Sunday, April 17, 2011


Part III
The second half of “Eat, Pray, Love” shows a woman’s middle and ending journey to what is considered her spiritual therapy/quest to find happiness. Her vow from sex, meditation, and references to various Catholic icons show that she is in fact searching for some kind of religious truth even in her writing.
The meditation sections in Indonesia remind me of the Jesuit examen, and the Spiritual exercises that are done on retreats here at Loyola and at the other twenty eight Jesuit schools across the country. When Liz is instructed to “sit and smile” it struck a comment Dr. Miola made in Catholic Poetry when discussing the Catholic martyrs. He made a very funny comment how everyone on retreats now really needs to “SHUT UP”. While the way he said it was very comical, I realized in reading this book for a second time what he means. If we just all shut our traps and listened to what the Higher Power and saints are telling us internally we would have a much easier time than chatting about how we are going to change or follow the Jesuit teachings of Ignatius.
If we could all have one word to describe us, what would it be? That is the usual question you’re asked by a first-summer-job interviewer and nine out of ten of us use a cliché. The fact that Liz ‘finds’ her word in a foreign country, and the fact that it is foreign really struck me. She could have found it in Italy when she started her journey, when she got back home to New York. The fact that she finds it in the middle really shows how she grows emotionally/spiritually as a person. I saw this as sign that she (like most of us) is really waiting for things now. We are all impulsive by nature and we want [insert what you want] now. I can relate truly. When I was in the middle of a Vermont horse I wanted to move up right after the third day and jump higher. When I was in the Hamptons three months later I was still bugging my trainers to let me go up a level. We all want the MOST at that moment and don’t realize that when we get it, it’s never enough or we are disappointed about what it is. Liz thought she had EVERYTHING and realized at the beginning of the book (and journey) that this wasn’t what she wanted. That is the true self-discovery that we as human beings have all the time, and it is divine in nature because God is saying, “Wake up!” Just like she found her word in the middle of her journey, her realization that her life wasn’t the way she wanted happened to start her journey.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Throughout the semester, we have explored different ideas of what a home/homeland is. I can honestly say that I have never taken a class, in my three years here, that has affected me this much, outside of the classroom. Like much of the characters in the novels we have read, though not as drastic, I've allowed my self to go on this journey in the past three months and I'm starting to feel/see the effects, as well as other people around me. It sounds soooo dramatic, however, this class has allowed me to realize that it's perfectly okay to go against that time line that society, and in part, my family, has created for me. That is the most surprising thing for me, because my entire life has consisted of me being somewhat of a people pleaser. I also loved how everyone was allowed to grow at their own pace. There were people who, at the beginning of the semester completely dove into the texts/discussions while others took their time to get where thy want to be.
The story of Jyoti/Jasmine/Jase/Jane serves as a very fitting novel for one of our last reads. It encompasses all of the answers to questions that we have come with. The biggest one, to me, being if you can take your homeland with you, and still be true to it while away from. Despite the fact that she left her homeland, she didn't seem to lose herself when she seemed to settle down in various places. When I first started reading it, I thought that by her changing her name, she was in fact, leaving her past behind. However, when I realized that half the time it wasn't her changing her name, it was other people changing it for her. So, technical that change was just on an external level, while the internal ws, yes, most likely influenced by the name change but not completely warped.
We are the only ones who can decide what is home for us. Along with that, we are the ones who have the power to shape it, take it with us, leave it, do whatever we see fit with it.

A Heroic Transformation

As we have discussed in class, Jasmine’s transformation and struggles with her identity seem to be the most prominent themes in Mukherjee’s novel. Yet as I was reading the second half of the book I couldn’t help but wonder who was responsible for Jasmine’s transformation and if she had any control over the changes in her life.
Reading the second half of Mukherjee’s novel I was struck by one of Jasmine’s first encounters with America. Jasmine explains, “Battered truck full of produce kept pulling out. More trucks, filled with laborers, turned in” (128). While reading this I couldn’t understand why the author would choose to show Jasmine this inferior side of America. She had come to America for opportunity and to escape her past yet one of her first experiences with ‘the promise land’ seems to be very disappointing. After reading the next line I understood what Mukherjee was trying to do. She wrote “It was as though I had never left India” (128). I felt that this quote was very significant in the novel because it seems that Mukherjee is trying to show us that our homelands can be very similar, even though they appear to be very different. I would never have thought to compare India to any part of the United States, yet after reading this description about the immigrant workforce I started to understand and recognize the similarities. While America is an affluent place filled with opportunity, we still share the same homeland crisis’s other countries do. Though this commonality is disappointing, it still shows us that our homelands are all connected through the issues we face every day.

