Jasmine is a novel of emigration and assimilation, both on physical and psychological levels. In this novel, Bharati Mukherjee fictionalizes the process of Americanization by tracing a young Indian woman’s experiences of trauma and triumph in her attempt to forge a new identity for herself.
The story is told from the first-person point of view by the female protagonist, who undergoes multiple identity transformations in her quest for self-empowerment and happiness. Mukherjee uses the cinematic techniques of flashback and cross-cutting to fuse Jasmine’s past and present. The novel is steeped in violence.
The book begins with the twenty-four-year-old narrator, Jane Ripplemeyer, living as the common-law wife of Bud Ripplemeyer, a fifty-four-year-old invalid banker in Baden, Elsa County, Iowa. Through flashbacks, she recalls her story from childhood in Hasnapur, a village in Jullundhar District, Punjab, India, where she was born as Jyoti, the unwanted fifth daughter in a poor, displaced Hindu family. When she was seven, an astrologer predicted that she was doomed to widowhood and exile. Determined to fight her destiny, Jyoti begins to empower herself through learning English, for “to want English was to want more than you had been given at birth, it was to want the world.”
Her first notable transformation begins when, at fourteen, she marries Prakash Vijh, an engineering student and a modern city man who does not believe in the subservient role of the Indian wife. “To break off the past,” Prakash renames her “Jasmine” and gradually molds her to become a new woman, untrapped by the traditional beliefs of a feudal society. He implants the American Dream in her mind, and both plan to leave for America to begin a new life. When Prakash falls victim to a Sikh extremist’s bomb, she...
(The entire section is 752 words.)