Bharati Mukherjee Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does Bharati Mukherjee depict violent scenes and violent people? How does she make them useful for her thematic purpose?

What evidence is there in Mukherjee’s fiction that its author was a student of Indian mythology and history?

Discuss how Mukherjee uses literary allusions to enrich the meaning of her narratives. (Some writers to bear in mind would be Matthew Arnold, John Keats, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Charlotte Brontë.)

For Mukherjee, what is the impact of American society on the immigrant Indian woman?

In what ways does racism show up in Mukherjee’s work?

How does Mukherjee use the names of characters (for example, Jasmine, Jyoti, Jane) to develop themes in her fiction?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Bharati Mukherjee has written several novels, including The Tiger’s Daughter (1972), Wife (1975), Jasmine (1989), The Holder of the World (1993), and Leave It to Me (1997); a travel memoir, Days and Nights in Calcutta (1977; with her husband Clark Blaise); a nonfiction critique of Canadian racism, The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy (1987; in collaboration with Blaise); a political treatise, Kautilya’s Concept of Diplomacy (1976); the nonfiction studies Political Culture and Leadership in India: A Study of West Bengal (1991) and Regionalism in Indian Perspective (1992); and several essays and articles.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Bharati Mukherjee occupies a distinctive place among first-generation North American writers of Indian origin. She has received a number of grants from the Canada Arts Council (1973-1974, 1977), the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (1976-1977), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1978-1979), and the Canadian government (1982). In 1980, she won first prize from the Periodical Distribution Association for her short story “Isolated Incidents.” In 1981, she won the National Magazine Award’s second prize for her essay “An Invisible Woman.” Her story “Angela” was selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 1985, and “The Tenant” was included in The Best American Short Stories 1987. Her second collection of short stories The Middleman, and Other Stories won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1988.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Bharati Mukherjee was initially propelled to literary fame with the publication of short stories that provide intense portraits of “immigrant experiences” and cultural collisions through her kaleidoscopic characters; these stories have been published in the collections Darkness (1985) and The Middleman, and Other Stories (1988). In these brilliant and multifaceted stories, Mukherjee depicts the harsh realities of the “stranger in a strange land” who may find him- or herself confronted with the challenges of understanding new cultures, coping with “otherness,” and learning new ways of being. An immigrant herself, Mukherjee delineates in these stories the hardship of and the need for transforming oneself that is inherent in the immigrant experience.

Mukherjee is also recognized for her nonfiction works that deal with the immigrant experience from both political and social perspectives. Her Days and Nights in Calcutta (1977), coauthored with her husband, Clark Blaise, demonstrates a bipartite perspective on India: from a returning native (the author) and a foreigner (American-born Blaise). Such a perspective allows for a complex and multilayered look at the complications of being a “citizen” in transition.

Mukherjee has written several studies on political issues and India—studies that demonstrate her continuing interest in placing her fictional concerns within a historical perspective. The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy (1987), coauthored with Blaise, not only examines the personal tragedy of the families involved in the suspected terrorist bombing of an Air India flight in 1985 (to New Delhi from Toronto) but also scrutinizes the role played in the event by the Canadian government’s shortsighted immigration policies. Mukherjee also has produced a significant body of work that consists of uncollected essays and articles on women’s issues, the intersection of politics and multiculturalism, and the history of India.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to blazing a path for female Indian writers, Bharati Mukherjee has succeeded in initiating a new focus for an entire group of writers: the impact and importance of the immigrant experience. It is an experience that is relevant not only to the immigrant but also to the population of the receiving culture. Mukherjee has been cited as “embracing” American culture and “hopeful” at the regenerative effects of amalgamating her Indian heritage with a constantly metamorphosing American culture.

For both her scholarship and her literary production, Mukherjee has received fellowships, awards, and other recognition, most notably a P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship to the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction (1988) for The Middleman, and Other Stories—a work of superbly crafted portraits of a multitude of characters in conflict while acculturating to new homes, families, or cultures. Mukherjee has become known worldwide for her works that somehow define what it means to be an American and, as Radha Chakravarty has noted, what it means to “find a voice to express a complex, cross-cultural sensibility.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Alam, Fakrul. Bharati Mukherjee. New York: Twayne, 1996. Looks at India, women, and East Indian Americans in literature. Includes a bibliography and index.

Ascher, Carol. “After the Raj.” Review of The Middleman and Other Stories, by Bharati Mukherjee. Women’s Review of Books 6, no. 12 (1989): 17, 19. Using illustrative detail from six of the eleven short stories in this collection, Ascher shows how in dealing with the immigrant experience “the strategy of short stories has served [Mukherjee] well.”

Bowen, Deborah. “Spaces of Translation: Bharati Mukherjee’s ‘The Management of Grief.’” Ariel 28 (July, 1997): 47-60. Argues that in the story, the assumption of moral universalism is a crucial precursor to the problems of negotiating social knowledge. Mukherjee addresses questions of cultural particularization by showing how inadequately translatable are institutionalized expressions of concern.

Chua, C. L. “Passages from India: Migrating to America in the Fiction of V. S. Naipaul and Bharati Mukherjee.” In Reworlding: The Literature of the Indian Diaspora, edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Drake, Jennifer. “Looting American Culture: Bharati Mukherjee’s Immigrant Narratives.” Contemporary Literature 40 (Spring, 1999): 60-84. Argues that assimilation is portrayed as cultural looting, cultural exchange, or a willful and sometimes costly negotiation in her stories; notes that Mukherjee rejects the nostalgia of hyphenated “Americans” and their acceptable stories and portrays instead settlers, Americans who want to be American—not sojourners, tourists, guest workers, or foreigners.

Fakrul, Alam. Bharati Mukherjee. New York: Twayne, 1996.

Ispahani, Mahnaz. “A Passage from India.” Review of Darkness, by Bharati Mukherjee. The New Republic 14 (April, 1986):...

(The entire section is 860 words.)