Thursday, April 14, 2011

Identity and Universality

At one point in the novel Jasmine says that we must murder our old selves in order to transform and progress into something fresh and new. Almost like a snake shedding it's skin, Mukherjee believes our past lives stay precisely where they are left, in the past. Certainly Americans don't believe in such an ideal, or do they? Is what Jasmine believes a true deviation from American sentiment or is it just a foreign and extreme way of presenting an inherently American ideal?

Mike's observation that our past lives are like skeletons in our closets is both astute and identifiable to Mukherjee's philosophical contemplation. However, after extended reflection and additional reading on Mike's comment, I would contend that to Mukherjee past lives are more like ghosts than skeletons. Although it is not explicit in the text, Mukherjee certainly believes in the haunting power of the past. Mukherjee's construction of the novel as a series of flashbacks suggests that the past is not buried, dead, and laid to rest. There is no doubt that Jasmine is haunted by the women she once was and fears for the women she will become. At the end of the novel she mourns for the lives she has given birth to, and it seems in many ways she wishes she had the love, strength, and courage that her mother had at her birth.

I think Jasmine's belief in past lives is an interesting way to divide a life. In our own American lives we often discuss transformations and stages, but are never so bold as to divide our time into separate lives. One phrase often spoken is "I was a different person back then". In many ways this quote embodies Jasmine's beliefs in the novel. However, here in America that quote is meant to be taken figuratively, where Jasmine applies it in a much more literal sense.

Is application the only barrier between these apparently similar ideals? When Jasmine tells Wylie, Taylor's wife, that her mother loved her so much that she was willing to kill her, or herself, she reacts as if this is a foreign and fearful sentiment. When push comes to shove would she not do the same? Ask any loving mother if they would trade their life for their child's and almost all would say yes. Although much too extreme for the sheltered, at least by comparison to Jasmine, to comprehend, ultimately she would or will discover that Matiji's, Jasmine's mother, actions are less specific to Indian culture and much more universal to the human condition.

This class has been one of the most rewarding classroom experiences I have had at Loyola. The structure of the class encourages active participation and allows the individual to grow at their own pace, but also exposes them to the diverse influence of their peers. This creates a learning experience that is both deeply personal yet widely universal. Perhaps the biggest thing I have taken away from all of these novels is the universality of human nature. The works we have read have spanned the globe and given us in depth looks at a variety of cultures. Aside from educating us, these glimpses have allowed us to view our own American culture in a unique new light. What seems to be the strength of all of these writers is their ability to draw on the profoundly universal, but to do so in a specific way.

Hau'ofa lets us know that EVERYBODY thinks fart jokes are funny. Grace shows us that stories are both shared and personal, whether they are seen on TV or orated around campfires. Rushdie teaches us that the line between East and West is marked only by the thin edge on an outdated map. Achebe displays how tragedy and displacement occur all over the globe. Each writer gives us a unique look at the magnificently universal nature of all human beings.

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