Resurrection of Self through Trauma in The Appointment Chitra. V. S

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Resurrection of Self through Trauma in The Appointment


Assistant Professor of English,

VTM NSS College, Dhanuvachapuram.
Contemporary fiction is enriched with traumatic situations and protagonists that these psychoanalytical aspects of trauma influence the reformulation of the self. Trauma and memory are inevitably entangled that its boundaries have widened beyond the ambit of extremely severe or abnormal circumstances to accommodate many common distresses of every day life. Although traditional entries of war, violent rape, concentration camp experiences, sexual and psychological abuses during childhood, are labeled as ‘trauma’, it has been effectively extended to many others situated between either extremes. Trauma can become a condition of everyday life where the subject’s residence in a city, that has experienced wars, terrorist attacks, ethnic or communal violence can trigger a series of narrative repetition of the violence and the traumatic memories associated with it. Memories of a violent past can often obscure the fine line between reality and imagination actuating a sense of confusion and incomprehension. Eyewitness accounts of genocides and other ethnic and communal conflicts testify to this state of delirium indicative of the pervasiveness of assault that stretch beyond the realms of physical to the psychological and cultural.

Trauma theory, in relation to literature asserts that trauma creates a speechless fright that divides or destroys identity. Often identity is seen as a reflection of intergenerational transmission of trauma. The readings on trauma theory lead to what is called ‘trauma novel’. The term ‘trauma novel’ refers to a work of fiction that conveys profound loss or intense fear on individual or collective levels. In a novel where trauma plays a major role, the geographical location represents traumatic effects and events through metaphoric and material aspects. Descriptions of the geographic place of traumatic experience and its remembrance in relation to a larger cultural context containing social values that influence the recollection of the event and reconfiguration of the self are the results of trauma. These novels represent the disruption between the self and others by carefully describing the place of trauma because the physical environment offers the opportunity to examine both the personal and cultural histories. The primacy of place in the representation of trauma anchors the individual experience within a larger cultural context and organizes the memory and meaning of trauma.

This paper is primarily concerned with the features of trauma novels, the aftermaths of trauma on victims, the complex fables of memory that impress upon and restructure the individual and collective identities. The paper also attempts to analyze how the aspects of trauma can be applied to literary texts, mainly Herta Muller’s The Appointment, to unfold the underlying subtexts of individual memory that bear the imprint of a troubled past, the effect of political persecution on individuals and how that experience and its memories shape the lives of those affected. Muller adopts as a strategy: the articulation of trauma in The Appointment, which is attained through a rare economy of words. The effect of political persecution is most acutely felt in the novel in the loss of identity and orientation, in the dehumanizing attitude towards human aspirations.

Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) views that “the struggle of man against power is a struggle of memory against forgetting.” The authors and literary critics have greatly employed trauma and its effect in their works to provide a better knowledge of trauma, its symptoms and an illustration of how the human mind experiences and processes traumatic events. The literary texts representing trauma are not merely telling narratives of trauma, but a realistic portrayal of the symptoms of trauma through the protagonist’s experiences and the images. The authors utilize imagery to emphasize the theme: Woven together into a complex structure, illustrations of personal traumatic experiences and national traumatic events represent the growing fear, helplessness and the isolation experienced by an individual during and after a traumatic event.

In her critical work Unclaimed Experience, Cathy Caruth explains trauma and its symptoms: “In its most general definition, trauma describes an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive appearance of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena” (11). Learning about trauma allows for a better understanding of its effects on individuals and ways to reduce its impact on the victims. There are many formalistic features that could be used to express trauma. According to Ann Whitehead, in her work Trauma Fiction, there are a number of key stylistic features which tend to recur in (trauma) narratives. These include intertextuality, repetition and a dispersed or fragmented narrative voice” (84). These stylistic features interrupt the text, acting as intrusions on the story, which illustrate traumatic symptoms and experiences by “mirroring at a formal level, the effects of trauma”, particularly the intrusive symptoms. Isolated pictures, divided by a gutter, tell a fragmented story and the reader has to put together the story and fill in the blanks. Judith Herman in her work Trauma and Recovery, views that “traumatic memories lack verbal narrative and content; rather they are encoded in the form of vivid sensations and images” (38). Images are immensely employed to emphasize the “frozen and wordless quality of traumatic memories….” (37). Emotional impact, repetition, compulsion, state of helplessness and other symptoms of trauma can all be delivered through visual clues, such as color, panel size and repetitive imagery. The combination of words and images provide many opportunities for illustrating the impact of traumatic experiences. Traumatic experiences alter the victims causing a detachment from society, which make them feel isolated, utterly abandoned, with a sense of alienation and disconnection pervading every relationship- from the most intimate familial bonds to the most abstract affiliations of community and religion. Post- traumatic symptoms in these novels are experienced at two formal stylistic levels: fragmented chronology and repetition of imagery. “Trauma survivors live not with memories of the past, but with an event that could not and did not proceed through to its completion, has no ending, attained no closure and therefore as far as its survivors are concerned, continues into the present and is current in every respect .

