(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.)