Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Strength Inside You

Jasmine comes to America fleeing pain and suffering with every intention of putting a final, long-planned end to it all. After losing Prakash and the dream of living happily in an Indian community in America, she sees no hope and continues to work to gain access to America only to put to rest the dream of Vijh & Vijh and to her own life, valueless with the death of her husband. From the moment she arrives in America, however, she internally begins to conform to American ideals and customs on living whether she realizes it or not, until by the end of the novel she is filled with the “wants and reckless from hope” (241), a hope that had begun to grow from the moment she escaped Half-Face in the seedy motel in which she was imprisoned but that had really been suppressed within her for her entire life.
In India, wants and reckless hope were not accepted traits, especially in a woman. Jyoti’s brothers had these hopes in their endeavors to become engineers. Yet she was thought foolish to have these. Her want for Prakash was looked down upon, especially by her grandmother Dida. She would be a good, obedient girl if she would marry the widower who was willing to take her. But she fell in love with and had a hope for marrying Prakash. Her untraditional acknowledgement of this hope was what spurred her life forward. She became the wife of an unconventional Indian man, and though she was uncomfortable with his treating her like an equal, this kind of life was destined for her because of her spunk.
When she moved to America, she believed she must follow the tradition of dying along with the memory of her husband. Her power to overtake Half-Face gave her hope in herself, something new to her and growing from her arrival in the new country. Throughout the novel she tried hard to stick to traditions, and in so many ways she herself was the reason she could not. She could not live with Professorji because she had reckless hopes. In the end, she could not stay with Bud because she had lingering wants. She did not necessarily “become American” in giving up these traditional Indian submissive ways. She simply pulled out the strong woman that was inside herself because of her own inability to keep it silent.
The most interesting thing I learned in class this semester was just this: how the power of self seemed to be the driving force behind many characters’ actions in the novels we read. This inability to keep quiet the strength, passion, desires inside of themselves is what drives the action of the novels. And this is especially important in postcolonial literature, in a literature from the perspective of an oppressed people. Their strength is what allows them to become themselves, fight the Man, or keep their identity within a rapidly changing universe. Okonkwo’s interior strength and stubbornness to maintain that is what made his life fall apart. Chandra’s stories are all of the self: finding oneself, reconnecting with oneself, coming to terms with one’s life. In Potiki, Toko’s strength is what keeps his community fighting even after his death. The boy in Son’s for the Return Home finds himself through the girl and is able to move on without her. Oilei, in Kisses in the Nederends, learns he has been to harsh of a person with the complications in his anus. The characters in East, West all have some sort of longing to find themselves or are able to come to terms with themselves. And Elizabeth Gilbert embarks on a year-long journey of self-discovery.
Strength within yourself can save you. I found this to be such a powerful theme throughout our novels and this fascinated me. I did not expect self-discovery or self-preservation to be such an important aspect of postcolonial literature. In fact, I did not know what to expect in postcolonial literature. But I think that we can all learn something about ourselves in reading this literature. I was surprised to learn that the literature of a culture so vastly different from our own can be so telling of our own lives.

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