So, my first version of this blog was just totally erased from life. The hardest part is going to be remembering how I even began, but I’ll do my best! I think it had something to do with drawing parallels between Jasmine and Eat, Pray, Love—how the leading ladies share many experiences and character traits, yet they tell their tales from very different perspectives. For one, Gilbert is an American woman leaving her home to explore foreign cultures. Jasmine, on the other hand, moves toward the United States, a widowed outcast. I found it interesting to see my country viewed from the outside looking in.
At the beginning of her story about her time in New York City with Taylor and Wylie, Jasmine tells us, “I became an American in an apartment on Claremont Avenue across the street from a Barnard College dormitory” (165). I was confused by this and wondered how someone could attribute the gaining of a national identity to one life experience (similar to my questioning of Gilbert’s method of assigning a person or place one word). As I read further, however, I began to recognize what Jasmine meant by becoming an American in her years there. Upon meeting Taylor and Wylie Jasmine says, “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: humorous, intelligent, refined, affectionate. Not illegal, not murderer, not widowed, raped, destitute, fearful” (171). Jasmine’s preconceived notions about the grandeur of America motivates her to change herself, and I suppose you can say that how Jasmine “became an American” is through fulfilling those stereotyped roles she laid out for herself when she first began a life in New York. She conforms to her mold when she sees exhibits and museums, learns about baseball and about the English language. I, however, like to think that her Americanization occurred when she realized the United States is not all it’s cracked up to be. When she learns that Wylie no longer loves Taylor she says that America “threw” her (181).
Eat, Pray, Love and Jasmine are the first two works we’ve discussed that have forced me to consider what it means to have an American identity. I know that I am definitely not “refined” or “carelessly confident.” As a young American adult, it is natural for me to recognize stereotypes about our culture when confronted with them. But what Jasmine seems unaware of until the revelation of Wylie’s infidelity is that there are countless murderers, rape victims, widows, and people plagued by fear and poverty. For her, I believe this moment sheds light on the fact that our society is not just the wealth or glamour or freshly mowed lawns of a comfortable middle class lifestyle. Much of it is the hobo sleeping on Guilford Avenue, inner-city crime, inadequate public education, skyrocketing divorce rates and war. We may not experience these misfortunes at the same magnitude as a Third World country, but they do exist, and they are part of being an American.
Among the most surprising things I’ve learned in this course is how important it is to discuss topics such as “home” and “homeland.” This is the first class in which literary analysis was only half the job, and that the other half was some deep, hard thought about universal questions many people fail to ask. Addressing these issues not only gave me a better understanding of foreign homelands but of my own. It’s amazing how something so collective can also be so individually intimate. It’s beautiful!