Date of Award

5-2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

English

Major Professor

Urmila Seshagiri

Committee Members

Lisi Schoenbach, Bill Hardwig

Abstract

With its focus on immigration to the United States and development of American identity, Bharati Mukherjee’s fiction eludes literary categorization. It engages with the various contexts of multiculturalism, postcolonialism, and globalization, yet Mukherjee adamantly positions herself as an American author writing American literature. In this essay, I investigate the intersections between Mukherjee’s focus on the American character, culture, and people and developing theories and critical debates on globalization. Through Mukherjee’s works, we can see American identity in a state of flux, made possible by the immigrant and the relationships established between the transnational individual and America. Mukherjee’s immigrant characters challenge and expose American mythology from the American Dream of individual achievement to the canonical literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, rewriting them to show how foundational the immigrant is to American culture. I trace Mukherjee’s redefinition of the American character in and through three successive novels – Wife, Jasmine, and The Holder of the World. In Wife, Mukherjee challenges America’s adoption of multiculturalism because she considers it a means of essentializing ethnicity and both maintaining and enhancing difference. This multiculturalism, as part of America’s assumed principles of acceptance, alienates the protagonist Dimple from her immigrant community and the larger American culture, resulting in her violent attempts to force her Americanization. Jasmine continues to work against multiculturalism by explicitly inserting the immigrant into the American mythos, reshaping the Western literary canon to include the transnational individual and to assert the immigrant foundations of American ideology. Mukherjee expands her focus in Holder of the World as her protagonist Hannah travels to England, India, and the bourgeoning United States, rewriting The Scarlet Letter to suggest that globalizing forces have been present throughout American cultural history, not just at the end of the 20th century when critical debates began to flourish. Through analysis of these novels, I argue that Mukherjee’s reformulation of American character reasserts American ideals by including and developing with the rise of globalization theory.

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