Thursday, 22 March 2012

On Love, Partnership, & Identity

In my thirties, I'm fascinated by the reports far-flung or ancient friends and old boyfriends send (usually via email) about their current relationships. As more and more people I know marry (and sometimes divorce and remarry), we report on our lives to one another with quick notes about partners: "Loving life with Brett and Ella (our puppy)," "Alex is a great dad," "My daughter's mother, Sarah, is finishing a degree, doing triathlons," "Matthew has a new job with Google," and so forth. They read like mini-resumes, distilled reports on character, extensions of my friends themselves.

How do we tell the world about our partnerships, about something as intimate as love or intimacy? From what I understand, on sites like Facebook, people post their "relationship status," a handy identifier, neatly describing this part of ourselves and our lives.

Isn't it a bit strange, though? I suppose we've always had a shorthand for this; we've just spoken these sound-bytes as opposed to writing (or Tweeting or whatever) them.

I know that I've developed a kind of shorthand for former relationships and know many people who have. One boyfriend becomes "the skier" and one "the guy from grad school," ostensibly for my girlfriends to be able to keep them straight in our conversations. Yet I wonder if this shorthand, effectively, does more than that subconsciously... there is some reduction, some compartmentalization here.

Jasmine has a version of this, except that her emphasis is on the shorthand version of herself relative to each major relationship she's had. Perhaps this is both more accurate and more honest. Wasn't the skier boyfriend about the version of myself (or the time in my life and journey) when I organized my life around skiing? Isn't calling someone "the guy from grad school" to a friend really a way of naming a version of myself, the one attached to the grad school phase of my life?

Freud, among others, identified our narcissism along these lines. To some extent, however, I think our narcissism is only human...

At the end of Mukherjee's novel, she writes, "I am not choosing between men. I am caught between the promise of America and old-world dutifulness. A caregiver's life is a good life, a worthy life" (240). Jasmine's choices involve her partners, but they are about her. Especially as a person with fragmented lives, names, and selves, Jasmine is trying to identify and negotiate a self, a personhood, through all of the breaks, losses, and endings.

The part of this novel I keep thinking about and going back to, mulling over, wrestling with, is the VERY END:

There is nothing I can do. Time will tell if I am a tornado, rubble-maker, arising from nowhere and disappearing into a cloud. I am out the door and in the potholed and rutted driveway, scrambling ahead of Taylor, greedy with wants and reckless from hope (241).

Mukherjee enjoins us: Is Jasmine indeed greedy and reckless? Is it greedy and reckless to choose life, to choose freedom? Jasmine DOES hurt people in the process. This is hard. I'm always torn. I want her to be happy and free, to be able, for the first time in her life, to direct her own fate entirely, make her own adventure, so to speak. My friend Selden says, "The hero always says yes to his adventure." Does it logically follow, then, that the heroine always says yes to hers?

Before Darrel kills himself, Jasmine says to the reader, "What I'm saying is, release Darrel from the land" (229). Wylie was free to leave with Stuart; Du was free to go to California to see his sister; Darrel was not free to leave his family's farm and does not survive as a result. I think Mukherjee uses these other characters to complicate our sense of rightness, to make us work hard with our justifications, and to examine how we make them--for Jasmine and for ourselves.

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