Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 491

Primarily an immigrant narrative, Jasmine explores the process of Americanization and brings out the conflict between assimilation and cultural preservation. It is a poignant story of survival, expediency, compromises, losses, and adjustments involved in the process of acculturation to American life. As Jasmine says in the novel, “There are no harmless, compassionate ways to remake oneself. We murder who we were so we can rebirth ourselves in the images of dreams.”

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The process of rebirth, even in a metaphoric sense, has been extremely painful for both Jasmine and Du. Both have confronted death closely, endured severe hardships, suffered horrible indignities, and survived. Jasmine calls her own transformation “genetic,” whereas Du’s was “hyphenated.” In her desire for assimilation into mainstream America, Jasmine immolates her Jyoti-Jasmine self to burn her Hindu past. To accomplish her genetic transformation, she conceives a child by a white American from the heartland and feels potent in her pregnancy, as if she is “cocooning a cosmos.”

Du, on the other hand, has retained his identity as a Vietnamese American. A survivor and an adapter, he learns to camouflage himself within the expectations of others, but he instinctively resists the idea of the American melting pot. Although it seems that he is fast becoming all-American, he keeps his language and ethnic heritage alive by secretly keeping in touch with the Vietnamese community. Like Jasmine, he too experiences three lives—one in Saigon, the other in a refugee camp, and the third as Yogi Ripplemeyer—but he never severs his connection completely from his roots. Du’s character exemplifies that in a multicultural society one does not have to erase one’s ethnic identity entirely to become an “American.”

The novel also portrays the problems of immigrants who arrive in the United States with dreams of wealth and success but find it difficult to adjust to the new environment and ethos. Mukherjee probes such troubles through the character of Professor Devinder Vadhera, once a scientist in India, now working as an importer of human hair in Flushing, New York. He does not like his job, but he needs to work to support his wife and old parents. To adapt to his new environment, he undergoes a name change and becomes a diminutive “Dave.” He lives in a ghetto, always feels stressed, and complains that America is killing him. He regards Flushing as a neighborhood in Jullundhar and encloses himself in “the fortress of Punjabiness,” artificially created in his home environment. According to the narrator, Vadhera “had sealed his heart when he’d left home. His real life was in an unlivable land across oceans. He was a ghost, hanging on.”

The novel obviously moves from Vadhera’s cultural isolation to Jasmine’s intense longing for assimilation. Since the novel focuses on the physical, emotional, and intellectual growth of the female protagonist and her quest for self-determination and identity, it can also be viewed as a Bildungsroman, or rite-of-passage novel.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431

Bharati Mukherjee’s major concern in her fiction is to explore the problems of emigration and assimilation, on both physical and psychological levels. In “Jasmine,” she fictionalizes the process of Americanization by exploring the experiences of a young Trinidadian woman who, driven by ambition and adventure, pulls up her traditional roots and arrives in the New World to forge a new identity for herself. In her exuberance, she views her illegal entry into the United States as a “smooth, bargain-priced emigration.” Thinking exclusively in economic terms, she is unaware of the real price involved in the...

(The entire section contains 2391 words.)

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