Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352
Wife is the second novel published by Bharati Mukherjee. The novel's narrative is from the perspective of a woman, Dimple, who has recently immigrated to New York City from India. Therefore themes such as immigrant experience, assimilation, and balancing two contradictory cultures are present throughout the story.
Another theme of the novel is the psychological effect of culture shock and the re-structuring of one's embedded psychocultural makeup after experiencing a sudden change. While mental illness and cultural psychology are not explicitly examined in the novel, the experiences of the character offer an intimate view of how mental breakdowns can occur during a sudden change in a person's way of life.
A sub-theme of the novel is the differences between a conservative Indian society and a liberal, free-spirited New York City. The protagonist fantasizes about the possibilities of American culture and the freedom and love that marriage will give her. The Indian society Dimple loathed and wanted to break away from earlier in the novel gave her structure in life, especially in terms of behavior. In the United States, this comes into conflict with the culture she once romanticized.
The other theme of the novel is sociopathic violence. Dimple is a complex character with violent tendencies. In one scene, she bludgeons a mouse to death. In another part of the novel, she contemplates inducing an abortion (and does so) because she believes pregnancy will ruin her chances of going to America. She also contemplates various ways of committing suicide once in New York.
Dimple is a person who falls in love with ideas easily and just as easily ends up hating them. For instance, she is disappointed with the husband her father chooses for her. When she sees her husband—an accomplished engineer—become just like all the other immigrants struggling in America, he is reduced in her eyes. Likewise, the liberated woman Dimple once thought of becoming is materialized in the form of an Indian-American woman in New York, and she is now repulsed by her behavior. These literal and figurative violent reactions show the dark part of the main character's psyche.