Exploring Bharati Mukherjee’s Novel Jasmine

Born in Hasnapur in India, Jyoti, or Jasmine, has the distinction of being the most beautiful and clever in the family. Her life, like most Indian women, is controlled and dominated by her father and brothers. Jasmine thinks men prefer these kinds of subordinate women because, “we are brought up to be caring and have no minds of our own. Village girls are like cattle; whichever way you lead them, that is the way they will go,” (p. 46). The women of the traditional village of Hasnapur had a certain social ritual that Jasmine enjoyed because despite her age, she felt like she belonged to the group of women. When speaking of how the women relieved themselves she says, “We went early, in pre-dawn dark, before the men woke, so they couldn’t spy on us,” (p. 53). This hour of the day was most important to Jasmine because she could finally relax around her companions, in her opinion, “This was the ‘Ladies’ Hour’. Sober women became crude, lusty, raucous,” (p. 55). Because Jasmine was brought up to serve to the needs of men, it took a good deal of time for her to adjust to the modern beliefs and ideals of her new husband, Prakash. He asked her to call him by his first name. This concept was difficult for Jasmine to deal with because, “In Hasnapur wives used only pronouns to address their husbands,” (p. 77). Prakash encouraged Jasmine to study English, and even gives her a new name, Jasmine. Her happiness was short lived when she was widowed and presented with the conflict of staying as “Jasmine” and leading a new life in America, or going back to her traditional family roots and living her life mourning over the loss of her husband.

Jasmine’s ideas of America were very vague. When Jasmine was told of Prakash’s acceptance to the Florida Institute of Technology, she pictured America very differently than the brochure he displayed to her. In the brochure, “Everyone on the cover and in the pictures inside was Indian or Chinese, with a couple of Africans,” (p. 90). As the image was so vastly different from Jasmine’s “stereotypical” thought of what an American should look like, her and Prakash joked, “I don’t think they let Americans in!” (p. 91). Throughout Jasmine’s struggle with her own sense of nationalism coming over to America, it isn’t until she met Taylor and Wylie Hayes that she admits, “I finally became an American in an apartment on Claremont Avenue across the street from a Barnard College dormitory,” (p. 165). Although Jasmine came over to America and lived and met lots of different people, it wasn’t until she had established a strong sense of family and a feeling of being wanted that she truly felt “American”.

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