Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jyoti, Jasmine, Jase, Jane...

Bharati Mukherjee’s commentary on identity, and what gives life to our identities, in Jasmine is telling. Jasmine (Jyoti) takes on several names, several lives throughout the course of the novel. One of the aspects I enjoyed most in her character development was the childlike, interior life known only to Jasmine herself and the reader.

Jasmine’s journey towards discovery likens her to a child; she was always reinventing herself, always learning. The journey the reader takes with Jasmine throughout the novel ultimately leads to the change the young woman undergoes. She is not the same girl in America as she was back in India. And although Jasmine is a changed woman at the end of the novel, she is only changed to a degree. I see her journey as more of a transformation, or a coming into herself. The core woman is still ever-present within Jasmine. She is a strong, brave woman who endures a great deal to keep going. Exterior environments and necessity play a role in Jasmine’s ever-changing situation, he ever-changing lives; however, she is the ultimate determinate of her change and of her actions. She is a survivor.

I particularly liked the scene when Jase connects with Duff. “She was the only American, at the time, that I was capable of totally understanding. For her, I was a wise adult without an accent. For me, she was an American friend whose language I understood and humor I could laugh at. And she laughed at mine. I did have a sense of humor” (173). They are equals; Jasmine is learning as a child does. She is becoming even more familiar with the language and the ways of a given culture. Her naïveté is charming. By adapting to a culture, she is building a new life for herself. Like a child, Jasmine grapples with different identities, finally coming into her own chosen path at the close of the novel. She is trying to find her place in the world, and her journey thus far is what empowers her to make a choice. Wanting to find your niche in the world and cultivate yourself, the personality or identity, is something young people do once they grow into adults. Jasmine is 24 years old; she is a young woman, but she has seen a great deal.

The notion of identity, or identities reminded me of the kids in my class at St. Mary’s as well. They wear a uniform each day, are expected to act accordingly in a classroom situation, and present themselves as students when at school. People are always recreating or reinventing themselves, they are always only presenting sides of a personality. Every situation calls for a different aspect of one’s personality. I know that these kids do not act the same way with me that they do with their teacher. I also know that they act differently with one another; they are peers, friends, and even enemies. And I am sure that they act differently with their parents as well. And I know that I present myself in a manner I feel is appropriate for a first grade classroom. It works both ways. Identities are multi-faceted. Depending on the relationship or the situation, certain aspects of the personality will be suppressed or demonstrated. I see this in the classroom all the time. Since the kids are still young, however, the self-control is still being developed. They are testing their boundaries. Identity is not concrete either. The individual can never even know his or her own personality, so how are others supposed to? Of course, there is some kind of working character or personality that we may attribute to one another, but there are no definite lines drawn. This suggests that the cultivation of one’s identity is never complete, and we will always be looking to discover new aspects of ourselves. We will always be childlike in this way.

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