In turn, Mukherjee lays claim to an America that is both constantly transforming, and transformed by, the new immigrant. As the title of her short stories collection “The Middle Man” and Other Stories (1988) suggests, each protagonist from a different part of the world functions as a mediator of cultures, negotiating the “two-way transformation” (Mukherjee, “AUP” 141) of either an expatriate or immigrant experience in America. That the collection won the National Book Critics Circle Award undeniably affirms the appeal of such a Maximalist narrative strategy professing to give an equal voice to each immigrant group. On further analysis, however, it is clear that Mukherjee’s representation of a fluid American (trans)national identity influenced by diversity is ultimately predicated on the foregrounding of differences. Despite Mukherjee’s call for America to go beyond multiculturalism in its treatment of new immigrants, her own postcolonial immigrant subjectivity-inevitably shaped by her elite British and American educational background-remains aligned with white hegemony, which continues to hierarchize its immigrants on the bases of ethnicity, class and gender. After all, Mukherjee specifically reveals in Jasmine that “[e]ducated people are interested in difference” (33). Keeping Mukherjee’s explicitly stated literary agendas in mind, this chapter will attempt to examine the ironies in Mukherjee’s postcolonial subjectivity in the novel Jasmine and the two short stories “A Wife’s Story” and “The Tenant,” both from “‘The Middleman’ and Other Stories” collection.
Radical alterity of India
From the vantage point of a successful female intellectual in America, Mukherjee disavows India precisely because its repressive patriarchy severely limits women’s opportunities in life, insofar as the sanctity of women’s lives is largely disregarded and constantly endangered. However, “feudal compliance was [precisely] what still kept India an unhealthy and backward nation” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 77). This necessitates that Mukherjee’s heroines break the vicious cycle of being locked into arranged marriages that technically seal their fates with violent subjugation. In Mukherjee’s short story “The Tenant,” Maya’s claim that “[a]ll Indian men are wife beaters” (99) may be an exaggeration, but the more disturbing revelation is that “the groom’s mother was absolute tyrant of the household” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 147) in India. Indeed, generations of Indian women have also been physically abusing female subordinates deemed to have transgressed patriarchal norms.
Yet, when meted out to any woman who defends or is interested in the pursuit of an education, such domestic violence is clearly a violation of basic human rights, unjustified to an America that champions the inalienable rights of every individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In Jasmine, Jyoti’s mother suffers strikes from her husband because she supports Jyoti’s aspiration to continue her studies and become a doctor. In the short story “A Wife’s Story,” Panna’s mother is beaten by her illiterate mother-in-law because she enrolled in French class at the Alliance Française. The fact that even these Brahmin wives are not spared the rod underscores that physical violence against women cuts across the entire caste system, denying all women personal and professional progress. These scenarios emphatically portray the radical alterity of India, insofar as it becomes utterly incomprehensible to Americans who privilege individualism and gender egalitarianism. Aligned with these values, Mukherjee attempts to consolidate her status approval from the American market by positioning herself “not as [an] advantaged inside[r] of Asian culture but as similarly disadvantaged as [her] Anglo readers in finding that Asian component bizarre, distasteful, and difficult to comprehend” (Shirley Lim, “AG” 161) as well. As Mukherjee reveals, it is necessary to give Jasmine “a society that was so regressive, traditional, so caste-bound, genderist, that she could discard it” (“IMC” 19) in exchange for a rebirth in America. In exposing the oppression inherent in India’s patriarchal structure, Mukherjee situates her decolonizing impulse as one that embraces emancipation in America, a land that seemingly affords women endless opportunities to attain self-actualization.
