Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Promise of America

Jasmine (or Jyoti, or Jane) discovers both the promise and disappointment of life in America, but what is interesting about the form of is she experiences the two in reverse as a result of Wylie’s decision to leave Taylor and Duff. When Jasmine first learns of Wylie’s affair with Stuart the economist, she reflects, “In America, nothing lasts. I can say that now and it doesn’t shock me, but I think it was the hardest lesson of all for me to learn. [...] Nothing is forever, nothing is so terrible, or so wonderful, that it won’t disintegrate” (181). Jasmine thinks that perhaps she has finally found her home with the Hayes, living as Duff’s caregiver and “day mummy.” She relies on the love she assumes the parents must feel for one another for her happiness, and she constructs her American dream around them. Living with the Hayeses gives Jasmine a family, but one that she can still keep at a distance. She is both family and professional (175), able to love them but at the same time take care of them with a sense of purpose. What is interesting about her assertion that nothing lasts in America is that she also experiences sudden and dramatic change in India too, both with the death of her father and the death of Prakash. Both incidents completely change her destiny, yet she attributes disintegration to American culture, and her claim seems almost to say that this disintegration is unique in America, that only in America dreams can die.

This is perhaps because, for Jasmine, dreams can only live in America as well. At the very end of the novel, when Taylor and Duff come to Iowa to find Jasmine and take her West with them. It is the journey West, the glorified symbolic journey for one’s dreams, that allows Jasmine to finally find her own true happiness. She says, “Adventure, risk, transformation: the frontier is pushing indoors through uncaulked windows. Watch me re-position the stars, I whisper to the astrologer who floats cross-legged above my kitchen stove” (240). While first Jasmine sees her American dream die with the end of Taylor and Wylie's marriage, now she finally has the chance to fulfill her dream of finding promise in her new home only because she is free to love Taylor, not as "caregiver", but as someone exploring the new frontier out West, the place that in American memory has always held the promise of a better life. After experiencing despair in the face of losing the Hayes family, she becomes an actual part of the new Hayes family, not just an immigrant working as a nanny like all the other immigrants in the building. She is searching for her own dream.

What I found most surprising about this semester was not necessarily in the literature--it was actually in the class itself. I have of course sat through quite a few seminars in the English department, all of which of course had 12 students or less. I have often been told since coming to Loyola that smaller classes facilitate better discussions, that seminars would delve deeper into issues than "lecture" classes. Coming into this class of twenty-something students, I was expecting more superficial discussions, ones that would barely graze the surface. This, of course, was an ignorant expectation on my part and a gross misjudgment. I can honestly say that some of the discussions we had in this class, especially those about Eat, Pray, Love have been some of the most interesting, most revealing, most personal discussions I have been a part of in my four years of college.

No comments:

Post a Comment