Reproducing Feminism in Jasmine and “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Reproducing Feminism in Jasmine
and “The Yellow Wallpaper”
Asha Nadkarni
has been an urtext of American feminism since its 1973 republication by
the Feminist Press. Nonetheless, celebrations of Gilman’s naturalist story
too often ignore the extent to which the gender oppression it depicts is
raced and classed. Published over a hundred years later, Bharati Mukherjee’s 1989 novel Jasmine would seem to address the very issues that Gilman
ignores.’ Instead of being driven mad by patriarchy, Jasm/ne’s illegal immigrant protagonist escapes from India to the United States where she is
allowed to take control of her destiny and “become an American.” ^ While
Gilman’s tale of a privileged white woman’s descent into madness may
serve as an allegory for many Anglo-American Second Wave feminists.
Jasmine seemingly offers a happier narrative of feminist development — one
that does not end in madness and one that is ostensibly available to all.’
As anyone who has read Jasmine will realize, however, its happy ending is
brought about through a largely uncritical narrative of assimilation. Just
as Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” depends on a race- and class-specific
account of patriarchal oppression. Jasmine models a form of US exceptionalism (as the protagonist’s westward trajectory suggests) with an exclusionary feminist twist; although Jasmine is successful in freeing herself of
Feminist Studies 38, no. 1 (Spring 2012). © 2012 by Feminist Studies, Inc.
Asha Nadkarni 219
the marks of difference that would trouble her accession into the United
States, her experience does not apply to most immigrant women.
Both works, moreover, display a distinctly racial logic. I will use the
concept of “eugenic feminism” to describe this logic and argue that a coherent feminist subjectivity in both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and fasmine can
only be forged by rejecting all racial and ethnic difference.” For Gilman,
the problem of creating a feminist self is a potentially maddening process
of freeing that self from her color, one that is too easily betrayed by the
messiness of biological and cultural reproduction itself. Likewise, to
“become American” in Mukherjee’s novel means employing a purifying
process similar to that upon which Cilman’s story turns. As such, eugenic
feminism shapes an identity in negative terms, repeatedly returning to
raced and classed others to define them as precisely what must be abjected
in order for a “pure” feminist subject to emerge. In this essay I read Jasmine
as a successor to Gilman’s classic feminist tale in order to argue that even a
“multicultural” feminist progress narrative can contain a eugenic impulse.
Originally appearing in the New England Magazine in 1892, “The Yellow
Wallpaper” is Gilman’s semi-autobiographical story of taking Dr. S. Weir
Mitchell’s “rest cure” to alleviate her depression after the birth of her daughter.’ The story charts the narrator’s growing madness and preoccupation
with the wallpaper of her sickroom and ends with her identification with
the woman she sees “crawling” (55) behind the “bars” (52) of the prisonlike pattern. Her ability to free the woman behind the wallpaper is made
possible by her descent into a madness that by the end of the story is almost
entirely complete. Early readings by Elaine Hedges, Sandra Gilbert and
Susan Gubar, Annette Kolodny, and Jean Kennard take up the story as a
universal text of women’s struggles against the patriarchal structures that
constrict them, casting the narrator as a heroine who chooses to become
mad rather than assume her proper place in the patriarchal order.** Forbidden to write, the narrator’s main task becomes one of interpretation — of
trying to read the wallpaper—and it is precisely this process of interpretation that becomes both maddening and ultimately liberating. If the narrator, as the universal feminist subject, can free herself through writing and
interpretation, so too can US academic feminists engaged in similar tasks.