Beyond pervasive domestic violence, even sectarian violence in post-independence India is targeted at women at some levels. In Jasmine, the Khalsa Lions are a Sikh fundamentalist group that conflates political and religious agendas to commit terrorist attacks against its detractors. Because Prakash does not believe that the sovereignty of modern India should be jeopardized by religious differences, and because Jasmine is deemed “whorish” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 65) for being Prakash’s modern Hindu wife, they both become victims of the Khalsa Lions’ bombing. The death of Prakash, a progressive Indian man who serves as Mukherjee’s mouthpiece for rejecting feudalism, is significant. It convinces Jasmine that there is nothing else redeeming about strife-ridden and regressive India, and that her only alternative is to go “alone to America, without job, husband, or papers” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 97) to complete Prakash’s mission. Jasmine’s conception of this mission is to commit sati, the traditional but now illegal Hindu ritual of widow self-immolation, at the Florida International Institute of Technology where Prakash had earned a place to study. However, Gurleen Grewal points out that despite Jasmine’s apparent antipathy toward Indian cultural life, her commitment to the extreme practice of sati ironically suggests otherwise (“Born Again American” 189). This contradiction is unfathomable even to Indian readers, let alone American ones. After all, Prakash’s respectful and relatively egalitarian treatment of Jasmine does not necessitate that she make such a violent sacrifice. This calls into question Mukherjee’s purpose for narrativizing Jasmine’s single-minded resolve to commit sati and make America “the place [she] had chosen to die, on the first day if possible” (Jasmine 120). Compared to mere domestic violence against Indian women, sati symbolizes a classic instance of Orientalism that depicts Indian cultural inscrutability in a more sensationalistic manner to justify Mukherjee’s disavowal of the old country. Jasmine’s intended transplantation of this archaic practice to modern America is thus a powerful juxtaposition that exposes the cultural incongruity in her nascent immigrant subjectivity. In order to effectively negotiate the crossing over from India to America, this incongruity undeniably requires ironing out.
Violence in America
Ironically, rape marks Jasmine’s entry into America, indicating that “violence is never far from the threshold of the postcolonial’s consciousness” (Dayal 78) regardless of her physical location. In terms of identity politics, the rapist Half-Face, a Vietnam War veteran, represents a masculine America whose aggression toward a feminized Asia presupposes the latter’s passive submission. Yet, Jasmine’s incarnation as Kali-a Hindu goddess possessing destructive violence-to murder Half-Face epitomizes the paradigm, as Rita DasGupta Sherma notes, that the female subject’s alignment with a powerful goddess can serve to subvert conventional power structures (cited in Kafka 94). Importantly, that Jasmine decidedly aborts the mission of self-immolation only after she kills Half-Face is Mukherjee’s narrative strategy to reinforce the necessity of annihilating disempowering cultural practices associated with the old country in order to “remake oneself” (Jasmine 29) in the new world. “With the killing of Half-Face,” as Timothy Ruppel argues, “Jasmine passes from innocence and enacts a radical break, suggesting a form of resistance that is contingent, disruptive, and strategic” (187). Indeed, this violent initiation rite has effectively bestowed upon Jasmine an assertive self-agency and self-reliance necessary for survival in America. Recalling that back in India Jasmine could only beseech the policeman to kill Prakash’s murderer, her phenomenal capability to kill the perpetrator of her rape in America is an irrevocable transformation. In the end, Jasmine only executes a symbolic sati, burning the suitcase containing Prakash’s suit and her own white widow sari in the trash bin. The completion of this ritual signifies Jasmine’s desire of “traveling light” in America, in spite of its apparent violence, to wholeheartedly attune herself “to the speed of transformation, the fluidity of American character and the American landscape” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 121, 138).
Although the Orientalism that Edward Said posits does not deal with an Other situated in the West, Yasuko Kase suggests that the Asian American functions as the Other in what she calls American Orientalism (795). Mukherjee also portrays her female protagonists as Asian objects (of desire) subjected to the white gaze, although each of them responds to this exoticization differently. In “A Wife’s Story,” Panna Patel’s immediate reaction to the line-“[Patel women] look like they’ve just been fucked by a dead cat” (26)-in David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross is to leave and write the playwright a letter. With her people and, in particular, her gender made the butt of a racist joke in America, Panna confronts the ambivalence of her visible minority status:
It’s the tyranny of the American dream that scares me. First, you don’t exist. Then you’re invisible. Then you’re funny. Then you’re disgusting. Insult, my American friends will tell me, is a kind of acceptance. No instant dignity here. A play like this, back home, would cause riots. Communal, racist, and antisocial. The actors wouldn’t make it off stage. (Mukherjee, “AWS” 26)
Recognizing that she is an Asian female, Panna understands that American Orientalism manifested in cultural productions, even at its crudest, is best taken with a pinch of salt. In comparison, the violent intolerance expected in India toward such derogatory remarks seems to reflect a Third World barbarism and lack of restraint. Having successfully, albeit only temporarily, broken free from the oppressions in India to pursue a doctorate degree in America, Panna assumes that “postcolonialism has made her the referee” (Mukherjee, “AWS” 27) of both worlds because of her transnational mobility. However, to believe that this is an achievement great enough for David Mamet to be “a little afraid” (Mukherjee, “AWS” 29) of South Asians in America, instead of being condescending in his Orientalist representation of the latter, is overly delusional on Panna’s part. Mukherjee is evidently being ironic here, but it is perhaps necessary for Panna to dismiss American Orientalism in order to recuperate the dignity of her Indian identity, considering that she is only an expatriate for whom the return to India remains a very real possibility.
