“I feel so potent, a goddess.”
With this musing the reader is introduced by the protagonist to ultimately exhibits itself to be a major (arguably the major) theme of the work. That is to say, sensuality is one of the primary driving forces behind the development of Jyoti/Jasmine/Jane. It serves as a catalyst for both her triumphs and trauma and by all appearances seems to absolutely color her perception of the world, i.e., the action of the novel (which is driven by her narration) can be interpreted within a framework of eroticism. As e.g., consider the character, Darrell Lutz. He kills himself because of his inability to tend the farm, to grow life, to have a life carried on the frothy foam of sensuality which incessantly propagates the possibility and literal occurrence of creation. The stasis that Darrell falls into, that the Professorjis fell into, that Bud was forced into, is something that Jasmine flees from, quite literally. She attaches herself to whatever opportunity for escape presents itself, even if it requires her to move to Iowa or play the homewrecker or leave a man to whom she is the world and more.
I think this restlessness can be traced to the experience described in the very first chapter of the book, in which she encounters the dead dog floating on the river. She not-so-cryptically states, “ That stench stays with me...I know what I don’t want to become”. The dog symbolizes the decay associated with a lack of virility. Thus, Jasmine yearns for something mostly incoherent but can best be hinted at by her sexuality that overpowers her as much as anybody else. Thus, she lives a life of impulse, an exciting life, one that intoxicates those who come into contact with her and inspires a very (post) modern view of what it means live an American life. It’s one that’s intermingled with a bittersweet, highly erotic sense of loss and simulation, running all the while from a strange, inexplicable emptiness that causes succesfull people to kill themselves and seemingly happy men to abandon twenty eight years of marriage for its promise.
The distaste that Jasmine feels for the stale, dutiful existence of orthodoxy is one that stirs yours affectionately and aligns (a little, frustratingly typically) with my own worldview. It follows with the old cliche of youth that calls for something of a surrender to a pneumatically sultry and idealized sense of self that dazzles and dizzies and seeks, constantly seeks. Mukherjee’s work by no means glorifies the nomadic life lived by Jasmine and the protagonist herself doesn’t wander around with a lustful sense of wide eyed wonder and exhilaration. In spite of this, it’s a life Jasmine constantly reaches for over and over again no matter how many alternatives she’s presented with, each one farther away from the world she left behind. It’s a philosophy that yours truly aspires to (so far with little success) and Jasmine is a character that I don’t think it’s unfair to relate to. Yes, material necessity that I could never begin to fathom, were causes in many of the decisions that bore her along but they were never the cause. That, I would assign to was her sensuality which buoyed her above contentment and left her filled with a need to constantly transform herself, to constantly move along no matter who she loved and who loved her. Thus, one may take a cue from Jasmine to always carry on the search for something that cannot be found, to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving.
(For those last 11 words I must cite Richard Linklater and his film Waking Life even though I don’t want to).