220 Asha Nadkarni
In her groundbreaking analysis of race in “The Yellow Wallpaper”
(also published in this journal), Susan Lanser takes issue with precisely this
claim: she argues that such universalist readings create a feminist subjectivity for the story’s narrator and reader through a violently reductive interpretive act. As a corrective, Lanser “risk[s] overreading” the wallpaper by
interpreting it in racial terms.’ Eocusing specifically on the yellow color of
the paper and excavating examples of Gilman’s anti-immigrant and antiChinese sentiments in her other writings, Lanser links descriptions of
the wallpaper to nativist tropes. She thus confronts interpretations of the
wallpaper as the narrator’s unconscious to argue that the wallpaper also
encodes a political unconscious. In doing so, she suggests that “the white,
female, intellectual-class subjectivity which Gilman’s narrator attempts
to construct, and to which many feminists have also been committed
perhaps unwittingly, is a subjectivity whose illusory unity, like the unity
imposed on the paper, is built on the repression of difference.” *
A self-identified “American writer of Bengali-Indian origin,” Bharati
Mukherjee could be understood as excavating the difference that Gilman
(and celebrations of Gilman) habitually repress.’ While Gilman feared
a United States changed by immigration, Mukherjee embraces it. Jasmine
tells the tale of a Punjabi village girl named Jyoti who illegally immigrates
to the United States after her husband Prakash is killed by a Sikh separatist named Sukhwinder. Throughout the novel Jyoti moves through a
dizzying series of relationships and name changes – from Jyoti to Jasmine
to Jase to Jane. Prakash names her Jasmine; in New York her employer
and would-be lover Taylor names her Jase; and the present tense of the
novel finds her as Jane, pregnant and living in Iowa with a local banker
named Bud. Through these various changes of identity and place. Jasmine
tells what seems to be a straightforward immigrant tale from a “feminist” perspective. As an often-cited quotation from the Baltimore Sun on
the Eawcett Crest paperback edition describes it. Jasmine is “the story of
the transformation of an Indian village girl, whose grandmother v/ants
to marry her off at 11, into an American woman vi’ho finally thinks for
herself” ‘” Indeed, early critical assessments oí Jasmine embraced it on these
grounds, positing (as Victoria Carchidi does in a 1995 article in MELUS)
that Jasmine narrates the transformation of its heroine from “a victim or
Asha Nadkarni 221
a passive agent to someone willing to make hard choices in pursuit of an
identity not offered by the easy, preexisting patterns from which she can
choose.”” In other words, as Garchidi puts it. Jasmine becomes “more
truly American.” ‘^
In response, critics such as Inderpal Grewal, Gurleen Grewal, and
Fred Pfeil have argued that Jasmine depends upon a developmental (and,
frankly, racist) opposition between the United States and India as sites of
feminist freedom and unfreedom respectively.’^ As such critics suggest,
even though Mukherjee claims to be “trying to extend” the “American
mainstream,” her project is not as radical as it would seem.”’ In order for
Jasmine to become a US feminist subject, she must violently rid herself of
all but the most superficial kinds of differences. Her exotic good looks and
cooking are acceptable, but anything that would present a real challenge
to the idea of white America must be excised. In this consumer version
of culture, difference is simply the foreign spice that seasons the United
States without changing its actual constitution. Even though Jasmine is
seemingly a novel about the diversity of the “new America,” it can only
deal with meaningful differences by assimilating them and by relying on
a biological genetic language to assert the fitness and unfitness of different
women for US feminist citizenship.
My claim is that Jasmine is the story the yellow woman in the wallpaper would tell were she set free in the 1980s United States. In pairing these
two unlikely works I argue that even as Jasmine pictures a feminist future
very different from Gilman’s, it nonetheless relies on a eugenic narrative
similar to that upon which “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Gilman’s other
works depend. In each case feminist progress is obtained by radically
excluding all difference. While this meshes quite cleanly with Gilman’s
larger nativist politics, it would seem at odds with Mukherjee’s stated
commitment to chronicling a United States changed by its immigrants.
How is it that two such different texts (the first emblematic of a recovery of foremothers that too often ignored the racial implications of such
recuperations, and the second representative of a later “multicultural”
embrace of women from diverse backgrounds) can display such a similar
logic? In asking this question I do not mean to reinforce a temporal narrative whereby the concerns of race and sexuality are somehow belatedly
222 Asha Nadkarni
added on to a feminism coded as heterosexual and white; rather, I mobilize this familiar narrative of feminist progress to uncover the eugenic
impulse it contains. Finally, I argue that reading these works alongside
one another reveals another anxiety within eugenic feminism: not only is
there the fear that a heroic feminism will be compromised by “others,” but
there is also a fear that those “other” women might do it (feminism) better.