However, Jasmine, the illegal immigrant in the novel Jasmine, responds to the hegemonic exertion of American Orientalism in a strikingly different manner. To be sure, Yasuko Kase suggests that critics should not be too quick to accuse Asian American writers who appear to accommodate American Orientalism of being “unauthentic” or “selling out” (797, 797) without first evaluating how this may be a survival strategy for minority groups. Significantly, Jasmine realizes that Orientalist binaries deployed to stereotype her are assets, rather than liabilities, that facilitate her transition into American life: “Bud courts me because I am alien. I am darkness, mystery, inscrutability. The East plugs me into instant vitality and wisdom” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 200). Empowered by her exotic sexuality that successfully mesmerizes the white American male, Jasmine quickly gains entry into the American middle class. Jasmine’s foreign femininity serves to “domesticate racial difference” (Bow, Betrayal 30) in the Ripplemeyer household, where the wheelchair-bound Bud is physically and emotionally reliant on her, inasmuch as Jasmine astutely panders to Bud’s desires by facilely switching her role between “caregiver” and “temptress” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 36). Indeed, Gurleen Grewal highlights that “Jasmine readily complies as the exotic Other [because] this compliance is her ticket to the American Dream” (“Born Again American” 191). More importantly, however, this compliance entails the conscious silencing of aspects of the old country that unsettle the American.
As a “quick stud[y]” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 29) of the process of assimilation, Jasmine recognizes that America ultimately has the upper hand in deciding what it finds fascinatingly or frighteningly exotic about the Asian female, in turn dictating which fragments of her Indian identity she should discard. While this (re)affirms the hegemony of the metropolitan center in which Jasmine now finds herself, it is also Mukherjee’s means of asserting unapologetically that any form of lingering entanglement with the old world is tantamount to the immigrant’s betrayal of America. Effectively, then, Mukherjee strategically “resorts to Orientalism to prove how un-Oriental she is” (Ma 14) and how the immigrant ought to embrace America wholeheartedly.
Just as Bud and Mrs. Ripplemeyer are uncomfortable with Jasmine’s stories of poverty and backwardness in India, so Jasmine also remains uncritical of Bud assuming the white man’s burden-originally the West’s rationalization for colonizing and civilizing the backwaters of the East-to save Asia. It is ironic that Jasmine seems genuinely unaware of Bud’s Orientalist impulse in adopting Du, a Vietnamese refugee. If Bud symbolizes an American nation whose foreign policy is indicative of its positioning as the current imperium of the world, then his interventionist act clearly enacts the extension of America’s neocolonial grasp to an Asia-as represented by Du-that is in need of social uplift by American standards. This is evident from Bud feeling “gratified, but not that impressed” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 155) when Du exhibits a creative affinity with the American technology made available to him.
However, Jasmine’s idealistic naÃ¯veté leads her to believe that it is “[e]xtravagant love” tugging at Bud’s conscience to “atone” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 228) for his comfortable American life that Asia is deprived of. Jasmine romanticizes Bud’s altruism in part because her tumultuous immigrant experience makes her envy the straightforwardness of Bud’s middle-class life. Nevertheless, Rajini Srikanth is perplexed that Mukherjee finds it necessary for American writers to probe into the severity of global injustices simply because she is complacently confident that American institutions can effectively redress these injustices (211). This idealistic view of America explains why Mukherjee ultimately skirts around the political implications of Bud’s humanitarian deeds, leaving Jasmine “to celebrate the impacted glories of individual consciousness” (Mukherjee, “OBAW”) instead. Consequently, Mukherjee’s unquestioning appropriation of (American) Orientalism reveals her complicit alignment with an imperialist attitude that continues to view the West and the East in the Manichean allegory of binaristic oppositions.
