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Marital Mismatch and Its Outcomes in Bharati Mukherjee’s Select Novels

 


Marital Mismatch and Its Outcomes in Bharati Mukherjee’s Select Novels

 

Dr. Satrughna Singh

Associate Professor

Department of English

Raiganj University

West Bengal, India

 

 

Abstract:

 

Marriage, as an institution has been in existence since time immemorial. It not only ensures the vitality and continuity of the human race but it also acts as a vital link which binds together two humans into a union of co-existence and mutual fulfillment. The couple who tie nuptial knot promise to nourish each other, to share joys and sorrows, to protect and preserve the harmony of the family. The relationship is built on mutual love and understanding towards each other. But if these qualities lack in them, life for both of them not only becomes difficult but leads to many other problems also. Marriage and marital relationship form a very important place in the novels of Bharati Mukherjee. Almost all the protagonists had always dreamed of marriage as an escape from the traditional constrict of Indian society but unfortunately their dreams get shattered after marriage. All the expectations and dreams regarding life after marriage do not come true. In fact they sometime even thought that waiting for the marriage was better than getting married. Whether they married men of their choice like Tara of The Tiger’s Daughter or a groom chosen by their parents like that of Dimple in Wife the life after marriage remained the same. The present paper intends to highlight how a misalliance affects the life of both the partners. In fact marrying an American or migrating to a new land do not help them to come out of the traditional construct rather it leads to more complications as they are in ‘daisporic dilemma’ - tradition vs modernity.

 

Keywords: Co-existence; Marital Relationship; Mutual Fulfillment; Traditional Construct

Bharati Mukherjee who has come a long way in her writing career spanning over thirty eight years, needs no introduction. Perhaps she is “the only writer who features in anthologies of Asian American literature, Canadian multicultural literature, Indian Women Writing in English, Post- Colonial literature, writer of Indian Diaspora and in main stream American writing” (Mandal, 11). Mukherjee refuses to be associated with any ‘ist’ or ‘ism’, yet her fictional world is full of women characters. She has vividly portrayed the female psyche and each of her characters represents a different characteristic of feminism. She creates women characters who attempt to attain an identity and individuality of their own.

 

Mukherjee writes about the traditional Indian society where marriage and marital relationship form an important segment in the lives of her protagonists. Though the different protagonists have different attitudes towards marriage and marital relationships, the conflict they face in their life is more or less the same. They face the problem of uprooting themselves from their native land and re-rooting in an alien culture, and ‘Marriage’ plays a very prominent role in the whole process. Almost all her protagonists belong to middle class traditional family background and migrate to a new land after marriage. They suddenly confront the new modern culture of the host land which creates conflict in their lives.

 

Tara, the protagonist of The Tiger’s Daughter marries a man of her choice, an American without informing her parents. Actually her marriage with an American is an impulsive act. Being a frustrated and rootless person in a new land, marrying an American seems to be the only way to be a part of the alien land. But even then for her the gap between the two cultures could not be erased. David fails to understand many aspects of her life because “he expected everything to have some meaning or point.” He asks “why three baths a day for god’s sake?” (The Tiger’s Daughter, 157)

 

Thus, she decides to return back to her homeland. But in her homeland she was treated like a foreigner. Even she herself was not able to feel a part of her own family; she was not comfortable with her old friends who once “had seemed to her a peaceful island in the midst of Calcutta’s commotion. She had leaned heavily on their self- confidence” (69).

 

The unexpected situation forces Tara to look back to David but in her letters, “she managed quite deftly not give her own feeling away.” She finds herself sandwiched between personalities and suffers from identity crisis. Sitting in her drawing room she finds it difficult to think of David as her husband. Thus the lack of understanding between David and Tara forces her to look at the matrimonial relation which now appears to her as a ‘contract’ rather than a ‘union’.

 

Dimple, the protagonist of Wife had always thought of marriage which “would bring her freedom, cocktail parties on carpeted lawns, fund- raising dinners for noble charities.”(Wife, 3) However her set opinion that “real happiness was just in the movies or in the west” does not hold true. All her dreams get shattered after marriage because her husband was “merely a provider of small material comforts. In bitter moments, she ranked husband, blender, colour T.V. cassette tape recorder, stereo in their order of convenience.”(89)

 

Dimple belongs to a traditional middle class Bengali family where the choice of a girl regarding the prospective groom is of least concerned. Dimple too “had set her heart in marrying a neurosurgeon” (3) but her parents are busy searching for eligible groom; “her father still circled ads for the ideal boy” (10) and after lot of negotiations she finally marries Amit - a consultant engineer who is soon going to migrate. The marriage between Amit and Dimple is not based on mutual understanding but rather a sort of compromise. Amit was not the person Dimple had dreamed of regarding her prince charming. So in his absence, she often fantasises about his appearance:

 

She borrowed a forehead from an aspirin ad, the lips eyes and chin from a body-builder and shoulder ad, and stomach and legs from a trousers ad and put the ideal man. (23)

 

Both Amit and Dimple appear fully preoccupied with themselves and hardly notice the needs of the other person. Dimple had no life apart from that of being a wife. She lacks a real open communication with her husband and so tries superficial tactics to please her husband:

 

…Dimple took to wearing bright colours: reds, oranges, purples. She wore her hair up in a huge bun and let a long, wispy curl dangle behind each ear, like Mrs. Ghose. She even tried to imitate the way Mrs. Ghose laughed and left sentences half- finished... (22)

