Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Interacting with another culture

In Mukherjee’s novel, I thought really fascinating to see the way one’s culture interacts with another one, or the way one’s culture is altered or enriched because it absorbs other elements from another culture. Actually, my experience at St Mary’s gives me the opportunity to interact with another culture. It is very fruitful since there is always a rich exchange between the students and I. For instance, last Thursday, I had the opportunity to talk about myself and about my homeland Guadeloupe. When I arrived, the teacher asked me to introduce myself to the students. I told them where I was from and where I have been. Everytime, the students had to show the places I mentioned on a world map. Then I asked them to introduce themselves . One of them told me that his father was from French Guyana and could speak French. Then, they started asking me ''how do you say this and that in French.'' Finally, I ended up teaching a French class full of students willing to learn. The students were very pleased by this cultural exchange, but the teacher had to put an end to it because they had a science class.
Moreover, since I have been here in the US, I noticed that I have absorbed some elements from other cultures I have met. For example, the way I’m cooking now has been influenced by the way Nigerians (more precisely from the Yoruba tribe) cook ,because my fiancé is from Nigeria. I was not used to eat fried plaintains with salty meals before, because back home we eat them as a desert. We usually fry them and sparkle sugar as well as cinnamon on them. But right now, I find myself eating plaintains with salty meals.

In the second part of the book, there are numerous examples of cultural interactions. The one mentioned by the narrator page 134 is relevant. In this passage, Jasmine talks about the Kanjobal women who live with her at Lillian’s house. Jasmine says that : ‘‘the Kanjobal women didn’t speak any English.’’ But a cultural interaction could take place still, not thanks to language as it was my case at St Mary’s, but thanks to food. Jasmine relates: ‘‘They showed me how to pat grainy tortilla dough into shape, and I showed them how to roll the thinnest, roundest chapattis. And Lillian taught us all to cook hamburgers and roasts…’’ As we have discussed in class, homeland is defined among things by food. By sharing their recipes, those women also share a piece of their homeland. This is how cultures get richer.
The case of the Vadheras is another example that we could examine. Obviously, their Indian culture has been altered by Western values, or americanized. For example, when Jasmine calls her husband’s former ‘‘professor’’ for the first time, he is ‘‘Dave, not Devinder, not even Professor.’’ At first sight, he seems to be as modern as Prakhash. Jasmine says that ‘‘he had saved enough to afford two children, and to educate them in New York. Male or female did not matter, he was a progressive man.’’ His views completely contrast with the views prevailing in Indian society where children are considered more as blessings than a financial investment, and where daughters are cursed. However, as Jamisne’s description of the Vadhera goes on, we find out that their culture has not been altered to the roots. In reality, Professorji still thinks like a traditional Indian man. For instance, his wife does not know where he works because ‘‘he was following an ancient prescription for marital accord: silence, order, authority. So was she: submission, beauty, innocence’’(Mukherjee). Also, Jasmine cannot wear nice clothes in their house because of her widowhood, but also because it would mean that she is competing with Profersorji’s wife.

I think that Mukherjee’s novel explores the question : ‘‘To what extent one’s culture can be altered by another one when one is outside his or her homeland?’’ There are several answers to this questions. As far as the heroine Jasmine, it is clear that she wants to escape the confines of her cultural identity because it is too oppressive, however she can’t totally do so because of her past memories that remind her of who she was before coming to the US.

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