(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical 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.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.)


(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Jasmine, the title character and narrator of Bharati Mukherjee's novel, was born approximately 1965 in a rural Indian...

(The entire section is 1976 words.)