Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Search for Home and Identity in Jasmine

As we were previously informed, Mukherjee’s inspiring novel, Jasmine, is the polar opposite from Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. It tells the tale of a widow seemingly destined to spend the remainder of her days alone and unwanted in her small Indian village, according to the local astrologer. Jasmine, however, refuses to accept this as she and her late husband had originally planned to relocate to Florida. Through sheer grit and determination, Jasmine packs her belongings and elects to make the journey on her own. The story is effective through its use of reflective narration. Most of the piece is told by a now 24 year-old Jasmine, living with her husband, Bud, and their adopted son, Du. However, not everything is smooth sailing for Jasmine as she makes her way from India to New York and finally, to Baden, Iowa. Jasmine is sexually assaulted by the captain of the ship, Half-Face, and seriously contemplates suicide. Additionally, Jasmine loses her identity when she meets Bud and begins to think of herself as Jane. The work is fraught with crises of identity and the desperate search to find a place where Jasmine can truly call home. My favorite line from this book comes at the end when Jasmine challenges the astrologer who predicted she would live alone forever: “Watch me re-position the stars, I whisper to the astrologer who floats cross-legged above my kitchen stove” (240). Jasmine defies all odds for a girl her age and manages to establish herself in a strange land, making her a truly admirable character.

            This novel is a deviation from the earlier stories we have read in that the main character abandons the homeland she has always known in favor of a better future. For Jasmine, leaving is ultimately arriving. Home is defined as one woman’s search for herself, and America seems to be the one place she feels that this can be accomplished. Home is described both in terms of geography, but also in terms of identity. Like Gilbert, Jasmine has to leave what she knows in order to discover what she needs. It sounds incredibly cliché, but I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as it demonstrated the unshakable courage of such a young girl willing to take an incomprehensible risk. Home here is described in different terms, and it was interesting to read a novel that praised America, as opposed to focusing on its greed and consumerism.

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