mukherjee believes that in a globalized world, one must be open to new ideas, new challenges and even new experience both good and bad.