The main theme of the two novels, The Tiger’s Daughter and Wife is Americanization and assimilation. When Mukherjee wrote these novels, she was possibly facing similar problems of acculturation, which found expression in her literary work. She mentions that Tara’s identity crisis arose from her rootlessness. Tara was searching for her roots, her ancestral past when she returned to Calcutta. This, Mukherjee explains, is a “very American phenomenon” (Conversations with Bharati Mukherjee 143).
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Thus, Tara’s desire to reconnect with her past was an indication of her desire to assimilate with the American culture (Mukherjee, The Tiger’s Daughter 45). In another interview with Sharmani Patricia Gabriel, Mukherjee suggests that her intent in writing was to voice the experiences or identity crisis of the non-European immigrants in America (Gabriel 126). Dimple in Wife represents a fractured and subservient female identity in an alien land. Mukherjee’s work definitely shows the characters’ identity as plural and partial. Cultural crossover creates the way for a hybrid culture and a new means of cultural assimilation (Sarangi 140).
Expatriation causes a crisis in the socio-psychological identity through physical dislocation. The changing of the nation creates a split identity that becomes the biggest problem for the émigrés. The crossover acculturation process makes both Tara and Dimple unique representations of the fractured identity so typical in a émigré.
Fractured identity is the creation of physical and physiological dislocation that makes the immigrant feel rootless. For instance, Dimple’s inability to adjust to her new life in America was an expression of her inability to adjust to the new culture. Initially, when she was left with the other Bengali wives she was repulsed for the women were no better than her society in Calcutta. She desperately wanted to leave her past, but when she finally reached the new land she did not feel a part of it and her nostalgia haunted her.
However, when she was left alone in her Manhattan apartment, she felt isolated and trapped. Nevertheless, desperate to adapt to the new world, she succumbs to television where she watched programs screening violence in America. Dimple’s marginalisation was not limited to her émigré status. She was trapped in her marriage to Amit who dominated all facets of her existence. Dimple’s identity crisis was not only an outcome of cultural shock but also of patriarchal superiority that shatters female identity.
In the very beginning of the novel, the inconsequentiality of Dimple’s desires becomes clear to the reader: “Dimple Dasgupta had set her heart on marrying a neurosurgeon, but her father was looking for engineers in the matrimonial ads” (Mukherjee, Wife 3). Her marriage to Amit was arranged, and she becomes the “subservient other” in it (Krishnan).
Her self-induced abortion was an act of revolt against the patriarchy, an effort to change her position as the other. However, when she reaches America, she is again marginalised as an Americanized Indian. Cut-off from her own culture, and mortally afraid to go out, Dimple confined herself at home, reading magazines and watching daytime dramas on television. The “details of American … life” that she learnt from television was her America (Mukherjee, Wife 72).
However, she went back to India to reconnect with her roots. This return to her homeland helped her to understand the merits of her adopted land. Tara’s seven years in America had changed her enough to make her feel affectionately for chosen home. Tara, unlike Dimple, did not feel that America was unsafe for Indians. On the contrary, she believes that New York was safe because of the policemen roaming in the underground tunnels securing it for women to travel alone.
Gabriel, Sharmani Patricia. ““Routes of Identity”: In Conversation with Bharati Mukherjee.” ARIEL-CALGARY, vol. 34, no. 4, 2003, pp. 125-138.
Krishnan, R. S. “Cultural Construct and the Female Identity: Bharati Mukherjee’s Wife.” International Fiction Review, vol. 25, no. 1, 1998. Web.
Mukherjee, Bharati. Conversations with Bharati Mukherjee. Press of Mississippi, 2009.
—. The Tiger’s Daughter. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1971.
—. Wife. Penguine Books, 1975.
Sarangi, Jaydeep. “Bond without Bondage: Bharati Mukherjee and Jhumpa Lahiri.” Studies in Women Writers in English, vol. 2, edited by Rama Kundu and Mohit Kumar Ray, Atlantic Publishers, 2005, pp. 139-149.