Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Plain Jane or Jasmine?

In Jasmine, the protagonist has somewhat of a distorted sense of home. What is home to her is a combination of different places as well as different people. From India to New York and finally to Iowa she finds herself and begins her journey as Jasmine. Through her many different experiences readers gain an understanding of what it’s like to be a lost girl in a new place where you have to start over. Interestingly enough she juxtaposes her life in India to her new life in Iowa. What she discovers throughout much of the book is that some of the sufferings which herself and her family endure in India is kind of similar to some of the suffering many of the new characters in her life in Iowa experience. This parallel of worlds begins right at the beginning: “We are just shells of the same Absolute, (15).” Jasmine sees the similarities as well as the differences remembering this saying by villagers and recognizing that although Iowa is a somewhat drastically different environment there are important similarities.
One of those similarities is when she tries to talk to Mother Ripplemeyer about her world-class poverty stories. Although Mother doesn’t understand, they do have similar experiences to share since Mother experienced poverty during the Depression. In a way she tries to find connections among the people in Iowa. She does that because she wants a new identity as an American in Iowa and if by doing that she has to find connections to her roots to feel truly at home. “Jane as in Jane Russel, not Jane as in Plain Jane. But Plain Jane is all I want to be. Plain Jane is a role, like any other. My genuine foreignness frightens him [Bud]. I don’t hold that against him. It frightens me, too (26).” She wants to belong and feel at home and doesn’t want to be different, or foreign but “plain” or ordinary. She witnesses racism and sees how Mexican immigrants are treated and is somewhat connected to them. She understands what it’s like to feel disconnected and “foreign” in a supposed safe (?) place. “I suppressed my shock, my disgust. This country has so many ways of humiliating, of disappointing. (29)” Jasmine addresses Du’s ignorant history teacher and his comment about “trying a little Vietnamese” on him. The fact that she suppressed her shock expresses her yearning to belong to the American society. She wouldn’t dare address the teacher in fear she might upset him and in turn be an outsider within her new community.
Throughout the duration of the novel, Jasmine’s detest with America shows more and more.  She says phrases like, “I wish I’d known America before it got perverted (200),” referring to Bud and is misgnostic ways. Another similarity between India and America would be the oppression of women. Both Karin and Jane (Jasmine) are kind of victims of Bud’s wounded sense of self, “Karin and Jane, wives of a wounded god. Who will say a mantra for us? (215)” This parallel between two of Bud’s lovers/wives also draws a comparison between India and America. These two women are not so different and have a person in common. In a way Jasmine is pretty similar to Karin.
At the end of the novel, Jasmine is faced with this inevitable conclusion. She goes to Iowa because it’s safe and easy. She goes there to be Plain Jane. What she discovers, is she isn’t Plain Jane and she must leave Bud because he prevents her from truly being free in this supposed free land. “I am not choosing between men, I am caught between the promise of America and old-world dutifulness. A caregiver’s life is a good life, a worthy life. What am I to do? (240)” Her answer is to choose the life of freedom, of discovery. Instead of settling in Iowa as Plain Jane, she chooses to see the world in America as Jasmine who is no longer afraid.

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