What is interesting about this novel is that once Jasmine meets Lillian Gordon, she learns that she must leave these thoughts of her homeland in the past in order to move on with her life. Lillian advises, “Let the past make you wary, by all means. But do not let it deform you” (131). I feel that this quote resonates greatly with our discussion about Jasmine’s transformation. We talked about how if you truly wanted to change into a whole new person, would you have to erase your past from your life? I think in Jasmine’s case, she wants this transformation so bad that she does in fact try to erase her past. Repeatedly throughout the novel Jasmine explains that she wants to rid herself of thoughts about India or anything relating to India. And as a result to this we see her embracing the American lifestyle, wherein she begins to transform into “Jazzy”, her new American Identity. She describes her transformation as “I felt at times like a stone hurtling through diaphanous mist, unable to grab hold, unable to slow myself, yet unwilling to abandon the ride I’m on. Down and down I go, where I’ll stop, God only knows” (139). This feeling of falling is a great description of how Jasmine feels about America. The fact that she feels out of control in this new world, yet refuses to give up on it shows her perseverance as a character. Her determination portrays her in an almost heroic way, which is a big transformation for the meek woman she used to be back in India.

I am not sure by the end of the novel if Jasmine has found a new homeland. She leaves her family life with Bud in order to explore more of America, so it seems that she has not found one place to settle. I found that this ambition and need for change greatly connected to Liz’s need for change in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. Both these women travel in order to find some purpose and opportunity in their lives. They both feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness throughout their journey and I think that that is really important to recognize. Those emotions show how they do not have a set homeland in their lives to make them feel happy and content. Instead they constantly travel and transform as characters in order to find some peace in the madness that is their life’s journey. I think both Gilbert and Mukherjee bring up the interesting point that not all people are not born into their homelands, some have to search for them.

I think one of the most interesting and surprising things I learned this semester was how everyone is our class has different lifestyles, yet we all connected through this class. We have had countless discussions about homelands and changes, and many of us have had very different opinions and views on these subjects, yet I think through our discussions we found a connection to one another. I can honestly say that every time I have left this class I have had a slew of new thoughts and ideas to contemplate over until the next class. Everyone’s opinions and stories made me feel as though I was getting to know them better, which had me constantly changing my views on them. I have never connected with a class so strongly and I have never wanted to go to a class just so that I could hear what others had to say about my own thoughts and questions. I feel as though we created our own little community, our own homeland, if you will. And this has helped me to become a whole new person in the making.

Finding the Real Jasmine; Finding Self- & quick note about the course!

When I began reading Jasmine, my immediate reaction was that several of the characters (Jasmine and Du primarily) seemed lost, or possibly better described: trying to escape some aspect of themselves while finding their true person. They distanced themselves from their homelands in more than just physical movement, almost like excluding the original culture and homeland would somehow reveal to themselves where they truly belong. Du had experienced unspeakable trauma in Vietnam and wished to leave his past behind him as he started over in America. Yet at the same time, in trying to rediscover himself he also makes a kind of peace with his culture in making fellow Vietnamese friends in Banden. Jasmine I found most intriguing because she was on a fervent quest to escape her own destiny of : “widowhood and exile”. It occurred to me that this was a predestined life determined by her culture and it really made me wonder. Both in the context of the novel and of homelands- but also of our world in general and how an individual might be bound to a certain fate whether by family or cultural powers. It made me think of myself as well. Throughout the novel Jasmine is a wanderer. She is a woman out of place in her homeland. She fights the cultural bonds that serve to keep her restrained- whether they be her prophesized destiny or by the constraints on women. She takes abroad to the world to find herself, similar in a sense to Gilbert in Eat Pray Love. She even changes her name (not originally Jasmine) in order to not only explore her being but escape what her culture tries to forcibly mold her into. Even at the end of the novel she is still uncertain of who she is, she again takes to the road saying: “I realize I have already stopped thinking of myself as Jane. Adventure, risk, transformation: the frontier is pushing indoors through un-calked windows. Watch me re-position the stars, I whisper to the astrologer who floats cross-legged above my kitchen stove.” (240) Years after her initial encounter with the prophesy of the astrologer, she still challenges her fate, still challenging what people are trying to see her as. Even while seeking a true place to call home, Jasmine still retains her inner-homeland: of controlling her own person. Thus I find Jasmine to be story of an individual finding their individuality, in some sense an echo of Gilbert’s work, but far more in depth. What this really got me thinking though was how our own homeland tries to conform its young to a certain life or standard. I know it’s a common standard that kids must get the best grades to go to the best college to get that high paying job. Even as America ‘the land of freedom’, we still try to put a certain destiny on others. Looking at my life it was to be a Dental Technician, like my dad. That or be a lawyer or a doctor, a profession guaranteed for the big bucks. I consider myself vastly different from the Jasmine character, but what we have in common is that we both stuck to our guns and created our own identity (inner-homeland). And we persevered even when others denounced it. -Shifting gears- In reflecting on the entire Post-colonial lit class, it was both as expected and very surprising. I knew I was going to glimpse different worlds, different peoples but the stories were somehow so much greater than I had originally thought. What I take away most from the readings and curriculum most is the concept of the individual in a homeland. I never imagined that a course studying cultures like this would focus as much on the individual in the effort to convey a broader story- but it did- and more! Through the individual the homeland was illuminated in many angles, as many perspectives as there were characters. Each book we read became a canvas painted of the story’s world with such vividness one can physically grasp it. And with it, a character’s portrait as well. I learned that a homeland can be internal just as much as it can be a physical piece of land. A homeland is a person’s perspective. It’s their soul whether external or internal.

