Seminar Paper, 2010, 10 Pages
Linguistics and Literary Studies
BHARATI MUKHERJEE’S Jasmine
- THE NOTION OF TRANSFORMATION AND IDENTITY AS A PROCESS OF SELF-DISCOVERY IN A DYNAMIC WORLD
Name: Marc Bohnes
Course: Food, Body, Identity in Asian American Literature and Culture
January 26, 2010
and the Notion of Identity 3
The importance of ﬁnding one’s identity is given by nature for we as human beings have to know who and what we are in order to survive in society. If we all were only dull representations of a cumulative mass, we would not be as successful as a species as we are. In this way the human identity resembles a concept of human society that plays a major and indispensable role in everyday interaction among people. This very interaction is interesting to observe with respect to a relatively narrow society in terms of ethnic distribution; but it is of even greater interest (and importance) if one takes different ethnic backgrounds and hence the gathering of different cultures into consideration, forming one mutual society. One has to admit, however, that it is by no means easy to actually uncover one’s identity among all the other individuals and contrast with these. In order to see how identity can be altered due to certain circumstances, we will focus on Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine and deal with the transformational process of the main character’s identity. The novel nicely demonstrates how ﬁnding one’s identity and maintaining it gives rise to a process of transformation during the phase of ﬁnding one’s self. When we think of identity we inadvertently think of names as a way to point to and characterize a person. But what is actually in a name that makes it so important? The answer is given by the the world’s leading expert on language and the mind, Steven Pinker: In theory a forename is an arbitrary label with no inherent meaning, and people interpret it as simply pointing to the individual who was dubbed with it. But in practice names take on a meaning by association with the generation and class of people who bear them. Even more so, we can utterly see that by using names other people refer to the name bearer in highly subjective terms, and hence model their reality upon the one they are naming: Names are, [...], closer to indexicals like this or you than to descriptions like ”the ﬁrst president of the United States” [...]. When we know a name, we are implicitly pointing to someone, regardless of what we, or anyone else, know about that person. As we can see, the act of naming (and renaming) indicates a shift of perspective as well as a shift in perceiving reality and other people’s identity. Thus we can conclude that naming and renaming imposes new identities upon a person. Mukherjee’s Jasmine takes
Marc Bohnes The Notion of Identity in Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine
and the Notion of Identity 4
this issue and uses features of names to create a character who calls into question her ethnic root as well as current identity.
Jasmine is confronted with being named and renamed throughout her entire life. We not only get to know Jyoti, the name given to her by her grandmother (p. 40). We also get to know Jasmine, the name given by her husband when they were living in India. It is important to see that Prakash not only renamed her for the mere sake of giving her a different name but for the sake of providing Jasmine with a new identity and hence actively changing what she had used to be before. Prakash calls her Jasmine for ”[he] wanted to break down the Jyoti [she]’d been in Hasnapur and make [her] a new kind of city woman.” (p. 77). This is the ﬁrst instance where renaming gives rise to a transformational process altering Jasmine’s identity to some extent by leaving her old ”label” behind. Her identity basically shifts, in a sense, from an ordinary Indian girl to ”a new kind of city woman”, triggered off by her husband’s relation to more, say, urban, cosmopolitan, and westernized inﬂuences. Thus we can conclude that Jasmine not only changes with respect to her name but also in terms of her ethnic identity, for she has to somewhat redeﬁne herself owing to different cultural values. When Jasmine arrives in Florida and escapes her rapist by killing him, she is taken care of by Lillian—who is an impetus for another change. She provides Jasmine with new clothes and names her Jazzy. At that very point, one can see that she not only went to a different continent, but also has her identity changed into an americanized personality. However, at ﬁrst her transformation seems to be foreign to her, as foreign as she is in the new country: I checked myself in the mirror, shocked at the transformation. Jazzy in a T-shirt, tight cords, and running shoes. I could’t tell if with the Hasnapuri sidle I’d also abandoned by Hasnapuri modesty. [...] Time to try out my American talk and walk. (p. 133) Let us consider her name for a moment. Jazzy is interesting for it might allude to the homophone and adjective of something being jazzy, with respect to music. Jazz as a kind of music is quite colorful in terms its arrangement. It further can be characterized as purposefully irregular and thus ”difﬁcult to tame”; it has some notion of being wild and moving and non-static. But it is also concerned with improvised parts. That means that by referring to her as Jazzy (or jazzy) we can conclude that this name indicates that she is a vivid character, not very ﬁxed and subtle but always moving and ”irregular”; and so is her identity, or, taking this thought a step further, any identity there is.
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