When celebratory readings of “The Yellow Wallpaper” focus on issues
of writing and interpretation, they ignore that at the heart of the story
lies an anxiety about biological reproduction. The very provocation for
this story, significantly, is childbirth and the “rest cure” prescribed in its
wake.’^ Biological reproduction is vexed in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and, as
in Cilman’s other works, it is a potentially polluting process. The wallpaper is described in terms of “bloated curves” (48) that spawn “interminable grotesques” (49). As the narrator puts it, “there are always new shoots
on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of
them” (54). What makes the wallpaper so monstrous is that it is constantly
multiplying and breeding—it has a life of its own. Interestingly, Cilman’s
characterizations of the wallpaper index something more than a general
anxiety about procreation and proliferation; they mirror her pronouncements on immigrants. In a 1915 article called “Letting Sleeping Forefathers
Lie,” for instance, Cilman describes immigrants as “accumulating swarms”
of “uncongenial material.” ‘* Likewise, her 1916 novel With Her in Ourland portrays a United States crowded with immigrants as “bloated and weak, with
unnatural growth, preyed upon by all manner of parasites inside and out,
attacked by disease of all kinds.” ”
In these writings Cilman fears Asian immigration in particular,
worrying that Asian women represent a degenerate and over-exaggerated femininity.’* She posits that because excessive distinctions between
the sexes mean excessive fecundity, Asian women raise the specter of what
E. A. Ross deemed Anglo-American “race suicide”: the fear that “native”
(i.e., white) Americans “might wither away before the heavy influx of a
prolific race from the Orient.” ” For Cilman “race suicide” has particular
consequences for feminism as she believes that Anglo-American women
Asha Nadkarni 223
are necessarily the standard-bearers of feminist progress. Specifically, she
worries that Asian degeneracy would halt and potentially reverse America’s ascent towards a more egalitarian, Utopian society. In a 1914 essay
titled “A Human World,” she indicts both Indian and Chinese women for
embodying passive and degenerate femininity and worries that they will
pollute the United States with their reproductive practices.^” As such, they
not only show the evils of excessive sex distinction, they also reveal the
dangers of a society that views such sex distinctions as normal: “If being
born in China, we grew up with foot-bound women, we assumed that
women were such, and must remain so. Born in India, we accepted the
child-wife, the pitiful child-widow, the ecstatic suttee as natural expressions of womanhood.” ^’ Here Gilman uses the familiar formula of citing
barbaric practices toward women to impugn a society as a whole. Her
point, however, is not simply to mark such societies as debauched and be
done with it; rather, she consistently evokes Asia as an “object lesson” for
the United States: unless the United States begins to move toward more
egalitarian gender relations, the entire country v^iill go into decline, just as
the once-great Asian civilizations have.^^
This understanding of Gilman’s nativism bears importantly on my
reading of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Lanser’s account presents the narrator’s
attempt to free the woman behind the wallpaper as “trying to purge her
of her color, to peel her from the yellow paper, so that [the narrator] can
accept this woman as herself.” ” This process of birthing a feminist self
must rely on a eugenic process of cleansing that self of racial difference, but,
as the distressing end of the story suggests, this can be a dangerous and
potentially annihilating process. What originally begins as a collaborative
relationship between the narrator and the woman in the wallpaper—”I
pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled” (56) — quickly turns adversarial: the narrator hides a rope in her room so that “if that woman does
get out, and tries to get away, [the narrator] can tie her” (57). As an allegory for the relationship between women of color and white feminism of
the kind embodied by Gilman, this is quite telling: the narrator rescues
the woman in the paper only to reimprison her in a new way. At the same
time, “The Yellow Wallpaper” reveals the danger of even that project:
instead of the narrator freeing the woman in the wallpaper she becomes the
224 Asha Nadkarni
woman in the wallpaper, crawling around the room tied by her own rope.
The stakes of freeing the woman in the wallpaper from her color in order
to incorporate her into the white feminist self are therefore very high. It is
not simply a matter of incorporating difference, because the very fact of
difference will destroy. Indeed, the end of the story suggests that miscegenation leads to madness. Given this, what does it mean to read Jasmine as
the Asian woman escaped from the wallpaper and wreaking havoc in the
world around her?
While it would seem that the multicultural United States depicted
in Jasmine would embrace hybrid figures instead of associating them with
ruin, I argue that hybridity similarly confounds/flsmme’s narrative of feminist development. Even though on the surface Jasmine is the story of an
Indian woman becoming an American, it does not narrate the creation
of a hybrid subject born from the melding of Indian and US cultures.