Herta Muller’s The Appointment is a realistic depiction of the unnamed protagonist’s disrupted self and her surroundings. The trauma she suffers offers her resistance to it providing a resultant resurrection of her self. The transformation of the unnamed narrator’s self ignited by an external, often terrifying experience illuminates the process of coming to terms with the dynamics of memory that inform the new perceptions of her self and the world around her. Freudian concept of trauma and memory emphasize on the necessity to recall the experience. Trauma is brought out through repetitive flash backs that literally re-enact the event because the mind cannot represent it otherwise. The Appointment by Muller is conventionally structured around the events of one morning in the life of the central character, unnamed, takes a tram ride on her way to her regular interrogation. The trauma of the protagonist is brought out through the description of the journey being punctuated by flashbacks as she reviews her life and remembers the events which led her to this point in her life. She does not reach her destination, and the denouement of the last few pages undermines the basis on which she has found the courage to resist when she discovers that her beloved husband Paul, on whom she depends as her only ally has been spying upon her.

The effect of political persecution is most acutely felt in the novel, in the loss of identity and orientation, in the dehumanizing attitude towards human aspirations. For example, the layers of history are seen impacting on the present when the narrator unwittingly marries the son of the man responsible for the forced deportation of her grandparents, and hear in detail of the material and emotional hardships of everyday life. Muller’s narration is a direct depiction of the political situations pervading in Romania which gradually filters to the collective conscious of an individual. The power of the state invades the private sphere of the unnamed narrator which leads her to a sense of insecurity and fear. She is haunted by the helplessness of her life situation while undertaking the tram ride to her interrogative sessions. The protagonist of the novel is ever seen as suffering from the fear of being interrogated. The ‘crime’ for which she is being persecuted is that of placing notes ‘marry me’ with her name and address inside the clothing bound for Italy in the hope of escaping from the oppression of the state. The expression of desire is seen as subversive by the state. The lack of freedom to exercise her desire and the constant threat of interrogation by her interrogator, Major Albu seeks to inspire fear in her through suspense and indirect threat of violence. The past is entwined with the present experiences to bring out the trauma experienced by the unnamed narrator. She is in many ways a weak person who is led by her desires, but gradually she realizes the absolute necessity of offering resistance. She compartmentalizes herself from the society which in turn helps her to overcome the trauma and reconfigure the ‘self’ to resist the power of the state. She remains in control by dividing her ‘self’ into the ‘stressed self’ whose actions are governed by a compulsive reaction to fear and the detached, observing self. The fragmented story of the unnamed narrator and the sense of isolation depict the real impact of trauma and its aftermath.

The aftermath of trauma watermarks a major departure from the familiar uniformity of mundane perceptions, often, to the alien and uncertain grounds of the surreal. It leads to differential interpretation of reality and the reformulation of memories and identities. It affects the perception of history and the past, in ways that may not always be immediately apparent. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Studies reveal that in the victims of trauma experience of violence has a profound influence on the perception. The irony of trauma is that memory which is often considered to be the burden of our experience nurtures within itself the secrets of replenishment by offering resistance to the prevailing situations.

Works Cited

Muller, Herta. The Appointment. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001. Print.

Kundera, Milan. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. New York: 1981, 4. Print.

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Baltimore:

John Hopkins UP, 1996. Print.

Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of violence - from Domestic

Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books, 1992. Print.

Whitehead, Anne. Trauma Fiction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2004. Print.

Tangled: Nostalgia and Displacement in Amy Tan

Divya Johnson,

Assistant Professor of English,

St. John’s College, Anchal.