Ascending and Descending

As a class, we’ve spent almost an entire semester traveling through worlds both foreign and familiar; gathering a glance into the various places people may call “home.” Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine definitely provides one of the more unstable images of home, as the title character embarks on a non-stop journey through multiple countries, relationships, and even identities. The ending of the novel fittingly leaves the reader in uncertainty, wondering whether Jyoti (or in this case, “Jase”) will settle once and for all in California with the family she has amassed over the course of her travels. Mukherjee intentionally leaves us in the dark, presenting an appropriate conclusion to a novel saturated in instability. Jasmine has re-iterated the fact that our lives are led by the unknown, and has taught me that that which we consider home one day may be completely foreign the next. We change by the minute, allowing our identities to be molded by the ever-evolving world around us. Opportunities arise out of thin air, customs are thrown back and forth from nation to nation, and we are presented with two choices. We can either settle into the convenient and the comfortable, assuring ourselves we have the whole world, as well as our individual role all figured out. Or we can live like Jasmine and barrel headfirst into the unknown until we discover all that which the world has to offer, in hopes of attaining that which we feel we deserve. The most important sense of home is within the self, and in order to maintain it, one must find home within the now.

The story of Jyoti (or Jasmine, Jase, or Jane depending on the juncture in her voyage) is a tumultuous one, and it only makes sense that Mukherjee decided to present her tale out of order. Just as Jyoti does, the reader must focus solely on the moment at hand in order to proceed. While we learn of Jyoti’s past, we are taught the invaluable lesson to always keep our heads facing forward in hope, “Let the past make you wary, by all means. But do not let it deform you” (131). The order (or lack thereof) also exposes just how rapidly our identities may change. It is important to note here that we are not all born with a moderate case of split personality disorder; there is a major difference between identity and personality. Your personality is the version of the self that others can plainly see, while the identity is the portion of self that demands some excavation. The identity is deeply personal, and is formed through relations with the fundamental and the familiar. Jyoti is successful in finding suitors who make her feel as if she belongs, yet she struggles herself to gauge whether she truly fits or not. Who is to say how one fits in anyway? Her surroundings, her duties, her loved ones…her sense of home is constantly shifting, and therefore so is her identity. She loved Prakash, Taylor, and Bud each in their own way, and played a respective role for each of her suitors. When Jane ran away to become Jase again I was furious, especially because she was pregnant with Bud’s baby. Yet after giving it some thought, however; I realized she was doing all she could do to keep her identity alive. She was living strictly for herself, and more importantly, she was living in the moment.

Unfortunately, our time together is quickly approaching its end, yet the time we have had thus far has been great. I’ve heard new stories, observed new personalities, and tried my hardest to understand a classroom of fresh identities. The most surprising thing I’ve taken out of this class pops up in Jasmine, yet is the most prominent in my second favorite book of the semester, Potiki (after Sons for the Return Home). I’ve realized that the ones with the most knowledge of home are the ones who don’t even realize it. Potiki, Du, Duff…it is the young that obliviously expose us to the deepest parts of our identity. They teach us without even attempting to do so, and remain unaware of their impact until they reach that age where their own terribly beautiful journey to understand life will begin. My nephew is almost four months old, and I’ve already gathered an encyclopedia of knowledge from being around him. I cannot wait to see what is in store for my identity as an uncle.

