The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545

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Jasmine is a complex, resourceful, and dynamic character who undergoes dramatic changes throughout the novel. A young, daring woman from India, she represents Bharati Mukherjee’s concept of “the new breed” of Americans from non-European countries who are imperceptibly changing the face of America. Endowed by nature with good looks and a good mind, she uses them both to her fullest advantage to seek happiness and self-fulfillment. With her remarkable willpower, she fights an undesirable fate as she resists the hold of a feudal and patriarchal family. Her marriage to Prakash allows her to break the mold of the traditional female role in Indian society and strengthens her hopes for a bright future. When Prakash decides to go to school in America, she sees this as a possible way to subvert the fate predicted by the astrologer. Even her husband’s death does not deter her from realizing her American Dream. Her arduous voyage to America shows her stubborn will to survive and her determination to re-create her destiny. She goes through several rebirths to become all-American. Her adaptability and readiness to reinvent herself aid her assimilation into American society.

Prakash Vijh, Jyoti’s husband, impresses the reader with his modern outlook and revolutionary ideas. He liberates Jyoti from her feudal past and transforms her into a new kind of modern woman, capable of independent thought. He renames her Jasmine and stirs her mind with new possibilities. Jyoti rightly thinks of him as her Pygmalion.

Lillian Gordon, an old white Quaker woman who provides sanctuary to refugees and illegal aliens, represents the best in the American spirit of compassion, tolerance, and philanthropy. She facilitates Jasmine’s assimilation into mainstream America.

Professor Devinder Vadhera, an Indian expatriate living in New York, embodies the conflict between assimilation and cultural preservation. As Prakash’s former teacher, he serves as Jasmine’s American connection. Yet Jasmine rejects the stifling aloofness of his Indian world to merge into the great American melting pot.

Kate Gordon-Feldstein, Lillian’s daughter and the author of a book on migrant workers, is the first person to applaud Jasmine’s expression of will. By helping her to find a job with the Hayeses, Kate opens up new possibilities for Jasmine to fulfill her dream.

Taylor Hayes, an academic who falls in love with Jasmine and calls her “Jase,” teaches her how to take charge of her life and harmonize her Hindu concept of destiny with her American expression of will. Most important, he does not fear her foreignness and accepts her as she is. Under Taylor’s loving tutelage, as Jasmine puts it, “I bloomed from a diffident alien with forged documents into adventurous Jase.” It is Taylor who eventually leads her to “the promise of America.”

Bud Ripplemeyer, the disabled banker, offers Jasmine a haven of economic security and the prospect of motherhood, but he cannot offer her “adventure, risk, transformation,” for which she craves. Though he wins Jasmine’s deep affection and admiration, he fails to satisfy her emotional needs.

Du Thien, the Vietnamese boy adopted by Bud and Jasmine, plays an important part in Jasmine’s emotional life. He constantly reminds her that she is living in exile among strangers. She regards Du as the son she and Prakash might have had.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 778

Jasmine Vijh

Jasmine Vijh, later called Jane Ripplemeyer, the narrator. She was born in Hasnapur, India, and given the name Jyoti. She is the fifth daughter of her parents and the seventh of nine children; as such, she is somewhat unwanted. An astrologer predicts that she is doomed to widowhood and exile. Jasmine is determined to chart the course of her own life. She marries Prakash Vijh at the age of fourteen, and he renames her Jasmine as a means of breaking her from her past. After he is murdered by a Muslim fanatic, Jasmine fulfills Prakash’s wish and goes to the United States, entering illegally. She first works as a caregiver for Taylor Hayes, a college professor in New York City. She then flees from Sukhwinder, the man who killed her husband, and moves to Baden, Iowa, where she falls in love with Bud Ripplemeyer and becomes his common-law wife, living as Jane Ripplemeyer. Taylor eventually finds Jasmine, and the two decide to move to California. Jasmine has several identities; she is a different person to different people. To Prakash, she is Jasmine; to Half-Face, the man who raped her, she is the goddess Kali; to Lillian Gordon, who helped her find a job in New York City, she is Jazzy; to Taylor, she is Jase; to Bud, she is Jane. Her various identities finally make Jasmine realize that she is who she wants to make herself. At the end of the book, she is ready to take control of her own destiny.

Prakash Vijh

Prakash Vijh, Jasmine’s husband in India. Prakash is an aspiring engineer. He has graduated from a technical college in India and has worked at two jobs, one as a repairman and bookkeeper and the other as a math tutor. Prakash’s ambition is to go to the United States and finish his college education. He instills hopes in Jasmine by describing what he has learned about the United States and plays a crucial role in helping reshape her identity.

Taylor Hayes

Taylor Hayes, a college professor. Jasmine works for Taylor for two years as a caregiver. Theirs is a mutually respectful relationship. Both of them share the love for Taylor’s adopted child, Duff. In fact, one of the reasons Jasmine decides to move to Iowa is to find out about Duff’s origins. After Taylor’s wife, Wylie, is divorced from him to be with another man, Taylor expresses his affection for Jasmine. Seeing Sukhwinder in a park, however, precipitates Jasmine’s decision to run away from New York City. Eventually, Taylor finds Jasmine and talks her into moving with him to California.

Bud Ripplemeyer

Bud Ripplemeyer, a banker. After Jasmine moves to Baden, Bud’s mother finds her a job at the bank where Bud works. Bud falls in love with Jasmine. After his wife divorces Bud, Jasmine moves in with him. Harlan Kroener, a disgruntled farmer who believes that the bank is exploiting him, shoots Bud, paralyzing him. Jasmine takes the responsibility of taking care of him and their adopted son, Du Thien. Bud asks Jasmine to marry him several times, but Jasmine hesitates, for various reasons including the facts that Karin, Bud’s divorced wife, still loves him and that she still wishes to escape the astrologer’s prediction of widowhood. Finally, Jasmine decides to leave Bud for new opportunities in California.

Du Thien

Du Thien, Jasmine and Bud’s adopted son, a Vietnamese refugee. Jasmine’s affection for Du results in part from her empathy for him. She can empathize with Du’s origin, with the discrimination and mistreatment he receives in school, and with his ambition to prove to the world that he is just as American as everyone else. One of the main reasons why Jasmine decides to move to California with Taylor is to find Du, who has moved to Los Angeles to be with his sister.

Lillian Gordon

Lillian Gordon, a social worker. Lillian is a self-appointed social worker who has dedicated her life to help undocumented immigrants. She saves Jasmine from the street and helps her find her first job in the United States.

Mrs. Ripplemeyer

Mrs. Ripplemeyer, Bud’s mother. She and Jasmine understand each other and share affection.

Half-Face

Half-Face, a trawler captain. After Half-Face smuggles Jasmine into the United States, he rapes her.

Harlan Kroener

Harlan Kroener, a farmer. Harlan’s prejudice eventually leads him into shooting Bud.

Darrel Lutz

Darrel Lutz, a struggling farmer, Jasmine and Bud’s friend. He has a college degree and is thinking about selling his farm to move to New Mexico. He is in love with Jasmine and eventually commits suicide.