Establishing clear parallels between past and present, between historical events and contemporary problems, Amy Tan expresses the feelings of the lovesick Chinese immigrant making their exit from the life of a beloved; their homeland. Amy Tan is an Asian American writer who is considered a guide to the landscape of the Asian American experience. The tensions in her dual heritage eventually found their way into her novels in her portrayal of the generational conflicts in immigrant families. The multiple spaces she inhabits- Asia and America- raise important questions about belonging, identity, ethnicity, migrancy, diaspora, nation and multiculturalism. The vitality of her writing spring from posing the stark contrast in the histories, cultures, languages and politics of the two places that Amy Tan inhabits.

The crucial events in Tan's novels are contained within definitive boundaries: a circumscribed Chinatown neighborhood, the tiny village of Changmian, one-room accommodations for Chinese pilots and their wives, a stuffy apartment crammed with elderly mah-jongg enthusiasts. Juxtaposing events separated by decades, Tan parallels the dislocations experienced by emigrants from a familiar culture into an alien one with their daughters' painful journeys from cultural confusion to acceptance of their dual heritage. 

Tan's protagonists--members of that diaspora community called Asian Americans--represent two groups: Chinese-born immigrants imperfectly acculturated despite decades of life in America, and American-born women of Chinese ancestry, uncomfortably straddling the border between their ethnic heritage and the American milieu that is their home. Enmeshed by their shared histories in California's ethnic neighborhoods, the women in Tan's novels struggle to create personal identities that reflect their lives, needs, and desires.


The Kitchen God's Wife which explores dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship in the context of cultural and ethnic disjunctions focuses on a woman's journey to wholeness after an eventful life that replicates the Chinese immigrant experience in microcosm. Extracting from Winnie Louie's version of the story of the Kitchen God who achieves deity status when he proves to be capable of shame upon discovering that the wife he has mistreated still cares about his welfare Amy Tan depicts Winnie, the Kitchen God's wife is denied membership in the Chinese pantheon of deities despite her fidelity.

           Presenting a widening rift between Winnie and her daughter, Pearl Tan has succeeded in narrating the fully developed chronicle of Winnie's life in China. Through her story, Pearl contextualizes Winnie's reminiscences, describing a series of events and revelations that ultimately changes their relationship. Required by family obligations to attend the funeral of an ancient "aunt" and the engagement party of a "cousin," Pearl spends more time with Winnie than she has in many months, and the enforced companionship prompts the younger woman to examine the roots of their estrangement. Winnie, goaded to action by a letter from China that closes a painful chapter in her past, decides to tell Pearl about her life in China. As a native-Chinese that ever faced too many predicament cultural identity problems, her behavior is hybrid in order to settle down her nativeness belongs to her western environment. Counter discourse happens and reflects the domination of Kwan Li over the Americans.


               Although she has interwoven her cultural identity with colonial behaviour, but it is done in order imitating colonizer thus she influences them back. Besides, she is able to make her strange environment believe on her in the end of story, instead. Thus, her migration as first generation of diasporic people impacts on the contrary effect of migration. Her existance threats western’s domination as Young (2004) points out thoroughly within his book : “...characteristics of cultural movements became visible to Europeans in two ways: in the disruption of domestic culture and in the increasing anxiety about racial difference and racial amalgamation that was apparent as an effect of colonialism and enforced migration”.

         Stated by Bhabha in The Location of Culture (1994) : “Transnational dimensions of cultural transformation –migration, displacement, diaspora, relocation- makes the process of cultural translation a complex form of cultural signification.” (172) Back to the concept which has been revealed by Said, colonizer –occident- use to be superior to colonized people. Normally, the occidents is upper than the orients.

          Even though mixed race frequently happens thus impacts on cross cultural identity, occident is still supposed to be the upper. Otherwise, there is a consideration when the orient gives counter-discourse toward colonizer’s reign and dominates them back. It is because transmigration of the colonizer or colonized people is based on colonial desire as it is mentioned in Colonial Desire (1994) : “Transmigration is the form taken by colonial desire, whose attraction and fantasies were no doubt complicit with colonialism itself .“(2) Colonized is only an object, but in many cases, colonized is always able to give response. Despite of their inferiority, they do crossed cultural identity and even more resist to the colonizer’s culture. Moreover, they are also able to create domination over colonizer’s power.

Tan examines identity--its construction, boundaries, and contexts. Indelibly branded by their visible ethnicity, Tan's characters daily negotiate the minefields of cultural disjunction and tensions between Chinese tradition and Americanization, family connections and individual desires. These tensions inevitably surface, causing intergenerational conflict and the disintegration of family relationships as the mother, the member of the older generation, looks back to China while her daughter remains firmly connected to the new land. Unable to discover common ground, the two groups of women speak different languages, embrace different values, aspire to different ambitions, and lead divergent lives.

