In Jasmine, Bharati Mukherjee tells the story of a young lady named Jyoti, born in the village of Hasnapur. She is a poor girl but is very intelligent and is a rebel and defiant in spirit. Yet, she has to accept the dictates of males in her family, most of the times. When an astrologer foretells her fortune declaring her “widowhood and exile”, she denies him and says, “I don’t believe in you”. Then she marries Prakash Vijh, a modern young Indian, who wishes to immigrate to the USA. She completely identifies herself with him. Then he gives her the name ‘Jasmine’ with a view to modernize her. This can be called the first step in the process of transformation she has to undergo throughout the novel.
In this way, the novel Jasmine can be called basically a story of transformation, reinventions, and reincarnations especially of Jasmine, the heroine of the novel. Therefore, according to Roopa M. Belur, in this novel, Mukherjee “depicts this transformation and transition as a positive and an optimistic journey”. Another critic says, “she (Jasmine) is running away for life not escaping from life which is again a positive step”.
Process of Transformation of Jasmine:
Jyoti is a kind of rebel and non-conformist from her childhood itself. Several incidents and decisions of her life prove this fact. Incidents like her courageous denial of her predicted widowhood and exile by the seer, her decision to marry Prakash Vijh against the wishes of her parents, her decision to learn English, and her decision to go to America after the murder of her husband indicate the seeds of change already present in her. All these incidents show that she will never remain passive towards whatever life offers to her. Moreover, it can be said that she will either change herself or the circumstances.
Jyoti after her marriage, experiences a symbolic transformation in India itself. She starts shuttling between identities just after she shifts from rural Hasnapur to urban Jullunder. Here her husband changes her name to Jasmine, and also give with it a life of a ‘new kind of a city woman’. However, her real metamorphosis from a dutiful Hindu woman to a self-willed woman starts only after she arrives to the USA. The incident of her rape by the cruel captain of the ship in Florida is the worst thing that she experiences after her arrival in the USA. However, after the rape, she decides to take her revenge and also lets herself turn into the Goddess Kali to kill that brute. Thus, she faces that incident with great courage. Then she burns her husband’s suit there. This incident shows that she not only burns her husband’s suit, but burns her former self and history also. After that, her reinvention of her identity and her initiation into the American lifestyle begins in the form of “Jazzy in a t-shirt, tight cords, and running shoes”. Lillian Gordon, a kind American lady helps Jyoti in changing her look according to the American way of life. She then goes to New York and lives with the family of Devinder Vadhera, the professor of her husband. But, here she finds life uncomfortable, so after a few days, she leaves that family also.
Her Americanization is complete after she became the vital part of the family of Taylor and Wylie Hayes. Here she lives happily with Taylor, Wylie and their adopted daughter, Duff. Then she falls in love with Taylor, lives merrily with him and his daughter when Taylor’s wife leaves him. However, this happiness doesn’t last for a long time. There again comes a shift in her life, when she sees her husband’s murderer in New York.
Jasmine then leaves for Iowa because of fear, and there lives with Bud Ripplemayer. There she takes on a new identity as Jane Ripplemayer, while living with Bud Ripplemayer. However, she couldn’t live with Bud for a long time, as she feels isolated there. After about four years of her living with Bud, she leaves for California, when Taylor comes to take her with him. Thus, she leaves Bud, in spite of being pregnant with his child. She leaves him without thinking whether it is morally right or wrong. In this way, we can say that throughout the novel, Jasmine shuttles between ‘identities’. Jyoti, who always desired to live life on her own terms but could not, now turns into Jase. During this stage of her life, she lives actually quite and fully Americanized life. Moreover, even at the end of the novel, the process of her incarnation seems to be incomplete. It doesn’t seem to be complete even after having gone through a series of transformation. After gone through the novel, it can be said that in her journey of transformation, and her yearning to find an identity, she comes out strongly a winner by taking new ideas, desires, skills, and habits.
According to Katherine Miller, “desire to change transcends all of the limitations imposed by her race, class, and gender”. In this way, Jasmine has as she says, “a husband for each of the women I have been. Prakash for Jasmine, Taylor for Jase, Bud for Jane, and half-face for Kali”. Thus, she goes through some rebirths to become all-American. Her qualities like adaptability and readiness to reinvent herself help her to fit into American society.
While concluding this topic, it can be said that Jasmine emerges as an independent entity thinking and caring for her own self. There are some facts in the process of transformation Jyoti into Jasmine. First thing is, while pursuing her dreams and desires, she undergoes a sea change. Secondly, violence, be it psychic or physical, play an important role in the transformation experienced by Jasmine. Then some circumstances in her life force her to do something that is just shocking and hair-raising. In this way, Jasmine doesn’t remain the same at the end of the story. It can be said that she literally crosses the oceans, physical and geographical boundaries, and changes her life in all respects; emotionally, psychologically, and physically. In this process of transformation, by her resilient nature and by life force, she emerges victorious, self- assertive, and opposite of her previous self.