(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Mukherjee’s central concern in her work is to fictionalize the problems of immigration, expatriation, and cross-cultural assimilation. She has taken it upon herself to illuminate the marginal and almost invisible world of immigrants to North America—most of them South Asian, and others, increasingly, from Third World countries—who pull up their traditional roots and arrive in the New World with dreams of wealth, success, and freedom. She dramatizes the conflict between their old belief systems and the New World ethos, and lends an artistic voice to their experiences of trauma and triumph.

In Wife, she presents the psychological portrait of a young Bengali woman who experiences problems of adjustment to an alien culture and, in the process, undergoes traumatic changes—social, cultural, and psychological. The novel focuses on her acute sense of displacement and gradually heads toward her total alienation: “She was so much worse than ever, more lonely, more cut off from Amit, from the Indians, left alone with borrowed disguises. She felt like a shadow without feelings.” The novel also indicts the traditional Indian system of arranged marriage, which pushes women into oppressive roles in a dominantly patriarchal culture.

Like countless other middle-class Hindu girls in India, Dimple Dasgupta has been reared to emulate the role model of Sita, the archetype of ideal Indian womanhood in the Ramayana, who has been used for centuries to impose ideological hegemony of patriarchal culture. Subconsciously, in her premarital, tradition-bound dreams, she imagines herself to be Sita, who stood the test of fire at her husband’s request. After marriage, however, living with her husband’s extended family drives her crazy, and she feels...

(The entire section is 728 words.)