The novel chronicles the eventful life of Jiang Weili--Winnie's Chinese name--as she negotiates the difficult journey from a privileged childhood through an abusive marriage and the tragedy of war, and ultimately to a secure life in the United States. The daughter of a wealthy Shanghai merchant, Jiang Weili marries the dashing Wen Fu, only to discover after the wedding that he has misrepresented his family's wealth and status. Worse yet, he turns out to be an adulterer, abuser, and pathological liar. Forced to follow her pilot husband as he is posted to different cities during the war, Weili tries to be a good wife and mother, laboring to establish a home wherever they happen to be assigned. She must spend her dowry for family expenses when Wen Fu gambles away his pay or squanders it on a mistress. After silently enduring her miserable existence and the deaths of her two children, Winnie finally escapes to America and a new life with Jimmy Louie.

Amy Tan opts for an ethnic identity, which is understood as “the individual level of identification with a culturally defined collectivity, the sense on the part of the individual that she or he belongs to a particular cultural community. Amy Tan's novel is attracted and accomodated the issue of postcolonial instead in which Chinese-American’s diaspora is related to cultural memory. 

A full migrant suffers, traditionally, a triple disruption: he loses his place, he enters into an alien language, and he finds himself surrounded by beings whose social behavior and code is very unlike and sometimes even offensive to, his own. And this is what makes migrants such important figures: because roots, language and social norms have been three of the most important parts of the definition of what it is to be a human being. The migrant, denied all three, is obliged to find new ways of describing himself, new ways of being human.

The novel explicates the feelings of exile and Diaspora, revealing the characters clutching to their roots and nostalgic for their homeland. The longing of the characters to revisit their past exposes their deep love and nostalgia for the land and sets the theme- longing, memory, homeland, nostalgia, diaspora and exile. Exploring the relationships between self-community and identity, Amy Tan highlights the heterogeneity of identity within community, as well as the traumas of change from outside pressures. There are ethical issues of massive proportions both in the time and locale of the story, issues which are alive and provocative now.

Amy Tan presents the events and details of the characters’ struggles to find their identities in the postcolonial world, as well as immigrants’ attempt to adapt to their new worlds. Post colonialism represents an attempt at transcending the historical definition of its primary object of study towards an extension of the historical and political notion of ‘colonizing’ to other forms of human exploitation, repression and dependency. The feeling of being left out of the cultural mainstream is uniquely reflected in the way. Amy Tan’s characters are displaced and consistently searching for a new identity, whether through emigration or re-inventing themselves through enlightenment.

The cultural ambivalence of the character’s circumstances in the United States is conflictual and oppositional. The novel traces their struggles to survive; the emergence, for an agonizingly brief period, of a sense of community amongst them; and the eventual destruction of this community in the face of the brutality of larger social forces.

          If the postcolonial novel is to be seen as a site of resistance in its ideological positioning within cultural institutions, its material referent and its condition of production is the postcolonial nation. Yet the postcolonial nation is neither unitary nor homogenous, but is actually the stage on which the social contradictions of class, gender, race and ethnicity are played out. Analogously, the world of the postcolonial novel is itself a radically fractured space, where different social groups contend for power and control, both of their world and of the narrative itself.

      Postcolonial novel thus often highlights the contradictions inherent in the national imaginary. Far from viewing displacement and marginality as subject- positions that enable resistance, such that the margins of the nation displace the center, here marginality and resistance emerge as mutual exclusive terms. Through their vicissitudes, they cling to memories of China and to fading traces of their ancestral culture, and they eventually establish stable new lives for themselves. 

Amy Tan demonstrates the universal theme of mother-daughter estrangement and reconciliation.  Her fiction is more than a report of Chinese customs, and it speaks truths about relationships not confined to a single culture.  The message of Tan's work lies not in analysis of each single detail but in the broader narrative.  Like the mothers of her novels, Tan intrigues us with her stories and shares with us her interpersonal wisdom. 

      "Through storytelling, the daughters come to accept their mothers' and their own race and are willing to seek their ethnic and cultural roots" (242).  Just as Jing-Mei and Olivia learn from Kwan and Suyuan's stories when the daughters put aside their criticism and close-minded assumptions, so will we learn when we put aside our attempts to label and limit Tan's work as either cultural ambassadorship or misrepresentation.  When we read Tan's stories, she leads us into a world where differences are resolved by listening to each other.  

