Bharati Mukherjee


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Jasmine Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 52-page guide for “Jasmine” by Bharati Mukherjee includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 26 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Immigration and the Search for Identity and Independence.

Plot Summary

Jasmine is a 1989 novel by Bharati Mukherjee. Mukherjee is an immigrant from Kolkata, India who has written extensively on Indian culture and history as well as the immigrant experience in America in both fiction and non-fiction works. Although the events of Jasmine are fiction, the author has stated that she was heavily influenced by her own experiences. The novel is based on an earlier short story in Mukherjee’s earlier collection The Middleman and Other Stories, fleshed out and expanded to novel-length.

In Jasmine, Mukherjee explores themes of identity and assimilation, as the lead character frequently reinvents herself in order to try to fit into American society. In the book, this is taken literally, with Jasmine literally changing her name based on different situations. However, it is meant to stand for the way immigrants feel compelled to perform according to the norms of their new homeland. The frequent changes of name each correspond to a distinct period and person who had great influence in the lead character’s life, for good or for bad. The book also explores themes of love and devotion, as Jasmine is torn between different men who she cares for in different ways, and is forced to choose whether to stay out of loyalty or follow her heart.

The story follows a non-linear path, beginning with Jasmine retelling a story from her youth about an astrologer who predicted her future as a widow in exile, and then fast-forwarding to her current life in Baden, Iowa. Now known as Jane, she is twenty-four, pregnant, and living with wheelchair-bound banker Bud Ripplemeyer, who is more than twice her age. The two have an adopted son, Du, from Vietnam. Although Bud wants to marry Jane, she refuses, partially due to her attraction to young neighbor Darrel Lutz. Lutz, who recently graduated college and inherited the family farm, is in conflict with Bud over needing a loan, conflict that is only heightened due to the attraction between Bud and Jane.

From there, the story flashes back to the city of Jasnapur in Punjab, India. As a girl, the main character goes by her given name Jyoti. She learns English from a kindly teacher named Masterji, who urges her to continue her education. However, soon after her father passes away, Jyoti meets a man named Prakash and they soon marry. Prakash, a poor but hard-working man, takes to calling her Jasmine and the two build a life together. They struggle to make ends meet, and plan to move to America when Prakash gets the chance to study under a Professor Vadhera. However, Prakash is tragically killed by a religious extremist in a bombing before they can fulfill their dream.

Out of a sense of duty and honor, Jasmine decides to move to Florida alone and carry out Prakash’s plans. In her travels, she is sexually assaulted by the ship’s captain, Half-Face. She kills him in self-defense. Her journey as an undocumented immigrant in the United States is difficult, first lodging with Lillian Gordon, a seemingly kindly woman who calls her Jazzy and is later arrested for using undocumented Indian women for labor. Gordon does arrange for Jasmine to meet Professor Vadhera, who agrees to get her a green card for three thousand dollars.

Now able to work, Jasmine manages to get a job in child care for Wylie and Taylor Hayes, friends of Lillian’s daughter. She helps their adopted daughter Duff through her parents’ divorce, and Duff takes to calling her “Jase”. She is happy in her position and even finds herself falling for Taylor Hayes. However, a chance encounter with Sukhwinder, the bomber who killed Parkash, leaves Jase in fear of her life and makes her decide to flee the city for Iowa.

Back in present-day Iowa, a flashback to the shooting that left Bud wheelchair-bound takes place. More on Jane’s life in Iowa is explored, including her friendship with Bud’s former wife Karin. Jane receives a letter from Taylor that he and Duff are on the way to find her. Du begins to figure out that his adopted mother is in love with another man, and she has a major fight with an increasingly unstable Darrel over his inability to understand why she stays with Bud. In the aftermath, Du chooses to leave for California to live with his biological sister rather than see his parents’ marriage fall apart. Jane convinces Bud to approve of Darrel’s loan application, but it’s too late and the depressed Darrel has chosen to hang himself.

Although she cares for Bud, Jane realizes she doesn’t truly love him. When Taylor and Duff arrive, Taylor attempts to convince her to leave with him. In the end, Jane realizes that she no longer feels like Jane, and that her fate doesn’t have to be here. As she leaves for California with Taylor and Duff, she rejects the destiny the astrologer laid out for her as a child and chooses to forge her own path in the future.

Jasmine was chosen as one of the New York Times Book Review’s notable books of the year, and is considered one of the best novels with an Indian-American lead. The short story collection it was based on won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Since it was published, Mukherjee has written five additional novels, and published three critically acclaimed non-fiction books on Indian history and politics.

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Chapter 1-3