Instead, throughout the novel Jasmine is always figured as an exceptional
subject, and one of the things that makes her exceptional is her distance
from her ethnic identity, even when in Punjab. The very fact that she
survives an attempt at female infanticide signals that she does not really
count as Indian: “my grandmother may have named me Jyoti — Light,
but in surviving I was already Jane, a fighter and adapter” (40~). The idea
that Jyoti (oppressed Indian woman) is necessarily opposed to |ane (liberated US woman) sets up the problematic configuration of First versus
Third World women that structures Jasmine. It also subscribes to developmentalist assumptions that implicitly posit the West as the site of modernity. By saying that “Jyoti” is really “Jane,” moreover, the novel argues that
Jasmine is never actually Indian at all. After all, even at the moment of
birth she escapes the future plotted for her by her “foremothers,” as signified in her survival and her rejection of her grandmother’s naming.
Here, as throughout Jasmme, Mukherjee insistently links modernity
to the United States. While Jasmine’s India is not simply one of backward
villages, it is nonetheless an incomplete postcolonial modernity characterized by a state of uneven development in which the “feudal” and the
“modern” struggle for precedence. The modern (particularly as embodied
in consumer electronic goods) is described as a “frontier” (88), an image
whose unmistakable associations with the United States are confirmed by
Asha Nadkarni 225
the “gadgets” “flooding” Jullundhar, brought back by “relative[s] in Canada
or the United States” (88). Furthermore, this mix of feudalism and modernity is understood to be dangerously perverse in its Indian manifestation;
the electronic goods from the West are turned into bombs by the Sikh
terrorist group, the Khalsa Lions. When one of these bombs kills Prakash,
Jasmine declares “Feudalism! I am a widow in the war of feudalisms!” (97).
Jasmine’s exceptionalism is thus linked to a frontier narrative of US exceptionalism, one that is at play even in India.
Indeed, Jasmine’s exceptional nature allows her to first inhabit and
then exceed the postcolonial modernity represented by her husband
Prakash. Prakash is described as a “modern man” who “trash[es] some
traditions” (such as bringing Jasmine to live with his extended family
after marriage, and having children), arguing “there’s no room in modern
India for feudalism” (76). Constantly confronted with a “backwards” society (for instance, he is forced to “cook the books” for his boss, Mr. Jagtiani),
Prakash finally declares that a “real life” is only possible in the United
States (81). When he is killed by a terrorist bomb, however, it is Jasmine
who must fulfill his mission. Even though she originally conceives it in
“feudal” terms (she plans to become a sati, or ritually immolate herself, on
the campus of the technical college Prakash would have attended), her
rape by and subsequent murder of the immigrant-smuggler, Half-Eace,
becomes instead a symbolic sati that frees her to embark upon a new (and,
in Prakash’s terms, “real”) life in the United States.^”
Once in the United States, Jasmine continues to be marked as
exceptional. Lillian, the Floridian woman who rescues her after she kills
Half-Eace and escapes from the hotel, claims she is a “special case” (135).
Because of Jasmine’s ability to “walk and talk American,” Lillian decides
she isn’t to be “a picker or a domestic” and lends her money to travel
to New York (135). However, Jasmine’s exceptionality, in this moment
and throughout the novel, is purchased at the representational price of
portraying the other women around her as somehow lacking (particularly the other non-white women, such as the women from her village
in Punjab, the Kanjobal women she lives with in Elorida, the Punjabi
women in Queens, and the other nannies in New York). In fact. Jasmine
is perplexed when grouped with other women of color by her New York
226 Asha Nadkarni
employers, who tell her “you’re probably tired of Americans assuming that
if you’re from India or Ghina or the Garibbean you must be good with
children” (168). Jasmine’s puzzled thought is that “the Ghinese [she] had
always thought of as genetically cruel to women and children … and
[her] experience of Garibbeans was a mixture of fear and pity” (169). While
this statement exposes Jasmine’s own racism, the text gives us no indication that we should read this portrayal as a condemnation. Even if we
understand Jasmine’s statement as simply an index of her ignorance, the
fact remains that Jasmine can only be pictured as a feminist woman of
action by portraying all the other women of color in the novel as stagnant
and backward.