Further, through deploying the trope of abject suffering in the old country to accentuate the validity of the Asian immigrant’s self-actualization in the United States, Mukherjee over-valorizes the “recuperative and salvific modernity” (Walter Lim 10) of America. In “A Wife’s Story,” Charity Chin’s uncle is a first-generation Chinese American who escapes the Wuchang Uprising of 1911 into the safety of America. Yet, the ellipses between his initial arrival and his eventual success as a gift store owner in New York can hardly be satisfactorily accounted for by Panna’s reductive evaluation that “though he doesn’t speak much English, he seems to have done well” (Mukherjee, “AWS” 31). Just as Amy Tan has elided the first-generation Chinese American mothers’ adaptation in America in the novel The Joy Luck Club, Mukherjee is also “silent about the conditions of successful assimilations” (Grewal, “Indian-American Literature” 100) in her portrayal of some Asian immigrants. It seems that Mukherjee’s idealization of the American Dream supersedes any critical need to examine how the underclass immigrant without the relevant symbolic and cultural capital copes with the demands of America. Similarly, Jasmine’s explanation that “Du’s doing well [in America] because he has always trained with live ammo, without a net, with no multiple choice [in Vietnam]” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 214) also postulates an assumed cultural superiority that the First World abundance of America is a panacea for Third World deprivations. Yet, Mukherjee fails to address how suffering in the Third World, in effect, transnationally translates into the form of racial discrimination in America. Rather, Jasmine’s claim that prior suffering “must count for something” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 32) seems to imply that suffering is a prerequisite for the immigrant’s civic legitimacy in America. While Rajini Srikanth contends that this is a “dangerous and morally untenable position of endorsing discriminatory practices as aâ€¦rite of passage to share in the nation’s founding ideals” (212-3), the trope of abject suffering in the Third World helps Mukherjee ratify the narrative of Asian immigrant desire that America offers salvation and unlimited opportunities for the Third World immigrant seeking liberation.
Repudiating Purity of Culture
In her short story “Two ways to Belong in America” published in the New York Times in 1996, Mukherjee highlights the crucial difference between herself and her sister Mira. While both of them have lived in America for decades, Mira’s retention of Indian citizenship is a clear sign that she is in America “to maintain an identity, not to transform it” (Mukherjee, “TWBA”). Mukherjee’s quarrel with such resistance toward assimilation finds vivid expression in Jasmine through her portrayal of the Vadhera household, Jasmine’s initial host family in the Punjabi ghetto of Flushing, Queens. The self-sufficient ethnic enclave constructs an “artificially maintained Indianness” for the immigrant to comfortably “bunker oneself inside nostalgia” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 145, 85) in order to safeguard Indian culture. Such conscious alienation illustrates a coping strategy to mitigate the underlying difficulty of immigrant life in ethnic ghettoes that Mukherjee, however, chooses to overlook in favor of foregrounding Jasmine’s transformations in America. Significantly, the revelation that Devinder Vadhera, once Prakash’s professor in India, now depends on the menial labor of sorting imported human hair for a living elicits not sympathy, but shame, from Jasmine. It convinces Jasmine all the more that the green card is her passport to the pursuit of happiness, and that if she remains stuck in this neighborhood, she will be doomed to die from “unnamed, unfulfilled wants” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 148). Here, the allusion to Betty Friedan’s 1963 social commentary The Feminine Mystique, in which she diagnoses the sense of emptiness and entrapment felt by suburban housewives across postwar America as “[the] problem that has no name” (20), is clear. By conflating Jasmine’s underclass predicament with that of middle-class American women, Mukherjee seems to suggest that Jasmine, at this point just a newly arrived illegal immigrant, possesses the same sensibility that stands her in good stead to achieve the kind of liberation that her American sisters have enjoyed since the success of the women’s movement. Jasmine’s decision to leave the Vadheras conveniently eschews any serious debunking of the American Dream, which discriminates on the basis of social class. Jasmine’s dramatic elevation from a village girl to a “professional” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 175) caregiver is unquestioningly celebrated as the miracle of the American Dream. In stark contrast, Mukherjee’s representation of the Vadheras bears no empathetic critique of the grim reality of deprofessionalization plaguing many South Asian immigrants, whose professional credentials acquired back home are either not translatable to or devaluated in the American context. Instead, Mukherjee’s disavowal of India is fleshed out equally, if not more strongly through her dismal portrayal of the Vadheras as cowardly Indian immigrants resistant to change. Effectively, then, the Vadheras are scapegoats for Mukherjee to emphasize that “honorable survival requires resilience, curiosity, and compassion, a letting go of rigid ideas about the purity of inherited culture” (“BM” 456), harkening back to her conviction that immigrants ought to embrace their American identity.