A real artist portrays life during his inspired moments, when he can be equated with the lover and the lunatic. In such moments writers are prophets. They present before us not only what has happened or is happening to society, but also what might happen to it. For this reason Amy Tan will retain her value even after centuries.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold, ed. Amy Tan. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000.

Cheung, King-Kok. An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Cooperman, Jeannette Batz. The Broom Closet: Secret Meanings of Domesticity in Postfeminist Novels by Louise Erdrich, Mary Gordan, Toni Morrison, Marge Piercy, Jane Smiley, and Amy Tan. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

Huntley, E. D. Amy Tan: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Ling, Amy. Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry. New York: Pergamon, 1990.                                                                                      

The Gone Corroboree’ - Colonial Trauma and Survival of Australian Aboriginals

in the poems of Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

Lisa Pavithran

Assistant Professor of English,

D B Pampa College, Parumala.
Aboriginal Australians are people whose ancestors were indigenous to the Australian continent before British colonisation. The songs, legends, and stories of the Australian aboriginals constituted a rich oral literature. In the 1970s Aboriginal people began to write in English. David Unaipon is regarded as the first Aboriginal writer in Australia.

Before colonization, the Aboriginal people lived in tribes and were nomadic. Their life style was based on the dreamtime beliefs and legends which are a set of parables and stories about the creation of the earth and its inhabitants. These legends played an important role in the treatment of land, behavior towards each other and their perception of the world. They believed that the land was created for them by the supernatural beings known as totemic ancestors who emerged from their eternal sleep underground. The land is inhabited by these spirits and for this reason it has been so important for them.

The British colonisation began in 1788. The settlers took away land, natural food and water resources and the order of a nomadic life from Aborigines. The colonizers started to 'civilise' them by replacing the traditional Aboriginal way of life with European ways. The Aboriginal population was reduced considerably by the introduction of new diseases, loss of land and loss of people. The Aboriginals were left with no place to live and nowhere to hunt food. The British settlers also introduced alcohol to Aboriginal people. They were forced into slavery, tribes died out and much of Aboriginal culture and history has been lost.

We get details about the lives and struggles of the Indigenous Australians through the works of many eminent Aboriginal authors like Anita Heiss, Kevin Gilbert, Sally Morgan etc. Of these Kath Walker, who was later known by her Aboriginal name Oodgeroo Noonuccal, occupies a special position as a poet, political activist, and educator. Oodgeroo was born in Stradbroke Island, the traditional land of the Noonuccal tribe. She was a campaigner for Aboriginal rights and talked about the feelings of Aboriginal people in a way that had not been done before.

Oodgeroo was the first Aboriginal poet to publish a book of verse; ‘We are Going: Poems’. In 1988 she adopted her traditional name’ Oodgeroo’ meaning ‘paper bark tree’ recognising her Noonuccal ancestors. She died in 1993. Oodgeroo has won many literary awards like the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Award. The themes of her poetry include the wrongs the white people committed against her people, and her longing for a world in which those cruelties disappeared off the face of the earth.

‘We Are Going’ published in her first collection of poetry, gives an Aboriginal perspective on colonisation in Australia. Oodgeroo comments on the fears of Aborigines, and creates a voice that expresses the trauma of dispossession.

The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter. 
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place. 
The bora ring is gone. 
The corroboree is gone. 
And we are going.

Oodgeroo laments over the loss of ceremonial grounds. Ceremony was central to aboriginal life. Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, a spiritual aboriginal women says, “In the ceremonies we celebrate the awareness of our lives as sacred.” Stanner, an Australian anthropologist talks about the cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices of the people as ‘uniting hearts and establishing order’. Oodgeroo has described the poem as a cry for help, and the dispossession of the speakers of the poem is strongly communicated.  The poem laments the whittling away of traditional Aboriginal ways, laws and legends. The tribal people are without words: “They sit and are confused, they cannot say their thoughts”. ‘We Are Going’ defines the Aboriginal connection with the land and laments that this link with nature is becoming weaker. Everything is gone and now they have to leave. The poet highlights the oppression experienced by the Indigenous population that resulted in a loss of culture and life.