It is also significant that Ghinese cruelty is marked as “genetic,” as
throughout the novel Jasmine’s exceptionality is explicitly named as
biological. Jasmine may be brown, but the novel insists on her genetic
difference from other people of color. For instance, her adopted Vietnamese son. Du, is also an immigrant, but he is not like Jasmine. As
she describes it: “[m]y transformation has been genetic, Du’s was hyphenated” (222, my emphasis). This is because he “will always be attached in
occult ways to an experience [white America] can’t fathom” (231). While
Jasmine has turned her difference into something recognizable and safe
(if exotic), Du’s difference is an “occult” presence that he cannot erase.
The word occult is suggestive here, with its hint at entities hidden in
blood. This connection is made overt by Mukherjee’s use of “occult” just
five pages earlier to refer to “blood tests for ‘occult’ presences” (226). The
occult attachments by which Du is held are in his blood; he cannot escape
them. But such ties do not bind Jasmine, whose US identity is genetic in its
naturalness. This genetic sense of identity seems to contradict the more
famous declaration of identity formation in the novel: “we murder who
we were so we can rebirth ourselves in the images of dreams” (29). While
this violent process suggests an active subject who must “murder” previous identities in the name of reinvention, the idea that Jasmine’s “transformation” is “genetic” suggests a much more passive process. It also
models a specifically eugenic model of identity in the United States: you
are either born American or you are not. Du can become “hyphenated” but
not assimilated: he will never really be American. Jasmine, on the other
Asha Nadkarni 227
hand, is always already American, as demonstrated by her exceptional
nature even when she is in India. Describing what it means to be an American in a 1989 interview in New York Magazine, Mukherjee characterizes it
as “a quality of mind and desire.” ” This seemingly metaphysical description, however, is belied by the fact that Jasmine repeatedly contends you are
either born with this “quality of mind and desire” or not. You are either
Jasmine, defying her fate, or you are her friend from the village, Vimla,
who immolates herself when her husband dies of typhoid. As this last
suggests. Jasmine’s genetic exceptionalism can only be represented as such
by abjecting all the other brown women in the novel (presumably because
they don’t have the same “genetic” power of transformation), thus showing exactly how exclusive such an identity is. Jasmine can “become American,” but only by a miracle that marks her as American at birth. Thus
even the moments within the novel where Jasmine is characterized as
operating in an Indian idiom (such as her frequent references to her “third
eye” and her marking herself as Kali when she murders Half-Face) do not
represent any real challenge to the narrative of genetic exceptionalism.
Instead, such moments paradoxically function to naturalize her narrative of assimilation; for instance, her belief in fate (termed “very, very, very
Indian” by Taylor) in fact posits her genetic fitness for life in the United
States as predetermined (59). Once again her journey to the United States
is determined by the “quality of mind and desire” with which she was
born. Moreover, references to her Indianness serve to disassociate Jasmine
from the violence she commits—particularly her murder of Half-Face —
and thus also serve to disavow the formulation of identity formation
as “murder.” In this way, “Indianness” functions as an alibi for Jasmine’s
narrative of exceptionalist assimilation rather than presenting a meaningful challenge to it.
Therefore, feminist difference in fasmine is merely additive, not foundational. The strategy whereby Jasmine’s genetic predisposition allows her
to “become an American” ultimately cannot accommodate or adequately
deal with issues of racial hybridity. Jasmine describes Du as a “hybrid,”
but her usage suggests merely a stance toward the process of Americanization. The novel ends with the specter of racial hybridity unresolved.
When Jasmine sets out for California with Taylor, she is pregnant with Bud’s
228 Asha Nadkarni
unborn child. In this sense, the novel is moving us toward the birth of this
hyhrid child. Even so, the fate of the child is unknown and indeed must
remain outside the bounds of the novel. Because Jasmine offers us cultural
difference reduced to its essentialized (and easily categorized) components,
hybridity confounds its representational order and thus reveals the eugenic
impulse at play. If the essential mode of reproduction throughout the novel
is the rebirthing of the self (a process that always involves death and loss),
we are forced to ask what price the birth of a hybrid child might exact. The
novel leaves us with this question hanging in midair. Just as in Gilman’s
story where the narrator’s becoming hybrid renders her mad, in Josnime
the possibility of racial hybridity signals the limit of the text’s ability to
confront difference. The process of Americanization that Jasmine describes
therefore is not only exclusive but also elusive: the fact of racial difference
cannot be repressed but threatens to erupt around the issue of hybridity.
