Download Tiger's Daughter Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Literary Criticism and Significance 

Many critics regard The Tiger’s Daughter as an “expatriate novel,” and is somewhat of an alien in her adopted country. However, in this novel Tara seems more of an alien in her own country than she is in America. For this reason, the novel should be regarded as an immigrant-home-coming novel where the conventional phases of desire, control, and displacement are now happening in the reverse direction: not in her adopted land in America, but in India itself as she returns home after seven years.

It is necessary to place The Tiger's Daughter in the context of other American immigrant novels, where returning home is an important theme. Before 1972, when The Tiger's Daughter was published, immigrant novels were mainly about settling down in the adopted land. For example, Anzia Yesierska’s Bread Givers (1925), Henry Roth’s Call it Sleep (1934), Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Enemies: A Love Story(1948), and Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood (1972) were about settling down in an alien land. It was not until the late 1980s and into the 1990s that immigrant authors began to write about returning home. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1987), Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1991), and Bharati Mukherjee’s own sequels, Desirable Daughters (2002) and The Tree Bride (2005), all have the protagonist return to the homeland, usually on a mission for discovering one’s roots and heritage.

There seems to be a logical sequence to writing expatriate immigrant novels describing the challenges of settling down in a foreign, adopted land, to writing about returning home temporarily in order to relearn about one’s original homeland, roots und culture. What makes Mukherjee an interesting phenomenon is that her very first novel is about home-coming. Her second novel, Wife (1973), is about going to a foreign land—America—and settling down, or rather, the failure to do so. Thereafter, several of her novels and short stories are about successfully settling down in one’s adopted land, such as Jasmine(1985) and The Middlemen and Other Stories (1988). Her next two novels, The Holder of the World (1993) and Leave It to Me (1998), are about integrating into an adopted land. The protagonist is born to American parents in the case of Holder, and adopted by American parents in the case of Leave It. It was only with her two most recent novels, Desirable Daughters (2002) and The Tree Bride (2005), that Mukherjee returns to the protagonist’s homeland to rediscover her roots. These last two novels are different from The Tiger's Daughter in the sense that in them, the home-coming is a deliberate and conscious decision on the protagonist’s part rather than Tara Banerjee’s innocently going home to India for a holiday and happening to discover some startling truths about herself, her family and friends.

Mukherjee’s Literary Development
Thomas J. Ferraro, a critique of ethnic and immigrant novels in the U.S., writes about how immigrant writers use “mainstream literary techniques,” to explore and examine social issues confronting immigrants. One of the interesting features of The Tiger's Daughter is the literary influence on it, which is quite distinctively English. The very opening of the novel may remind one of the opening paragraph of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924). This is the way The Tiger’s Daughter begins:

The Catelli-Continental hotel on Chowringhee Avenue is the navel of the universe. Gray and imposing, with many bay windows and fake turrets, the hotel occupies half a block, then spills untidily into an intersection. There are no spacious grounds or circular driveways, only a small square courtyard and a dry fountain.

Compare this with the beginning of Forster’s A Passage to India:

Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of...

(The entire section is 1,216 words.)