In the poem ‘Then and Now’ Oodgeroo gives a perspective on city life and how it has affected her people. The poem describes the disappearance of the tribal way of life with the advent of the different ‘machines’ of the colonizers. In the places of corroboree there are factories and the playground is replaced by railway yards. Woomera and boomerang have disappeared. The poem ends with her desire for the Aboriginal lifestyle to be like it was before white colonisation. “Better when I had only a dillybag / Better when I had nothing but happiness.”

This poem shows the impact of the 'Assimilation Policy' on the Aborigine's way of life, forcing them to change their culture and live apart from their traditional ways which also affected their mental health.

In ‘Time is Running Out’, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, expresses her frustration and anger at the loss of the land which she and aboriginals so dearly love. The colonizer is compared to a miner who is raping the heart of earth with his violent spade and stealing and bottling her black blood for greedy trade. On his metal throne of destruction, with his greedy lust for power, he destroys old nature’s will. Oodgeroo is exhorting the gentle black man to show their strength and love of land.

In ‘The Unhappy Race’, the poet becomes the spokesperson for her own people as she staunchly expresses her discontent for the colonizers and demanding the old freedom. In ‘The Dispossessed’, Oodgeroo talks about the atrocities of the colonizers and the plight of the tribal people. “Till white colonials stole your peace with rape and murder raid; / They shot and poisoned and enslaved until, a scattered few, / Only a remnant now remains, and the heart dies in you.”

The white man claimed their hunting grounds and made them work as menials for greedy private gain. The justice of the white man means to deny justice to the tribals. “A dying race you linger on, degraded and oppressed, / Outcasts in your own native land, you are the dispossessed.”

The last line, ‘Courage decays for want of hope, and the heart dies in you.’ hints at the traumatic situation the aboriginals had to face as the consequence of colonization.

A study conducted in Australia by the Department of Health and Ageing states that the impact of history and the ongoing effects of colonization were seen as primary causes of mental distress and contributing to mental ill health among aboriginal people. Associated with this were socio-cultural dislocation and isolation. Grief, loss and trauma were seen as major contributing factors.

Trauma theory is developed from the works of Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet. Freud describes ‘psychological trauma’ as the breaking up of the psyche’s protective shield. Analysts after Freud were concerned with inter or trans generational transmission of trauma, whereby one who did not personally live through a traumatic event might nonetheless manifest post- traumatic symptoms. Inter generational trauma may especially affect inmates of survivors but it may also arise with those who live with fraught legacies like holocaust, slavery or colonization.

In her book, Trauma Trails (2002), Judy Atkinson says that the layered trauma that results from colonization is likely to be expressed in dys-functional violent behavior at both individual and large scale levels of human interaction. She says Aboriginal trauma is chronic, cumulative and on-going. She records, from the 1980s, the increase in intra-family violence re-traumatises the already traumatised, passing trauma on to those who have not experienced colonisation directly. She examines the chaos that has evolved from colonial conquest noting that many young Aboriginal people today are growing up in places of pain and disorder. The older generations who experienced colonization have acted out their own rage and terror within their families and communities because, ‘as members of a disempowered and oppressed minority, they have been denied normal outlets’ (69). Present generations do not have the same experience as their parents and elders. In fact, they have not been told their parents’ and grandparents’ trauma stories and therefore do not understand why they are being subjected to violence from within their own families (225). They ‘have grown up in situations where pent up rage, aided by alcohol consumption has been released into the chaos of family and community dysfunction (236-37).’

The violence is thus passed on from generation to generation. Atkinson calls this ‘the traumatic transference of trauma’ (222). She argues that continuing racism, traumatising in itself, compounds the distress of the already suffering Indigenous people of Australia. Trauma disrupts and restructures relationships between people.

Settler colonialism is an ongoing process in Australia. Australia relies on the ongoing displacement and dispossession of Aboriginal people from their lands and cultures. The trauma of Indigenous Australians is effectively conveyed by a group of talented Aboriginal writers, who are striving to shift their culture from the margins of Australian society to its core through inspirational works that encapsulate the diverse and vibrant essence of Aboriginal society in the twenty-first century.

Works Cited

Atkinson, Judy. Trauma Trails: Recreating song Lines: The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma in Indigenous Australia. Melbourne: Spinifex Press 2002. Print.

Heiss, Anita M. Dhuuluu-Yala- To Talk Straight: Publishing Indigenous Literature. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. 2003. Print.

