Jasmine By Bharati Mukherjee

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Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee

Jasmine is a first-person narrative about a young Punjabi peasant woman, Jyoti Vijh, who moves from Hasnapur village in Punjab to the United States as an illegal immigrant, to fulfill the dream of her husband, Prakash, who is killed in a Sikh terrorist attack. To avenge being raped on her first night in America, Jyoti transforms herself into the goddess Kali and murders her rapist Half-Face, a smuggler and Vietnam veteran. The novel follows the protagonist's self-transformations and reincarnations as Jasmine, Kali, Jazzy, Jase, and Jane, as she moves between various geographic locations and the men in her life—her progressive engineer husband, Prakash, in Jullunder; the rapist Half-Face in Florida; her husband's mentor Professor Vadhera, who sells Indian women's hair in Flushing, New York; her suave, liberal lover, the Columbia physics professor Taylor in Manhattan; the wheelchair-bound banker Bud, the father of her unborn child, in Iowa; and her fantasy-lover, her Vietnamese adopted son, Du, and finally her ex-lover Taylor, who is moving to Berkeley, California (Hoppe, 137-157).

When Jasmine fends off a mad dog with a staff, Dida refuses to credit her granddaughter, claiming, instead, that God didn't think her ready for salvation. "Individual effort counts for nothing," she says. Later, Dida explains Prakash's death according to religious beliefs. "God was displeased" that Jasmine did not marry the man Dida chose for her, that she called her husband by his proper name, that they spent money extravagantly, that her husband planned to go abroad. Reward and retribution: God controls it all.

But Jasmine all along shows an inclination to veer from the prescribed path. She tells her father she wants to be a doctor. This is the first hint that she harbors fantastical Western-like dreams. For Dida, education for a woman seems frivolous, and even dangerous: it defies her future duty. Jasmine eventually marries a modern Indian man. On the surface, it seems like her life merely represents a breaking of tradition, an exchange of new values for old. Certainly, that's part of it. But in the deeplyingrained mindset of the Hindu Indian, change puts the whole culture at risk. Who will care for Prakash's uncle, now that his nephew has chosen to live in an apartment?

Danger accompanies desire. Mukherjee creates at least three characters who wind up bloody, in part, because they eschew duty for desire. Prakash gets blown to pieces holding the money that would purchase the clothes in which he would follow his American dreams. Darrel, who made a desperate, futile attempt to follow his desires, hangs limp from an electrical cord, chewed on by the hogs who represent his duty. Bud winds up in a wheelchair, partly because the wife he left--his duty--could not apply her relative wisdom to the task of saving him (Hancock, 30-44).

Darrel, like Jasmine, internally debates the value of acting out his desires at the price of neglecting his duty.

Mukherjee's careful use of imagery and sensory details in Darrel's suicide scene demonstrates the danger of both desire and ...