I call attention to the problem of racial hyhridity to show how it interrupts the process of feminist development at work in each text. In doing
so, I argue that what is at stake is not only the feminist subjectivity being
forged by the protagonists, but also what these two canonical works tell
us about commonplace narratives of feminist progress. After all, as Lanser
reminds us, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is “one of the texts through which
white American feminist criticism has constituted its terms.” ” Similarly,
Jasmine remains a key text of Asian American studies, despite the heavy
criticism it has received, and in fact is often “the text used to represent the
South Asian immigrant experience” in courses and anthologies.” Indeed,
Mukherjee serves as the one example of a South Asian woman writer
(and therefore represents both South Asian postcolonial and South Asian
American women writers) in The Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature—a work
that, not coincidentally, also features Gilman.^^ Mukherjee’s easy inclusion in a feminist canon is especially interesting because while Gilman
positioned herself as a feminist foremother, Mukherjee understands
herself as critiquing precisely the kind of Second Wave feminism that celebrates Gilman.
Asha Nadkarni 229
Gilman styled herself a feminist pioneer with a distinct view to the
future, as the Forerunner, the quarterly journal she singlehandedly produced
for seven years, forcefully declared. By calling herself a “forerunner”
Gilman explicitly positioned herself as a feminist progenitor, a sentiment
echoed in the frequent invocations of Gilman as “foremother.” As Alys
Weinbaum reminds us, however, such celebrations of Gilman run the
risk of ignoring the articulation of feminism and racism in Gilman’s time
as well as our own.” While recent scholarship has unearthed the ways in
which Gilman’s feminism is inextricably linked to her racism, I return to
these debates to argue that what is at stake is not only the status of feminism and racism in Gilman’s work, but also a larger anxiety over the
proper subject of feminism.•”‘ As such, I am less interested in “exposing”
Gilman’s complicity in the racist and nativist discourses of her day than I
am in thinking about what it means to reclaim her as a foremother. Such
an approach may be guilty of the charge of “presentism” levied by Judith
Allen against Gilman’s supporters and detractors alike in her impressive
new study of Gilman, The Feminism of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but in this case
perhaps presentism is precisely the point. Why do we choose to resuscitate
certain aspects of Gilman’s writings and philosophies and not others? If,
as Allen argues in her conclusion, “Gilman’s feminism reaches across the
decades, indeed, the centuries, to successor feminisms,” what does this tell
us about the notion of “feminist trajectories” in general?'”
I thus call attention to the language of “foremothers” to argue that
it establishes a generational model of feminism centrally concerned with
feminism’s proper reproduction. In doing so I am hardly the first to note
that a generational model replicates the reproductive structures that
much of feminism challenges, but I believe reading this generational conflict
through Gilman shows that the reproductive metaphor at v,’ork is quite
specifically a eugenic one.’^ This eugenic metaphor functions through a
particular understanding of temporality and the idea of feminist progress: the past and present need to be cleansed of difference and conflict
in order to ensure feminism’s future. A 2000 collection of critical essays
promisingly titled The Mixed Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman illustrates this
point. Each essay in the collection may make a nominal gesture toward
Gilman’s “racism,… ethnocentricity, … homophobia,” but all except for
230 Asha Nadkarni
Gary Scharnhorst’s ultimately dismiss these concerns as anachronistic, while
at the same time insisting on Gilman’s continued relevance for feminism
today.^^ Gilman’s racism is “of her era” and thus “outdated.” She could not
help but be a woman of her time, and that time (unlike ours) was one of
open and obvious racism and nativism. In nearly the same breath that this
aspect of history is being acknowledged and mobilized in the form of an
excuse, however, these critics insist on the contemporaneity of Gilman’s
concerns. What this temporal sleight of hand requires, then, is that we
rescue a diachronic narrative of progress and enlightenment from the
polluting muddiness of historical contingency. And it is also precisely
through a eugenic reproductive mechanism that this happens: we only
reproduce those aspects of Gilman’s thought that are “fit” to inhabit
the present moment, while repressing those aspects that are “unfit” for
further generation.