On the other hand, living on “the cutting edge of suburbia” (103) but similarly bunkered inside nostalgia are the Chatterjis in Mukherjee’s short story “The Tenant.” Immune to the deprofessionalization which debases Devinda Vadhera’s American life, Rab Chatterji is a Physics professor while his wife’s nephew Poltoo is a postgraduate student at Iowa State University. Their personal success makes them America’s model minority from which other lesser minority groups are expected to learn, but Grewal points out that “[a]mong the insidious effects of this pronouncement are the stereotyping of ‘an Asian character'” (“Indian-American Literature” 98) that, I posit, does not extend beyond the Asian immigrant’s economic value, or the lack thereof, to America. The notion of model minority already presupposes the hyphenated identity of the Indian immigrant, even if s/he is already a naturalized American. This clearly runs counter to Mukherjee’s identification of herself as “an American without hyphens” (Mukherjee, “BM” 460).
For this reason, Mukherjee satirically exposes all the Chatterjis’ Indian traits that make them undeserving American citizens. Mukherjee first repudiates Dr. Chatterji, who only “wants to live and work in America but give back nothing except taxes” (Mukherjee, “TT” 106). Dr. Chatterji’s valorization of Indian Standard Time and criticism of Americans’ constant race against time further exemplifies an absurd sense of Indian superiority that puts him on a pedestal of “three thousand years plus civilization, sophistication, moral virtue, over people born [in America]” (Mukherjee, “TT” 102). In line with Mukherjee’s own distaste for the “uneasy aggregate of antagonistic ‘them’ and ‘us'” (Mukherjee, “BM” 459), Maya, the female protagonist, cannot relate to Dr. Chatterji’s ridiculous rhetoric. In turn, the Chatterjis’ retention of Brahmin demeanor precludes them from embracing American multiculturalism and hybridity at any meaningful level. Although they live in a middle-class neighborhood accommodating people of “different colors” (Mukherjee, “TT” 103), the only sign of multicultural interaction is Mrs. Chatterji perfunctorily playing ball with a Korean or Cambodian child next door at best. Beyond that, the Chatterjis have neither the open-mindedness nor desire for any more intimate interethnic mingling. That Poltoo is contemplating “marriage outside the Brahminic pale”-to a “Negro Muslim” (Mukherjee, “TT” 103, 106) at that-thus threatens to contaminate the purity of the lineage. Mrs. Chatterji is counting on divine intervention to avert this disaster, while leaving the locked-up Poltoo feeling “crazy, thwarted, [and] lost” (Mukherjee, “TT” 105). The perverse repression of Poltoo’s desires is both antithetical to the American ideal of free will and anachronistic in the American modernity of progress. Mukherjee’s representation of how this so-called model minority functions in America thus easily makes the Chatterjis a more dishonorable bunch of Indian immigrants than the Vadheras, at the same time that it makes a highly charged statement of her own rejection of a hyphenated American identity.
Moving beyond her harsh critique of Indian immigrants who resist assimilation, Mukherjee attempts to consolidate her status as an America writer by strategically expanding the scope of her literary project to wage a crusade against multiculturalism. Rather than encouraging unhyphenated assimilation, multiculturalism, as Mukherjee argues, “emphasizes differences between racial heritages” (Mukherjee, “BM” 459) and discounts how the experiences of “new Americans from non-traditional immigrant countries” (Mukherjee, “IW” 28) also constantly contribute to the American socio-cultural fabric. The ambition to create a postethnic America culminates in Mukherjee’s assertion:
To reject hyphenization is to demand that the nation deliver the promises of the American Dream and the American Constitution to all its citizens. I want nothing less than to invent a new vocabulary that demands, and obtains, an equitable power-sharing for all members of the American community. (“BM” 460)
There is, first and foremost, no question about Mukherjee’s representation of the United States as the ultimate end of Asian immigrant desire. Yet, despite Mukherjee’s high-flown rhetoric of eradicating multiculturalism, her literary representation of immigrants who are not of South Asian origins only further reinforces this hegemonic structure and reaffirms the existence of an immigrant hierarchy where “differences are emphasized and [identities are] fixed into a static notion of alterity” (Ponzanesi 47).
