The Evolution of Women’s Roles in the Novel Jasmine

By Shivang & Priya Chetty on May 24, 2024

The liberation of women has garnered a great deal of attention and has been a topic of discussion for many years. The novel Jasmine, written by Bharati Mukherjee, explores this theme in depth and provides a unique perspective on the struggles and triumphs of women throughout history. The novel describes how traditional roles and expectations, including intersecting identities, shape the experiences and opportunities of women.

It tells the compelling story of Jyoti, a young Indian woman born in the small village of Hasnapur in Punjab. She transforms herself multiple times as she navigates through different identities and cultures, ultimately becoming Jasmine in America. The novel Jasmine explores themes of immigration, identity, and transformation, reflecting the complex experiences of immigrants in the United States. Throughout the novel, Jasmine struggles to find her place in the world and free herself from the constraints of her culture and upbringing. She undergoes a process of liberation as she breaks away from traditional roles and expectations put on her as a woman in Indian society.

The quest for identity and self-discovery in the novel Jasmine

One of the central themes of the novel “Jasmine” is the quest for identity and self-discovery. The novel explores gender roles and the constraints placed on women in both Indian and American societies. Jasmine’s journey is also one of her empowerment as she navigates and overcomes these constraints. Jyoti’s journey to find her true self is a key part of her liberation, as she learns to reject the narrow roles and expectations placed on her by her culture and to embrace her individuality and desires. This process of self-discovery is mirrored in the experiences of other female characters in the novel.

EXAMPLE

When Prakash’s mother decides to pursue a career as a doctor, she faces resistance from her husband and family, who believe that a woman’s place is in the home. However, she persists in her pursuit of education and professional success, ultimately becoming a successful and respected doctor.

Breaking free from traditions and constraints

Another important aspect of liberation in “Jasmine” is breaking free from traditional roles and constraints. Jyoti’s journey to America represents a significant step in her liberation, as it allows her to escape the expectations and restrictions of her homeland and forge her path in the world. Prakash’s mother represents the traditional role of women in rural Indian society, a life marked by limitations and subservience. The limitations of Prakash’s mother’s life catalyze Jyoti’s continual reinvention of herself. Prakash’s mother serves as both a symbol of possibility and constraint for Jyoti. On one hand, her success represents the potential for women to break free from traditional roles and achieve personal fulfilment. On the other hand, it underscores the pressure and expectations placed on Jyoti to conform to societal norms and expectations, even as she seeks her path in life.

For Jyoti, her journey to America represents a chance to escape the oppressive and abusive marriage her father arranged for her and to pursue her own goals and dreams. However, this decision also comes with significant costs and challenges, as she faces racism and discrimination in America and struggles to navigate unfamiliar cultural norms and expectations.

Education and knowledge

Education and knowledge play a crucial role in the liberation of the female characters in “Jasmine.” Jyoti’s studies and her pursuit of higher education are crucial in her journey towards independence and self-discovery. Moving from India to the United States and Learning About Different Cultures Contributed a lot to her empowerment. In the U.S., Jasmine faces various cultural challenges, such as learning English and navigating the complexities of American society. When she works for the Hayes family, she must quickly adapt to their lifestyle and expectations, demonstrating her resilience and ability to learn. Prakash’s mother’s education and career as a doctor enable her to break free from traditional roles and expectations and assert her agency and power. The value of education as a means of liberation is also reflected in the experiences of other female characters in the novel, such as Du’s mother, who encourages her daughter to pursue higher education and strive for independence and success.

EXAMPLE

As the main character adapts to American culture, she confronts and challenges traditional gender roles and expectations that she encountered in India. Additionally, her experiences as an immigrant also exposed her to new ideas about gender and feminism, leading to a greater understanding of women’s liberation.

The intersectionality of liberation in the novel Jasmine

The intersectionality of liberation refers to the interconnectedness of various forms of oppression and liberation experienced by the protagonist, Jasmine, as she navigates her identity as an immigrant woman. Jasmine grapples with traditional gender roles both in her native India and in the United States. In India, she faces societal expectations that limit her opportunities and confine her to traditional roles. In the U.S., she encounters different expectations and stereotypes as an immigrant woman, often facing discrimination and objectification based on her gender and ethnicity. Jasmine’s experiences are shaped by her racial identity as a woman of Indian descent. She encounters racism and prejudice in the United States, facing stereotypes and discrimination based on her ethnicity.

EXAMPLE

A baby girl born on the wrong side of the world, to the wrong people, is as good as dead.

Chapter 4

The quote encapsulates the gender discrimination and societal expectations that Jasmine confronts in India. It underscores the challenges she faces as a woman from a marginalized background and foreshadows her journey of liberation and empowerment as she seeks to defy these expectations.

Gender Equality and Male Allies

In the story “Jasmine,” some male characters support and empower the women characters in their pursuit of freedom and self-determination, while other male characters adhere to traditional gender roles and attempt to control and suppress the women around them. Du offers Jyoti the chance to study abroad and further, her education, and Prakash’s father supports his mother’s decision to pursue a career and end her marriage. However, Jyoti’s father and husband represent the opposing perspective and try to limit the agency of the women in their lives.

At the end of the novel, we find Jasmine moving to California with Taylor, uncertain of what the future holds for her but confident in her decision to leave. This sense of movement further supports the notion that her identity is forever evolving; she cannot live a stable life because disruption and challenges are the means of her survival.

Thus, we can conclude that “Jasmine” by Bharati Mukherjee offers a strong portrayal of the independence of female characters. Bharati Mukherjee explores the intersectionality of oppression and liberation through the experiences of the protagonist. Jasmine’s journey reflects the interconnectedness of gender, race, class, and culture in shaping individuals’ experiences of identity, oppression, and empowerment. By examining the complexities of Jasmine’s journey, Mukherjee highlights the need for a nuanced understanding of intersectionality in addressing issues of social justice and liberation. A compelling depiction of women’s freedom is made possible by the themes of self-discovery, rebelling against tradition, and the influence of education and information. The novel also emphasizes the difficulties and expenses associated with liberty as the female protagonists encounter resistance and pushback from those who wish to preserve the status quo.

References

  • Mukherjee, B. (1989) Jasmine. New York City , New York: Grove Press.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).

 

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