The protagonist in Mukherijee’s Jasmine is a young girl whom grows into adulthood, yet separates the diverse stages of her life by referring to herself as Jyoti, Jasmine, and then Jane. She marks her different names by the place she is and by people with whom she is with during that certain stage in her life. She considers the transitions from one “identity” to another to be abrupt and coarse. “There are no harmless, compassionate ways to remake oneself. We murder who we were so we can rebirth ourselves in the images of dreams.” She makes it seem as though she makes a clean cut—severing one identity completely from the next. However, this is not completely true. The narrator (consisting of all her “names”) constantly retorts back to her memories of being in Pakistan when she is already in America. Despite her efforts, all of her lives are interconnected and have shaped the person who she becomes.
The story of Jasmine is about finding a place where you are comfortable in this world. In the beginning, she is confined by the strict traditions of her family’s culture. Yet, we as readers know that she doesn’t belong. She wants to be loved, love her husband completely, and yet still be ambitious; she doesn’t want to settle, be submissive, or accept getting beaten. As Jyoti, we understand that she doesn’t simply want to get an education, which is outlandish of a traditional woman, but she says that she wants to be a doctor. However, later on when she is in love with Prakash, she seems content with being submissive and not ambitious—yet he is not content with her being so. I was confused at how quickly she was willing to give up her educational goals for this man. She seemed to contradict herself. Yet thank goodness for Prakash, who wanted her to be more.
Similar to case in which I just described, the narrator seems to be stuck in limbo during a few cases throughout this novel. Once she gets to America, she starts to realize that she did not come to a completely new world. Yes, there are different opportunities and traditions, but for her, it is still a lonely, limited, and on different levels an unsafe place. When she gets to Prakash’s ex-professor’s house, she realizes that he is not a teacher, but a hair salesman. He is living a lie. “He had sealed his heart when he’d left home. His real life was in an unlivable land across oceans. He was a ghost, hanging on (153).” In many ways, this is exactly what Jasmine doesn’t want to become. She wants to be happy, and not have to hide. This is shown when she cries on the bathroom floor (easy parallel to Liz Gilbert) saying that if she had a greencard she would have happiness. But to an extent even this is not true because when she goes off the grid to Iowa, she finds herself content yet a domestic slave. She’s still in limbo. Why was that young desire to become a doctor?
Jasmine is a story about finding peace within herself. She isn’t satisfied by just being a loved women, but wants to be happy with her own accomplishments. She needs to be at peace with her different identities; she needs to be one because all her identities will inevitably be forever intertwined. (Ex: she calls Du the baby her and Prakash never had (155) At the end of this story, we as readers can be optimistic that she is closer to being at peace with herself, instead of simply “settling.” So Jyoti, Jasmine, and Jane--come together.
To be simple, I think the most surprising aspect of this class that I found was how many of the books written by international authors that I actually liked. I’m not saying that every piece we read I loved, but I really enjoyed most everything we read, with an exception of a few short stories and parts of “EAT PRAY LOVE.” But overall I loved the fact that we read a book a week and I think that it is enjoyable discussing the similarities and differences between each work.