Knudsen, Eva Rask. The Circle & the Spiral: A Study of Australian Aboriginal and New Zealand Māori Literature. New York: Rodopi, 2004. Print.

Wake, Paul, Ed. The Routledge Companion to Critical Theory. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Redefining the Immigrant Identity and the Metamorphosis of Self

in Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine.

Maria Lisa Mathew,

Research Scholar,

Central University of Pondicherry.
“There are no harmless, compassionate ways to remake oneself. We murder who we were so we can rebirth ourselves in the images of dream” (Jasmine: 29).

Construction and re-construction of identities are the by product of a series of factors like time, place and culture. As one’s surrounding environment changes, his/her perception of himself/herself changes, there by resulting in a multiplicity of consciousness. Bharati Mukherjee is an Indian-born American writer of immigrant sensibility. She calls her narratives as “stories of broken identities and discarded languages”. Identity creation emerges as a never ending process in her novels; as her protagonists are endowed with a “self” that is fluid, and is constantly evolving. Her novel Jasmine traces the struggle for identity of its female protagonist Jasmine and the psychological and physical violence that she endures in becoming Jane (“almost”) from the village girl Jyoti. The paper attempts to explore Bharati Mukherjee’s vision of fluid identity and its metamorphosis through the series of transformations of her protagonist Jasmine.

Bharati Mukherjee in her bildungsroman Jasmine portrays an odyssey of its heroine Jasmine through a series of adventures from Punjab to California via Florida, New York and Iowa. She successfully initiated a discussion on subaltern migrant identity and the exuberance of immigration through the multiple identity transformations of Jasmine in her quest for self-empowerment and happiness. Change in nomenclature and geography produces a sense of estrangement in Jasmine, an integral part of her fluid identities. Jasmine is a saga on how an Indian immigrant woman in America by way of assimilation and acculturation can create an identity that is constantly evolving, being open to change and perpetual motion.

Jasmine’s tale begins in a small Punjabi village named Hasnapur in India, where she is Jyoti, a very bright girl defiant in spirit. Jyoti marries Prakash at the age of fourteen and being a modern progressive man he rechristens her as Jasmine to wipe out her feudal past. Jasmine was shattered by the unexpected death of her husband due to a terrorist bullet. In order to fulfil Prakash’s dream and to perform ‘Sati’ as a dutiful Indian wife Jasmine migrate to America which triggers her transition from a modern city girl in Jullundur to an illegal immigrant in the US.

On reaching America Jasmine was molested by Half-Face, the scarred white captain of the ship in which she was smuggled into America. She kills her violator like Kali from the Indian mythology. At this juncture the kind Quaker lady Lillian Gordan comes as her saviour; she renames her as Jazzy and helps her adaptation into the new environment. In due course Jasmine became Jase and falls in love with Taylor in New York where she was a nanny to Duff. She leaves him in fear when she spots Prakash’s assassin Shikwinder, and on her way encounter Mother Ripplemayer, the Iowa counterpart of Lillian Gordan. Jasmine got a job in her son’s bank and in six months became his live in companion Jane with their adopted son Du. The novel ends when Jasmine leaves Bud for going with Taylor on a Californian adventure despite being pregnant with Bud’s child, “greedy with wants and reckless with hope”(Jasmine: 241).

The performance of immigrant identity is mapped through violence and disintegration in Jasmine. Jasmine regenerates through violence in the novel. The death of her father, Masterjee and husband in India, her rape by Half-Face and her murder of him, meeting with Shikwinder Singh while at Taylor’s place, the unexpected paralysis of Bud’s leg in a shooting incident and Darrel’s suicide when she lives as Jane Ripplemayer are all evidences for the physical, psychic and emotional turmoil that she had undergone in her various transformations.

The fluid identities portrayed in Jasmine are unfinished as the protagonist metamorphoses her selves constantly, ferrying between multiple identities in different spaces and at different times. Jasmine’s navigation through various locations influences her formation of new identities, as she reinvents her identity from the multiplicity of consciousness created out of these change in perceptions. Her change in name with the change in location becomes metaphors of an immigrant woman’s process of uprooting and re-rooting. “How many more shapes are in me, how many more selves, how many more husbands” (Jasmine: 215). What she becomes next remains uncertain as hers is not a world of fixities and certainties. Jasmine takes several births and lives centuries of history in a life time, as for her it is the journey of her inner self towards a higher plane.

