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Published by Jon Durden

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Published by: Jon Durden on Mar 02, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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JasmineIdentity and the concept of 'self' is fluid throughout an individual’s lifetime, where aperson’s experiences shape who they are. In Bharti Mukherjee's novel
, the maincharacter undergoes several changes in identity which are marked by changes in her name.Through transformations in identity, I examine the effects immigration and culture have on the'self'. By doing so a better understanding can be had of how a person begins to define who theyare.Jyoti is the protagonist’s original name. It is the name her parents gave her and it is thename she grew up with. The first significant shift occurs when Prakash calls her Jasmine. Thisshift is significant because it characterizes her break from tradition, her separation from India inthe sense that she no longer obeys the traditional belief that women are of lesser status than men.Prakash tries to modernize her, and help her see what is wrong with the tradition she is familiar with. The change was not immediate; Jasmine still had thoughts that reflected the traditionalIndian beliefs she grew up with. This is made evident when she narrates “I didn't dare confessthat I felt eclipsed by the Mazbi maid's daughter, who had been married off at eleven, just after me, and already had a miscarriage” (78). The confusion of identities is also marked by hestatement “Jyoti, Jasmine: I shuttled between identities” (77). The culture she grew up in was soingrained in her she could not help but cling to it even as Prakash showed her its flaws.Jasmine grew up in India with an identity pushed on her by India’s culture. Traditionally,women take on a lesser status than men, this is considered normal. For example, her own mother 
said “God’s cruel… to waste brains on a girl” (40). The force of culture is so strong that thewomen themselves assume that it is simply a fact that they can never be equal to men, soJasmine’s sense of self at a young age is that of a lower class member of society. According toBhogle, “Gender stereotypes start to form at a very early age and even children make statementssuch as
women are not as smart as men
women are too emotional and submissive to make good managers
” (283). Being taught these things at such a young age makes it difficult to break awayfrom what is expected from society.The second major transition that occurs in the novel is when Jasmine is given the nameKali by Half-Face. Her initial reaction to the encounter is to take her own life, “Until the momentthat I held its short, sharp blade to my throat I had not thought of any conclusion but the obviousone: to balance my defilement with my death.” She still wishes to obey the values of Indiansociety; however she ultimately decides to only cut her tongue. This is revealing, because itshows that she has taken a large step away from India’s culture and has started to think like anAmerican. Her decision to stand up for herself and take the life of Half-Face opened up thedormant, passionate side of her personality and helped define her perception of ‘self’ as a womanwho is not to be trifled with and pushed around any longer.This new aspect of her ‘self’, Kali, is not completely integrated within Jasmine’scharacter. This identity is not seen all that frequently throughout the rest of the novel, it is almostan animalistic identity which relies solely on survival instincts. It is a part of her that isn’t boundby rules and customs, instead it operates outside the realms of normal human action and exists asa part of that helps her to break free from the mold of her native culture. However, Fergusonquotes Mead as saying “The self is something which has a development; it is not initially there,at birth, but arises in the process of social experience and activity, that is, develops in the given
individual as a result of his relations to that process as a whole and to other individuals withinthat process” (39). So, while her behavior may have been an innate characteristic, without theencounter with Half-Face this aspect of herself may have never been shown.Following the incident with Half Face, Jasmine is rescued by Lillian Gordon, who givesher the name Jazzy and teaches her how to survive in America. The identity shift here is from abeaten, used immigrant to a sharp dressed American who “walked like one of those TrinidadIndian girls, all thrust and cheekiness” (133). This scene describes Jasmine’s new foundconfidence, she is no longer scared and alone in America, and she has a mentor, in some sense afamily now to look after her. She does not perceive herself as an American yet, but it is clear thatsteps are being taken in that direction. Jasmine has already defined herself as an independentwoman, and now the culture of the United States is beginning to influence her.After Jasmine becomes settled in with Taylor and Wylie, she receives a new name, Jase,which is given to her by Taylor. This shift is a big one, because now more than ever Jasmine isbeginning to see herself as an American. Part of the reason for this change has to do with thenature of the concept of ‘self’. For example, Ferguson describes in this way: “human beings areborn into groups… they learn about themselves within the context of these groups… without thissocial context, there would be no vehicle for the development of the human self” (24). WithJasmine now living with an American family, the culture of the U.S begins rubbing off on her even more. Another interesting distinction is made in this section. Jasmine reveals that she is notmerely transforming her self-image, but she is also retaining different concepts of self: “For every Jasmine who is a caregiver, there is a Jase who is a prowling adventurer” (176). Jase is a

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