This jarring discrepancy is vividly highlighted in Jasmine when Jasmine is quick to set her own Americanization apart from Du’s, in spite of their common desire to assimilate. Jasmine claims that “[her] transformation has been genetic; Du’s was hyphenated (Mukherjee, Jasmine 222), as though this is validated just because she is pregnant with Bud Ripplemeyer’s child, whereas Du is merely an adopted Vietnamese refugee. More importantly, it implies Jasmine’s identification with the hegemonic Orientalist inclination to be “so full of wonder at how fast [Du] became American,” only to marginalize him as “a hybrid” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 222, 222) whose assimilation into American society can never legitimately be considered full-fledged. As Verhoeven posits, “the politics of ethnic representation is ultimately no more and no less than the privileging of the ethnic self over the ethnic other” (n. pag.). Given that Mukherjee’s immigrant subjectivity is inextricably tied to her own elite background as a Brahmin and as an intellectual in American academe, it is perhaps inescapable that ethnocentricity also features in her depiction of immigrants who are not from South Asia. At the expense of Du, then, Jasmine gets away as a “very special case” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 135), considering that other characters readily validate her full assimilation. The unqualified relegation of Du to the peripheries as a Vietnamese-American underscores Mukherjee’s double standard in the treatment of both characters. By simply using the word “hyphenated” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 222) to conclude the formation of Du’s American identity and by referring to Chinese Americans as “Orientals” (Mukherjee, “AWS” 29) in her short stories, Mukherjee thus “posit[s] a system of easily recognizable forms of ‘identity’ and ‘difference'” (Roy 129) that precisely reflects and endorses the exclusionary underpinnings of multiculturalism. Indeed, such a position from which Mukherjee entertains the immigrant issues of class and ethnicity renders her quest for an “equitable power-sharing for all members of the American community” (Mukherjee, “BM” 460) untenable.
Ultimately, then, Mukherjee’s Maximalist approach toward the immigrant experience in American literature is self-defeating. The difficulty undeniably involved in representing all immigrant groups accurately and authentically makes the credibility of Mukherjee’s following claim suspect:
Perhaps it is [my] history-mandated training in seeing myself as ‘the other’ that now heaps on me a fluid set of identities denied to most of my mainstream American counterparts. That training, in our ethnic- and gender-fractured world of contemporary fiction, allows me without difficulty to ‘enter’ lives, fictionally, that are manifestly not my own. Chameleon-skinned, I discover my material over and across the country, and up and down the social ladder. (“IW” 29)
Albeit “apparently inclusionary,” Mukherkee’s Maximalist credo merely inherits the “exclusionary connotations” (Chanadry 434, 434) of multiculturalism as far as her literary representation of non-South Asian immigrants is concerned. Even with the best of intentions to propose an alternative model to multiculturalism, Mukherjee, by virtue of her own elite immigrant status, is not exempt from the tendency to reinscribe the minority group immigrant back into the hegemonic rhetoric of difference and otherness.
Finally, the spotlight is ultimately focused on the individuality of the Indian immigrant in fashioning her own life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the “‘free country'” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 239). The immigrant subjectivity that each female protagonist advantageously adopts is aptly encapsulated by Jasmine’s declaration: “I am not choosing between men. I am caught between the promise of America and old-world dutifulness” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 240). While Mukherjee justifies the disavowal of the old world by means of the Manichean allegory that juxtaposes India and America in binaristic oppositions, the more important revelation is that the postcolonial immigrant is also free to reject aspects of America exemplifying “failed idealism” (Mukherjee, “TT” 108). If the female immigrant’s search for a fluid yet empowering American (trans)national identity depends partly on the (white) male with whom she is romantically involved, then wheelchair-bound Bud and armless Fred symbolize a “freak” (Mukherjee, “TT” 112) America that must be abandoned as well. Maya is sure that Fred’s world will not end with her departure, while Jasmine feels “potent” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 12) in saving Bud by not marrying him. Through this reversal of power, Mukherjee aligns her female protagonists with a sense of hegemonic benevolence toward the inferior. With Jasmine choosing Taylor for “his world, its ease, its careless confidence and graceful self-absorption” (Mukherjee, Jasmine 171) and Maya choosing Ashoke Mehta for his adoration of “idealism” and abhorrence of “smugness, passivity, caste system” (Mukherjee, “TT” 109, 109), it is evident that Mukherjee’s literary agenda is ultimately underwritten by her inclination to embrace and valorize an ideal America that is capacious of fulfilling the immigrant’s desires.
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