Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.”

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...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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 bargain. Ironically, she is exploited by both her own countrymen, the Daboos, and her new American employers, the Moffitts. In both positions, she is nothing more than a live-in domestic servant, although the Moffitts euphemistically call her a mother’s helper. She does not tell the Moffitts that in Trinidad her family also kept servants. Her adventure thus becomes a story of survival, expediency, and the losses, compromises, and adjustment involved in the process of assimilation into mainstream America. At the end of the story, her half-willingly letting her employer seduce her symbolically suggests the seductive power that the United States wields over new immigrants.

In an interview published in The Canadian Fiction Magazine, Mukherjee asserts that immigration is a positive act for her characters, for “the breaking away from rigidly...

(The entire section is 431 words.)