Repercussions of the Gramcian idea of “complicity” can be seen in Mukherjee’s Jasmine. Here colonial domination is being legitimised by the mutual consent of the coloniser and the colonised and by instilling the feelings of shame and self-hatred in the psyche of the colonised. Jasmine's choosing of the sophisticated American life over so called “tyranny” of Indian feudalism demonstrates the same. Her transformations are her response to the dominant culture as she enacts the expectations that others have for her and recreates her selfhood in their image and fantasy. Jasmine subverts and participates in the hegemonic notion of immigrant identity in attaining her selfhood.

Transition of Jasmine is from the old world ethics of submission, helplessness and doom to the new ethics of adventure, risk and transformation. “I changed because I wanted to…. I bloomed from a diffident alien with forged documents into adventurous Jase” (Jasmine: 185). According to critic Jennifer Drake Mukherjee’s Jasmine undergoes a “recolonial” process where she has to shuttle between identities and mimic the role of an ideal immigrant to recast her identity (79).

Adrienne Rich perceives the violence of cultural assimilation in the following way, “in their quest of a ‘middle-class standard life’, non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants are conditioned to change your name, your accent, (not to) make trouble, defer to white men, and be ashamed of what you are” (qutd in Gurleen Grewal, 191). It is true with Mukherjee’s Jasmine as she passes through a series of incarnations, and in each birth there is a mixed feeling of fear anger and confusion.

From Jyoti the village girl in Hasnapur, to Jasmine the city woman, to Jazzy the undocumented immigrant, to Jase the Manhattan nanny, to Jane the Iowan woman who narrates the story, the ‘J’ will represent the element of continuity with in transformation; as Elizabeth Bronfen in her “A Sense of Strangeness: The Gender and Cultural Identity in Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine” writes, “this ‘J’ serves as a signifier for the dialectic of a progressive engendering of identities as these bar any already existing identities, putting them under erasure without consuming them”(79). Jasmine creates a new identity for every new situation; at the same time she juxtaposes in her memory each of her identities implying that she evolves and revises her past in articulating her identities.

Like a Phoenix Jasmine invents and re-invents herself by taking new ideas, skills, and habits and by transcending her origins. Her transformations are the fruition of the fluid interaction between traditional values and modernity; and in procuring the same she sways between her past and her present. Jyoti becomes self assured emancipated American woman Jane through an array of traumatic experiences and each phase in her life takes her a step closer towards the affirmation of selfhood. Cultural fusion proves beneficial in rebuilding Jasmine’s self as she metamorphoses herself frequently escaping anchoring to a final selfhood. So Mukherjee’s Jasmine is a true testimonial redefining the immigrant identity and metamorphosis of self of its heroine Jasmine.

Works Cited

Akila, D. “Quest and Disappointment for Self-identity through Migration: A Study of Select Novels of Bharati Mukherjee” in Voices of the Displaced Indian Immigrant Writers in America. Ed. Madurai: The Madura College, 2011. Print.

Bronfen, Elizabeth. “A Sense of Strangeness: The Gender and Cultural Identity in Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine”. Baetyl 2(1990): 79. Print.

Drake, Jennifer. “Looting American Culture: Bharati Mukherjee’s Immigrant Narratives”. Contemporary literature 62(1999): 60-80. Print.

Grewal, Gurleen. “Born Again America: The Immigrant Consciousness in Jasmine” in Bharati Mukherjee: Critical Perspectives. Ed. Emmanuel S Nelson. New York: Garland, 1993. Print.

Mishra, Lata. “Representing Immigration through the Logic of Transformation: Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine” in Critical Studies on Contemporary Indian English Women Writers. Ed. K.V Dominic. New Delhi: Sarup Book Publishers, 2010. Print.

Mukherjee, Bharati. Jasmine. New York: Grove Press, 1989. Print

Nair, Rama. “The Concept of Identity in Indian Immigrant Women in America: A Literary Perspective” in Studies in Post Colonial Literature. Ed. M.Q Khan and Bijay Kumar Das. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2007. Print.

Ponzanesi, Sandra. “Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine: The Exuberance of Immigration, Feminist Strategies and Multicultural Negotiations” in Studies in Indian Writing in English. Ed. Rajeshwar Mittapalli and Pier Paolo Piciucco. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2001. Print.

Vidhya, R and S Sangeetha. “ Socio-Realism in Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine” in Studies in Post Colonial Literature. Ed. M.Q Khan and Bijay Kumar Das. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2007. Print.

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