Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
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.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
An astrologer predicts that the young Jyoti (Jasmine’s given Indian name) will be widowed and will live among foreigners. Horrified and unbelieving, the seven-year-old girl rejects her foretold future and then falls, injuring her forehead with a bundle of firewood she is carrying. The injury leaves a portentous star-shaped scar on her forehead.
Jyoti spends her youth in the village of Hasnapur, Punjab, India. When she is fifteen years old, she marries Prakash Vijh, and they form a partnership of love and mutual goals that focuses on a move to the United States. In America, they can expand and even supersede the limits of their traditional background—all in hope of beginning a repair business for computers, televisions, and other technological icons of the modern age.
Jyoti (which means “light”) is rechristened by her husband as Jasmine—emblematic of his nonfeudal, modern perception of Indian women. Meanwhile, Prakash obtains admission to the Florida International Institute of Technology, and the two await visas to the United States. As they wait, against the backdrop of escalating religious tensions between Muslims and Hindus decades after the partition of British India into India and Pakistan, Jasmine and Prakash find themselves the victims of a bombing. Prakash is killed sacrificing himself by shielding his wife and saving her life.
Jasmine, combining a determination to honor her husband in a traditional way (burn his clothes and create a funeral pyre) and in a progressive way (continue his journey), sets off to the United States and tries to enter the country illegally (she is both underage and without a visa). Journeying on a European trawler, then a shrimper in the Caribbean, Jasmine’s voyage ends at the Gulf of Florida. She is brutally raped by the shrimp boat’s captain, Half-Face, in a rundown motel (an act initiated by a ruse of...
(The entire section is 772 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Jasmine, a vivacious, starry-eyed, young Indian woman from Trinidad who believes that Trinidad is too small for a girl with ambition, has herself smuggled into the United States to find a well-employed husband and forge a new life. She enters Detroit from the Canadian border while hidden in the back of a mattress truck. With her daddy’s admonition that opportunity comes only once resounding in her ears, she challenges herself to use her wits and to refashion her destiny.
Being an illegal alien, Jasmine spends her first few months working as a chambermaid and bookkeeper, in exchange for meager board and lodging, at the Plantation Motel in Southfield, run by the Daboos, a family of Trinidadian Indians who helped her get there. Conscious of her social status as a physician’s daughter in Port-of-Spain, she feels superior to the Daboos, thinking of them as country bumpkins who were nobodies back home. She decides to leave them soon.
The central action of the story begins when Loretta and Viola, the Daboo girls, prevail on Jasmine to go with them to Ann Arbor to the big bash of the West Indian Students’ Association. The music, the dance, and the company of boys who talked with confidence about their futures in the United States stir her desires and ambition, and she decides not to return to the life of drudgery at the Plantation Motel. Instead, she thinks of trying her luck in pursuing higher studies in Ann Arbor, which seems to her the magic...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Soon after garnering the 1988 National Book Critics Circle Award for her second collection of short stories, titled The Middleman, and Other Stories, Mukherjee published her exciting and accomplished novel Jasmine. In fact, the novel grew out of one of the Middleman stories, also titled “Jasmine,” whose protagonist persisted in the author’s imagination, demanding to be reincarnated or born again in a lengthier genre. Jasmine is a novel about survival; it is also an account of an immigrant minority woman’s metamorphosis, self-invention, and self-empowerment. Inasmuch as the protagonist is a woman, the novel holds great interest for feminists. Insofar as she is an Indian, and much of the book dwells upon her experience in the United States, the novel adds another episode to the epic of the Asian diaspora to America.
In this tightly crafted book, which uses time shifts extensively, all the major themes and motifs are established in the opening chapter. Its first sentence begins with the phrase “Lifetimes ago,” which immediately introduces the structuring theme of metamorphosis or reincarnation, and indeed, the protagonist is known by different names (signifying different identities and different lives) at different stages in the novel. The first chapter also introduces the main conflict in the novel by describing an astrologer’s prophecy of Jasmine’s exile and widowhood and Jasmine’s violent resistance to the astrologer: It is the conflict between a humanistic-existential individualism(Jasmine’s) and a cosmic-determinist worldview (the astrologer’s).
In resisting the astrologer, Jasmine bites her tongue and scars her own forehead, but instead of succumbing to these wounds (to be born female in her society is already to be wounded), Jasmine resolutely metamorphoses them into advantages. She imagines the wound in her forehead to be a Siva-like sage’s third eye to scan invisible worlds, and the bloody tongue is an attribute of the powerful destructor goddess Kali (an image that reappears in the novel when Jasmine kills a rapist). The opening chapter then closes on two unforgettable images: As Jasmine swims wrathfully in the river, she bumps into the carcass of a drowned dog and tastes the stench of the water—both images affect her like curses then, but she is to exorcize them dramatically later in the novel.
Jasmine’s native village is in the Punjab, India, where the birth of a girl is an affliction. Her mother, in fact, tries to strangle Jasmine, her fifth daughter; however, Jasmine, who was then named Jyoti, survives and grows into an intelligent girl able to obtain more than the usual amount of education. Jyoti also evinces an enjoyment of power. When electricity comes to the village, she loves the feeling of being “totally in control” as she flicks the light switch. One day she particularly “feels a buzz of power” when she smashes in the skull of a dog who attacks the village women during their morning toilet. This image of her killing the dog recalls, and in some measure indicates an overcoming of, the curse and destiny laid upon her by the astrologer. Another dead dog image will reappear in connection with a would-be...
(The entire section is 1320 words.)