In The Middleman, and Other Stories, Mukherjee clearly and dynamically explores the disturbing personal and social effects of a global population of immigrants. Her stories also posit a sort of example for resolution, or at least a glimpse into a future world where a newly amalgamated population of Americans can exist, a global fusing of many selves and many cultures. As she has stated in a televised interview, Bharati Mukherjee sees the influx of immigrants as an invigorating and shaping influence on American life: “We have come not to passively accommodate ourselves to someone else’s dream of what we should be, we have come, in a way, to take over, to help build a culture.”
Culture building is exactly what her characters do. The culture that they create will be, it is hoped, a culture capable of accepting, even cherishing differences. At the end of the story “Orbiting,” the narrator, Renata, an Italian American, comes to terms with the issue of accepting her lover on his terms, not on the basis of the expectations of her family. She has herself transmuted from a prisoner of cultural prejudices and limitations to a free agent who has outgrown the cultural perceptions of her parents (who are, like most others, very nice people). She also recognizes the intrinsic “innocence” of Americans, who have not suffered the political upheavals that are omnipresent in Third World countries: “I realize all in a rush how much I love this man with his blemished, tortured body. . . . Ro is Clint Eastwood, scarred hero and survivor. Dad and Brent are children.” Within such a framework, however, Mukherjee also emphasizes the need to meld, or blend, cultures. She disputes the outdated concept of America as “melting pot,” and wishes to supplant the idea with what she calls the idea of the “fusion chamber,” in which the American (or receiving) culture is simultaneously affected and effected in new ways by the infusion of immigrants.
Characterization is an important aspect of Mukherjee’s text—so important, indeed, that it warrants special attention. It is through her characters that she so palpably achieves her purposes. Mukherjee’s characters span a vast spectrum of type and nationality. Whether her setting be metropolitan New York or the jungles of a mythical Central American country, her characters demonstrate the energy, vitalism, and...
(The entire section is 975 words.)