 

Even after migrating to the new land the gap between them keeps on widening day by day. In

The US she thinks of Amit as being a failure:

Here in New York, Amit seemed to have collapsed inwardly, to have grown frail and shabby. (88)

 

Dimple’s struggle to maintain the balance between her desire to assimilate and feel at home in the USA on the one hand and retaining her self-imposed Indian identity on the other, messes up her life. When her dream of ‘freedom’, ‘love’, ‘real life’, and ‘expressing yourself’ do not seem to materialize in marriage, she places them in the wish list of her vision of life in America. Even after she is in her dream apartment and has the chance to change in the company of Milt and Ina and with that the promise of a kind of life she wished at heart, she fails to act upon her wishes as she does not possess the strength to break off from her marital bond. At last desperate and depressed, oscillating between self- imposed old world duties and heart’s longings, she kills Amit. She is so immersed in her self-generated imaginary world that she is not even able to realize the intensity of her act and takes it as something happening on the television.

 

She touched the mole very lightly and let her fingers draw a circle around the delectable sot, then she brought her right hand up and with the knife stabbed the magical circle once, twice, seven times…women on television got away with murder. (213)

 

Jasmine who is a defiant and determined woman of free will, is doomed to a stagnant widowhood in India. She rises up to be an independent, free and potent woman destined to be a negotiator of new life for herself on her own terms. Being born as a dowryless fifth daughter in a small village of Punjab, she blossoms into the ambitious wife of an even more ambitious budding engineer who dreams of migrating to the US.

 

Jasmine was born as Jyoti in a family where “daughters were curses” (Jasmine, 39) but she is a fighter and survivor who faces every situation boldly. She goes against her father and her grandmother and refuses to marry a middle aged widower because she does not wish to marry a person who does not talk in English. Thus, she marries Prakash, a man of her choice. Marrying with Prakash opens up a new vista of life and experiences for her, who renamed her Jasmine. He was a modern man who believed that “only in feudal societies is a woman still a vassal.” (77) However, she cannot continue her happy married life with Prakash because of his sudden death in a bomb attack on the eve of his departure to the US.

 

The sudden death of her husband does not let Jasmine to succumb her life to traditional widowhood rather it gave a new purpose and confidence to her. She decides to go to the U.S. all alone, with the sole purpose to commit ‘sati’ in the campus of the university where her husband wished to seek admission:

 

I had planned it all so perfectly. To lay out the suit, to fill it with the twigs and papers. To light it, then to lie upon it in the white cotton sari I had brought from home. (118)

 

To fulfill her dream she illegally migrates to the west. The migration on forged document brings lots of problems but she faces them boldly. After being raped by the Captain of the ship she emerges as Kali - an avenger of evil and kills him. She quickly learns the American ways of “walk and talk” under the guidance of kind-hearted Lillan Gordan. She helps her not only to adopt the American culture but also to get a job as a caregiver. The Taylor and Wylie not only gave her a job but also a new name – Jase. Thus she was reborn once again from Jasmine to Jase, “I bloomed from a different alien with forged documents into adventurous Jase” (186). Unlike Tara of The Tiger’s Daughter and Dimple of Wife, Jasmine does not cling to her past rather she willingly accepts the fact that life in the U.S. is radically different from that in India. She enjoys her arrival in a new land and makes no attempt to be in touch with the Indians:

 

Aside from my Dr. Jaswani and Dr. Patel in Infertility, I haven’t spoken to an Indian since my month in Flushing. (222)

 

Living with the Hayes, Jasmine thinks that her life is complete with Du and Taylor. But unfortunately things did not go as she had planned. Jasmine had to run away from New York too as she saw the murderer of her husband in guise of hot dog vendor. The circumstances force her to move from New York to Iowa where she meets Bud Ripplemeyer who suddenly falls in love with her and renames her Jane. Though she gets pregnant with his child, she does not marry him. She thinks that she is saving his life by not marrying him. At the end she moves with Taylor and Duff without any sense of guilt.

 

However, the three characters - Tara, Dimple and Jasmine have different attitudes to marriage and marital relationship. Tara who considers her marriage to David as an emancipated gesture, realizes that her emancipation is not accepted by her relatives and her friends. She marries David to be a part of the American culture but she fails to experience a sense of belonging in the west. At the same time, her years in the west make it impossible for her to settle down in her home town also. She is in dilemma, “too Western to accept life in Calcutta, she is too Indian to be happy in the U.S.” (Nityanandam, 102 ). Dimple is a neurotic character whose neurosis goes on increasing after marriage and migration. The loneliness and the conflict of the old traditional ways and new modern culture add as a surplus factor to increase her neurosis. Jasmine is the only character who is happily married with Prakash and has positive attitude towards life. She is realistic and ambitious and adapts herself to every changed circumstances of life. All the protagonists in the novel struggle against the odds but do not give up.

 

Works Cited

 

Mukherjee, Bharati. The Tiger’s Daughter. Fawcett Columbine, 1971.

 

---. Wife. Penguin Books, 1990.

 

---.Jasmine. Groves Press, 1989.

 

Mandal, Somdatta.. Bharati Mulkherjee : Critical Prespective. Pencraft Books, 2010.

 

Nityanandam, Indira. Three Great Women Novelists. Creative     Books, 2000