Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story carefully pairs a universal statement about the process of growth, which is often accompanied by humiliation, that occurs in any collision between cultures, with a personal statement of a first-person narrator undergoing that process. The first-person point of view is a primary means by which modern writers communicate the very nature of reality, that is, any sense of “absolute” truth actually residing in the relative world of personal perception. Thus Panna’s metamorphosis, along with its disturbing elements, must be seen through her particular focused eyes. The reader is drawn into her unstable, mutating world. Through her comments, sometimes ruefully ironic, at other times determined and directed, Panna places order and meaning on this instability.

Mukherjee focuses her themes stylistically by incorporating character. It is her people who make meaning. The variety of her characters, named and unnamed, all serve to generate and further her themes. In opposition to them, Panna defines and creates herself. She is who she is—unlike them—and who she is becoming—often like them. She is estranged from a fat man in a polyester suit in the theater who “exploits her space,” and yet she is like Imre when he exults in his freedom on a New York city street.

Finally, Mukherjee produces the underlying structure of her themes through her use of language. She intermixes incongruent, yet relevant terms: “Postcolonialism” (an intellectual, historical term) is somehow fitting in the same sentence with “referee” (a sports term employed metaphorically). The image of the city’s numerous mixed races as astronauts possesses a certain truth. Interjected comments about her characters tend to reflect the American culture of which they are becoming a part: “Love is a commodity, hoarded like any other.” Through her use of the first-person point of view, character, and diction, Mukherjee creates a world of fluctuating and transforming immigrants grounded in the personal adventure and vision of her narrator, who straddles not only two worlds, but two selves.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Alam, Fakrul. Bharati Mukherjee. New York: Twayne, 1996.

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Dhawan, R. K. The Fiction of Bharati Mukherjee: A Critical Symposium. New Delhi, India: Prestige, 1996.

Mukherjee, Bharati. “Beyond Multiculturalism: Surviving the Nineties.” In Race: An Anthology in the First Person, edited by Bart Schneider. New York: Three Rivers, 1997.

Mukherjee, Bharati. “A Four-Hundred-Year-Old Woman.” In The Writer on Her Work: II, edited by Janet Sternberg. New York: Norton, 1991.

Mukherjee, Bharati. “An Invisible Woman.” Saturday Night 96 (March, 1981): 36-40.

Mukherjee, Bharati. Interview by Alison B. Carb. Massachusetts Review 29 (Winter, 1988): 645-654.

Mukherjee, Bharati. Interview by Geoff Hancock. Canadian Fiction Magazine 59 (1987): 30-44.

Mukherjee, Bharati. Interview by Suzanne Ruta. Women’s Review of Books, July, 2002, 13.

Naipaul, V. S. “A Conversation with V. S. Naipaul.” Interview by Bharati Mukherjee and Robert Boyers. Salmagundi 54 (Fall, 1981): 4-22.

Nazareth, Peter. “Total Vision.” Canadian Literature 110 (Fall, 1986): 184-191.

Nelson, Emmanuel, ed. Bharati Mukherjee: Critical Perspectives. New York: Garland, 1993.