"Jasmine" by Bharati Mukherjee


In class we are reading an short story based on/adapted from Mukherjee's eponymous novel.

Jasmine's Story

Mukherjee's "Jasmine" is a story of one young woman's surviving, and more than that, thriving in a foreign cultural context. In this story, Mukherjee pits a young woman with old world sensibilities and cultural framework against modern America, and we see her ambition both push through and be shaped by what she learns.

Mukherjee's story can be described as one of politics of identity because it is primarily concerned with how our identity is shaped by cultural politics.

Identity - Who are we? How do we see ourselves? How do others see us?

Politics - Who gets what, when where, and how. The negotiation of power, privilege and responsibility.

The politics of identity is the idea that we are created in great part from the world we live in. It means that who we see ourselves as, and who others see us as, is shaped by what's going on politically.

In other words, what it means to Molina to be a homosexual man (Kiss of the Spider Woman) is very much tied up in what it means to be a homosexual in Argentina at the time Puig sets his story. The narrator in "Telephone Conversation" recognizes that how he/she view him/herself and how other people view him/her is entirely wrapped up in the politics of what it means to be a dark (West African Sepia) African in London in the sixties, in an openly segregated culture.

Jasmine's sense of identity is shaped both by the cultural context of Trinidad. What power did she have in Trinidad and why? What power did she not have? What were her limitations? The expectations? Her prospects? Her responsibilities. Her values? These aspects of her character are shaped not only by Trinidad culture but by the culture of her family's background (being wealthy and privileged). Think about what Jasmine values and how she perceives herself and others when she first enters the story. She is proud of her light skin, her resources, her intelligence, her work ethic, and being savvy. She also feels like she doesn't belong in Trinidad because she is ambitious and that American money is more her style because it represents power, which is what she wants more of. She feels she cannot attain this type of power in Trinidad.

She is also defined by the politics of being a foreigner without papers in the United States, which also shapes her identity.

As we read this short story we will focus on two skills:

1. Describing a character's development

2. Evaluating an author's argument

Describing a Character's Development

Reading through the story, Jasmine's character propels much of the action. Because we have a third person omniscient narrator for this story, we are able to see inside her head and learn what shapes her decisions and actions. She brings many ideas from her background to her new world experience. She describes herself as ambitious, and she also obviously proud, smart, and industrious. She is confident in her ability to do well and in the benevolence of the forces of fate

Evaluating an Author's Argument

As mentioned above, the story of Jasmine is of a young woman who is figuring out how to survive and thrive in a new cultural context. Paying attention to this, I think we can see a couple of ideas brought up by Mukherjee in her story:

1. Jasmine is defined by her context (this is another way of describing politics of identity). Her character is formed by what she has been taught and experienced in life.
2. America has its own cultural context that recent immigrants have to learn and understand in order to succeed.
3. There is a power imbalance between immigrants and non privileged classes in America.

Introduction to the Novel/Post Colonial Literature from Enotes (http://www.enotes.com/jasmine)

Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine, the story of a widowed Punjabi peasant reinventing herself in America, entered the literary landscape in 1989, the same year as Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Rushdie, also an Indian writer, received international attention for his novel when a fatwa (or death threat) was issued against him. The fatwa essentially proclaimed it a righteous act for any Muslim to murder Rushdie. Michelle Cliff's No Telephone to Heaven, Jill Ker Conway's The Road to Coorain, Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Condition, Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, and Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines were all published around this time. Each of these writers is considered to be a contributor to the genre of postcolonial literature. Although there is considerable debate over the term "postcolonial," in a very general sense, it is the time following the establishment of independence in a (former) colony, such as India. The sheer extent and duration of the European empire and its disintegration after the Second World War have led to widespread interest in postcolonial literature.


Lost Sister by Cathy Song

Cathy Song Biography from wps.prenhall.com
A native of Honolulu, Cathy Song received her B.A. at Wellesley College and her M.A. from Boston University. She lives and teaches in Hawaii. Her first volume of verse was Picture Bride (1983), for which she received both the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Her collection School Figures was published in 1994.