Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 772
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 helping her). After the rape, Jasmine resolves to kill herself, but in a moment of intense contemplation and a sense of an uncompleted mission—she has yet to burn her dead husband’s clothes—she decides not to die. She takes a small knife given her by another refugee and slices her tongue—an ambiguous yet defiant gesture. Then, finding Half-Face asleep, her own mouth filled with blood, she leans down and slashes his throat, irreparably wounding him, while her open mouth showers him with blood.
A psychically transformed woman, Jasmine rises as if from the ashes and continues on her covert mission to honor Prakash and to make contact with his old professor. In Florida, Jasmine is rescued by a woman named Lillian Gordon, who provides Jasmine’s basic needs, tends to her wounded tongue, and assists her in becoming as much an American as possible. Her new identity is tested by formerly unseen marvels, such as revolving doors and escalators. Lillian dubs her Jazzy—a more apt and hip American name, signifying another identity transformation for Jasmine.
Jasmine locates the professor and his wife and begins living with them. Through their friendship, she borrows money to obtain a falsified green card. With this key to a larger American society, Jasmine moves to New York and begins working for a young urban couple, Taylor and Wylie Hayes, as an au pair for their adopted daughter, Duff. Taylor calls Jasmine Jase—a frivolous and lighthearted nickname that defines their relaxed, adventurous, and platonic relationship that contains the seeds of something more. Jasmine remains with the family for two years.
Taylor and Wylie separate, and Jasmine is undecided about her next move. She spies a street vendor named Sukhwinder, whom she believes is her husband’s killer. Fearful of repercussions and of the discovery of her illegal status, she abruptly leaves for Iowa. There she works with a banker named Bud Ripplemeyer, who falls in love with her. Jasmine moves in with him and becomes pregnant with his child. Bud’s former wife resents Jasmine’s intrusion into their lives, but eventually forgives the interloper. Bud serves both as protector (he is nearly thirty years older) and as stability for Jasmine, who is now known by the Anglicized name Jane in the conservative farming community.
One day, Bud is shot by a bereft farmer whose loans are handled by Bud’s bank. Bud has to use a wheelchair for mobility, and Jane becomes his caregiver. Du, their dearly loved adopted teenage son from Vietnam, eventually leaves home to meet up with a dispossessed relative in the West. Jasmine, in a moment of clarity when she again sees Taylor and daughter Duff, leaves Bud to continue her voyage of selfhood, forming a new family with Taylor in California.