Generally, in the depiction of the immigrant woman’s negotiations with the New World, Bharati Mukherjee’s treatment of the past spacetime becomes crucial. Usually, her novels portray the past spacetime as a circumscribing space that must be escaped in order to (re)construct identity. For instance, in Wife, Mukherjee depicts Dimple’s inability to escape from the past as an inability to transform into an American individual who has the agency to define her self. On the other hand, in Jasmine, the protagonist almost completely rejects her past and her Indianness to facilitate her transformation and assimilation in America. Both novels depict the past as a constricting spacetime. However, in Desirable Daughters, instead of depicting the past as an essentialist, fixed entity that thwarts the transformation of identity, Mukherjee highlights the active participation of the past spacetime in (re)defining identity. Mukheree’s new artistic vision parallels Homi Bhabha’s theory of the performative space, whose dynamicity challenges pedagogical fixity and contributes to the continual (re)structuring of both individual identities and nation-spaces. Meanwhile, Mukherjee’s new treatment of the past spacetime resolves some of the dialectical strands of her artistic vision. To delineate the dissolution of these dialectics, this article traces Mukherjee’s portrayal of the past spacetime, first as an essentialist entity, then as a fluid metaphor, and lastly as an ambivalent entity that helps the protagonist redefine her identity. In the process, critics who brush off Mukherjee’s novels as having an Orientalist vision may be made to reconsider her aesthetics as well as her novels.
Keywords: Bharati Mukherjee, Desirable Daughters, identity, Oriental, past
Bharati Mukherjee’s narratives generally deploy dialectical perspectives of spacetime such that they at once re-create Orientalist hierarchies of the West’s superiority over the East and at the same time strive to break such Orientalist binaries. Consequently, several critics brashly disparage Mukherjee’s novels for depicting “India” and “America” as essentialist entities and several other critics counter these charges by highlighting the metaphors of transformation incorporated into the novels to break essentialist binaries. Indeed, the ostensibly incompatible trajectories of Mukherjee’s artistic vision generate complex contradictions that challenge a clean classification of her novels as dealing with assimilation or with postcolonial assertions of difference. However, Mukherjee’s Desirable Daughters shows a positive trend towards the dissolution of these dialectics. In this novel, new hybrid spacetimes and identities are created which allow this novel to be situated in a more accommodative location, where contradictions can coexist.
Usually, in Mukherjee’s novels, the very agenda that guides the plots of the novels necessitates the polarization of India and America as well as the typification of...