Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jase's Identity

Jase, the narrator of Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine, takes on many names as she takes on the various roles throughout her “lifetimes” (3).  She says, “I have had a husband for each of the women I have been.  Prakash for Jasmine, Taylor for Jase, Bud for Jane.  Half-Face for Kali” (197).  Due to Jasmine’s race, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, she lacks agency in her own life.  She is often defined by her relationships, specifically with the men who weave in and out of her life.  We talked in class about Jase’s identities, “lifetimes”, names and homelands; we also talked about Jase’s participation in her own oppression.  Socialized as inferior to men, Jase’s journeys help her to discover her own identity, redefine herself without the titles forced upon her, and gain agency in the future of her own life.  I refer to her as Jase because I believe that Jase is the name that best fits her true identity, which she eventually chooses to accept at the end of the novel.

In Jase’s relationship with Taylor, she discovers what she does and does not want to be defined by.  Taylor’s and Wylie’s abilities to see goodness and humanity in Jase’s damaged, vulnerable shell of a person gives her the first glimpse of humanity within herself.  She says, “I wanted to become the person they thought they saw: humorous, intelligent, refined, affectionate.  Not illegal, not murderer, not widowed, raped, destitute, fearful” (171).  The difference between the two sets of characteristics Jase lays out is that the characteristics she strives for are personality traits, qualities one can innately posses whereas the characteristics she loathingly sees within herself are consequences of what has happened to her.  Jase is beginning to integrate her experiences into her own identity.  She learns, “Taylor didn’t want to change me.  He didn’t want to scour and sanitize the foreigness.  My being difference from Wylie or Katie didn’t scare him.  I changed because I wanted to.  To bunker oneself inside nostalgia, to sheathe the heart in a bulletproof vest, was to be a coward” (185).  Jase obviously gains strength and agency in her time in New York; she transforms herself through her own decision to “change,” not through the expectations of the man in her life.  She finds courage, rejecting the “cowardly” instinct to guard herself against the effects of her experiences. 

Foreshadowing her decision to leave Bud Ripplemeyer, Jase writes, “I should never have been Jane Ripplemeyer of Baden, Iowa” (127); she does not refer to Bud as the problem, but refers to her own active decision to exist as someone other than herself, “Jane Ripplemeyer.”  Continuing the reflection on her existences under various names, she writes, “Jyoti of Hasnapur was not Jasmine, Duff’s day mummy and Taylor and Wylie’s au pair in Manhattan; that Jasmine isn’t this Jane Ripplemeyer,” calling attention to the lack of agency she feels in many of the roles forced upon her throughout her life.  Bud falls in love with all that Jase represents, but molds her into “Jane,” a woman he can understand and relate to.  She writes about her relationship to Bud, “Bud courts me because I am alien.  I am darkness, mystery, inscrutability.  The east plugs me into instant vitality and wisdom.  I rejuvenate him simply by being who I am” (200).  Jase, mistakenly leaves New York in her terrifying encounter with her past, but the transformation has already taken place.  She can see that Bud loves the “Jane” he creates, but does not love Jase.  Furthermore, she does not love "Jane," but has learned to love "Jase."  When Du leaves the family to seek out his sister, Jase is forced to reconcile her identity with the life she currently leads; she realizes, “The world is divided between those who stay and those who leave” (228).  She wants to leave, to redefine herself, create a home for herself, and decide her own future; she asks herself, “How many more shapes are in me, how many more selves, how many more husbands?” (215).  Taking a leap of courage and faith, Jase walks out on Bud and Jane in order to live as Jase with Taylor and Duff, the only people to ever see her for who she truly is.

“Who lays out the roadways of our futures?” (174) I know in my own life a lot of people have shaped me, but do they define me?  And are these changes I want, I accept?  Today I was having a long conversation with my older sister, Annie.  She is about to turn 26, she just got married, she has her masters in Counseling, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and she home-schools a fifteen year-old boy, Marco and tutors high school students for the SATs and ACTs.  Today she told me she wants to move to DC and she wants to go back to school to get her PhD in Cognitive Psychology.  Awesome.  I am in full support of this decision because, well she’ll be closer to be, but more importantly, because she is brilliant and she should pursue her dreams.  When she shared this news with both my parents and her husband, Ryan, apparently this dream was discouraged.  Why?  In my father’s eyes, if the future is not certain, clear-cut, expected, it is probably wrong.  In my mother’s eyes, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and in Ryan’s eyes dream chasing is frightening.  I cannot fathom this "safe" way of thinking.  My parents are wonderful, I love them more than words can ever express, but they are so worried about our well being that they are blinded.  As I often do when I get off the phone with Annie, I called Katie, the youngest of my siblings.  Katie is sixteen, avoids most people her own age, is home schooled by my mother, wants to go to art school, and spends most of her time taking pictures, riding horses, sleeping and eating.  She is constantly arguing with my father over art school, her ambitions, her sleeping habits (she is basically nocturnal), the courses she chooses to take, and her lack of motivation.  She pushes the limit.

Talking to my sisters tonight made me question myself.  Am I afraid of what I want to do because it might be difficult?  Am I going to settle for less than my dreams because they aren’t what most people would call “practical”?  Will I be able to live with myself if I don’t pursue what I have always considered my purposes in life, my drive, my dreams, my passions, my callings, my life?  I think I am discovering, like Jase, who I am, but I am not sure if I am who I am.  What am I afraid of?  Who am I afraid of?  I feel that I should be more afraid of regret than of failure.  I don’t want to be a “coward” especially since I am the one who will have to live with the regret.  Jase brought me two new mantras: Liberation and Courage.  Without those, I cannot exist as I was created to exist.

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