One for the Gipper

I want to start off this final blog with the most surprising/important piece of information I have learned this year and have that lead into an analysis of our story Jasmine. The most surprising thing I learned, in relation to our class this semester, started in the beginning of the semester and culminated into an articulated concept about right where we are now (although I leave it open-ended for amending purposes). It started in the article we read by Salman Rushdie called Imaginary Homelands which planted in my head the idea that how I choose to speak—whether about object, situation, and people—effects the way I am perceiving the world around me. Needless to say, it is one thing to think about and say “I create the world around me using language” and quite another to live life as if that phrase is the pre-supposition. It wasn’t until after we read a few more of our authors (specifically Albert Wendt and Patricia Grace) that I began to look at some of the subtler implications behind this pseudo-mystical-cryptic concept; namely, that the person I should be listening to and for is mySelf. These authors were already doing what I was thinking about; that is to say, they were redefining aspects of life, through their characters, which to them weren’t acceptable. However, they were also writing with the intent to create change in the world through language. I figured the best way to start was to listen to my language patterns (apply their technique to myself) and start learning more about my perceptual lens (You’d be surprised how many beliefs we hold on to but aren’t aware of…yet). So by listening to how I am actively choosing to perceive/create the world around me, I better understand my place and also listen to the environment I am currently living in. Making life, bit by bit, word by word, a little more open, inclusive, and enjoyable. This ties in directly with what we were talking about in class about Jasmine because the main character of this story also believes in the power of personal redefinition; which, as it turns out, is the fundamental root for understanding our homelands. If we think what our homes consist of we can basically say it breaks down into the environment we grow up in and our personal map we draw up of the environment. Our homes, right from birth, are the first environments we encounter and the first environment which we define/create. Jasmine shows us how we define ourselves in relation to home in the way her story takes her out of her original home and puts her in a new one. Jasmine, in this sense, also shows us we can’t stop defining just because we reach the boundaries of our original homes. She shows us how we can bring home with us by making our maps wider and more inclusive. For example, Jasmine always draws the reader’s attention to the parallels within her personal map like, “The farmers around here are like the farmers I grew up with. Modest people, never boastful, tactful and courtly in their way. A farmer is dependent on too many things outside his control; it makes for modesty.” (11) Farmers may not look the same where she goes but what she noticed about farmers transcended their physicality-she sees the human element. Jasmine’s map doesn’t only contain the information which parallels between her original homeland and her new homeland; her map also includes the various ways she personally defines and redefines herself and her image. Jasmine shows how you can choose to see the world through someone else’s map, if it looks like it could help you out. For example, she speaks about the world Taylor envisions and immediately falls in love with, “The love I felt for Taylor that first day had nothing to do with sex. I fell in love with his world, its ease, its careless confidence and graceful self-absorption. I wanted to become the person they thought they saw: humourous, intelligent, refined, affectionate. Not illegal, not murderer, not widowed, raped, destitute, fearful.” (171) Mukherjee makes this point more poignant in the way she uses mostly adjectives when describing the way she wants to view herself. Jasmine, in this way, teaches us one of the most important lessons about home; we alone hold the power to Make it, Re-Make it, and Take it with us where ever we are.

Behind the Nickname

Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine tells of a girl growing up and constantly changing her identity in the process. Jasmine (or Jyoti or Jane), she considers each change in identity a clean break from the first. At first, Jasmine did not realize how connected and important her past is. She felt that we “murder” our old self in order to start over and “rebirth” ourselves. The ideas of identity, past and homeland are all dealt by Mukherjee as his character constantly evolves and changes to her environment and each “new” homeland. But, still she is not settled. Externally, the men in her life in each stage of her life identify who she is for her. She receives a nickname along with the pressures to conform and become one with the new society she finds herself in.
As said in class, a nickname can be both freeing and confining. A nickname given to you is not something you ever really asked for and in a way, seeks to identify one aspect and how you relate to society through that aspect. But at the same time, Jasmine can easily identify the many aspects of her self by recalling each nickname she was given. In a way, she is the culmination of the nicknames and places she visited. Each identifies change and an aspect that Jasmine learned about her self.
Although Jasmine had all these many nicknames, she still felt that each was not connected and each place was a “new life.” As she struggles to find a homeland externally, the problem is her inability to find a peace within her self. There is a homeland of the self that constitutes who we believe we are and where we would like to be. Jasmine struggles to find that comfort zone and thus, is unable to connect with and grow with each man and homeland. She did not know what she wanted from her self and therefore, could not live a life more fulfilling and ultimately, fulfills the prophesy.
This point brings me to the most surprising thing I’ve learned this semester. I believe the most surprising thing learned is everything I’ve learned. Coming into this class, I had no idea what to expect. Now, I am extremely glad I have taken this class. Learning about the importance of homelands to not only myself, but all these characters as been eye opening. As each new character struggles with the ideas of homeland, whether internal or external, the world becomes seemingly smaller and more universal. Everyone struggles to find comfort and peace within their lives. Everyone farts. Everyone feels the desire to be connected to people, places and things.
As I’ve grown, I have realized an increasing desire to explore and understand the world that I live in. I’ve studied abroad and continue to take Italian which I hope is a step that will bring me closer to connecting with more people on different cultural levels. This class has surprisingly allowed me to see into other cultures and their minds without the expensive flight tickets and hotel rooms. I have realized what my homeland is and how important it is to me. Ultimately, I have come to understand that this world (not to sound like a hippie) is one homeland. Each country is simply a nickname, like ones that Jasmine dealt with, that identify one aspect. One has to delve personally into the meaning behind and the overall character in order to better understand the people, place and culture that that one name fails to speak of.