I decided to write about the two first generation immigrant novels because I felt that as a woman and a first generation immigrant, I could in a way identify with the protagonists and respond to the problems raised by both authors.
The authors, sharing the common cultural space, also share similar experiences and face similar problems. Coming from quite different backgrounds they might have more in common than it would seem at a first glance.
In the age of globalization migration has become a world wide issue. Its problems spread from traditionally immigrant countries, like the United States and Canada to Europe. Refugees from the Third World countries fill the pages of magazines and cannot be ignored in cities throughout the world. In this paper I would like to see what problems are raised, what are similarities or differences between the ideas represented in the novels and how autobiographical features influenced the writing.
Jasmine is a novel about a 24-year old widow who fled India after her husband was killed by Sikh militarists. She is an illegal immigrant to the United States. She is pregnant and lives in Iowa with a banker who was shot and crippled by a farmer. Before that she worked as an au-pair in an American family in New York.
The story is told in flashbacks, sometimes it is a kind of dialogue with her American friends, when we get their reaction, for example on p. 40, when we get Wylie’s reaction to Jasmine’s mother’s having tried to get rid of the fetus, or on p. 61, when Taylor reacts by saying: “I couldn’t live in a world like yours”.
Jasmine was a fighter and adapter from childhood on. When she says on p. 51 “I want to be a doctor” she already is “mad” and rebellious – not conforming to her reality. When she protects the village women from the mad dog which attacked them and saves everybody, her grandmother, who represents the traditional Indian worldview is dissatisfied. “All it means is that God doesn’t think you’re ready for salvation. Individual efforts count for nothing” (p.57).
Jasmine is developing of a village girl from Punjab into an American girl. For her, being an American means taking an initiative, taking her destiny into her hands and not letting others decide for her.
Her first change of identity/name she owes to her husband Prakash, who is a “modern man”. He changes her from Jyoti to Jasmine. He wanted to make her “a new kind of city woman” and “break off the past”. According to Leard: “Jyoti's romance… can indeed be seen not only as nontraditional but also as a subversive tactic against the established cultural norm. Her marriage is not only liberating but transforming as well.” In her article "We Murder Who We Were" Kristin Carter-Sanborn writes that Bud, Taylor and Prakash remake the narrator violently according to their fantasies by changing her name. “Change is predicated on pain wrought from without.”
I don’t think that changing comes from violence, because the changes are of positive nature: “Prakash had taken Jyoti and created Jasmine” (P. 97) so that she does not have to “crawl back to…feudalism (p.96).
Jasmine must complete Prakash’s mission and thanks to him she is reborn into her new life. The change in her is caused by her men but she welcomes it, they help create her new identity. “I changed because I wanted to. Taylor didn’t want to change me” (p.185). “Bud has changed my life. I am grateful” (p. 231)
Ability to change is what the Western world makes possible for her. It is very American, where “nothing lasts. …monuments are plastic, agreements are annuled” (p. 181). One can start from scratch and be reborn – nothing is final, even being a widow does not mean the life is over.