The fear that a focus on Gilman’s negative aspects will render her
unfit for feminist generation, and in fact trouble feminism’s onward
march, is predicated on the idea that feminism is necessarily a progress narrative. Just as the daughters in Gilman’s Utopian novel Fierland are
all descended from one mother and all revere and honor her through
the process of improvement itself, what Susan Gubar terms an “Edenic”
narrative of feminism could be tempted to understand the recognition
of differences within feminist discourse as the snake in the garden.^” The
main problem with accounts of feminism that see it as a linear progression over time is that such a progress narrative works through a model of
correction and addition; for instance, in this model an attention to issues
of race is merely added to feminism’s heroic narrative, as opposed to being
something that troubles that narrative’s very foundation. Similarly, such
a narrative ignores the rich history of women of color and antiracist feminism, instead naturalizing Second Wave feminism as heterosexual, middle
class, and white. By arguing that attention to race and sexuality is merely
additive instead of foundational, it creates a eugenic (i.e., purifying, selfperfecting) model of feminist reproduction.
In Jasmine and in her other writings (particularly her 1975 novel Wife),
Mukherjee critiques the account of feminism I’ve just sketched (what
Chela Sandoval terms “hegemonic feminism”) from precisely the terrain
Asha Nadkarni 231
of difference.” In painting Jasmine as a feminist hero she attempts to
trouble what she labels in an interview “the Ms. magazine way.”^* Griticizing such feminism for being both overly prescriptive and imperialist, Mukherjee describes Jasmine as “an activist — or a woman of action —
who ends up being far more feminist than the women on Glaremont
Avenue who talk about feminism.”-” In this she means to challenge a
hegemonic feminism that would make women from the global South
objects rather than subjects of feminist discourse. In Jasmine, Mukherjee uses a conversation between Jasmine and Wylie (Jasmine’s employer
in New York) to similarly criticize a generational narrative, likening it to
an overdetermined narrative of reincarnation. When Jasmine tells Wylie
that her mother tried to strangle her at birth, Wylie “missed the point and
shrieked at [Jasmine’s] ‘foremothers'” (40). For Jasmine, “the point” is about
individual strategies instead of a grand narrative of oppression; to understand it as such is as misguided as believing her “mother’s past must have
been heavy with wrongs” to have given birth to five girls (39). Wylie’s reaction is furthermore linked to US imperialism, with Jasmine characterizing it as “Agent Orange” and saying it is “overkill'” (40). Finally, Mukherjee calls attention to the hypocrisy of Wylie passing judgment on Jasmine’s
“foremothers” by pointing out the exploitative relationship between them,
telling the reader that Jasmine was Wylie’s “undocumented ‘caregiver’
during [her] years in Manhattan” (40). In this moment Mukherjee shows
how, as she says in an interview, Wylie’s “feminism and professionalism are
built on the backs of under-employed” women from the global South.•’^
While this last is an important point, the version of feminism
Mukherjee puts in its place is also problematic. She rightly notes that
“for some non-white, Asian women, our ways of negotiating power are
different,” but what is troubling is that the power she refers to is that of
“sexuality.”-” Placing Asian women’s agency in the realm of sexuality and
reproduction seems eerily to echo Gilman’s fears of white-race suicide:
because Asian women are “too feminine” (that is, too given over to their
sex characteristics), they are more reproductive than white women of
“good stock.” Susan Koshy’s reading of Jasmine in her 2004 book 5exMa/ Naturalization gives us-further insight into this by looking at how such nativist fears are recoded. In taking up Mukherjee’s figuration of Jasmine as
232 Asha Nadkarni
an exotic who uses her difference from white American women to her
advantage, Koshy develops the idea of a “sexual model minority.”‘” This
phrase refers to the commonplace notion, emerging in the 1970s, that
while white American women reject traditional gender roles in the name
of feminist equality, Asian woman naturally and happily embrace the
retrograde model of femininity their white “sisters” discard. In short, the
Asian woman as sexual model minority represents the “perfect match
between family-centrism and sex appeal.'”” Jasmine as a sexual model
minority gives us further insight into the yellow woman in Cilman’s
story. After all, Cilman’s story is ultimately a polemic against the notion
that women are only fit for reproductive labor because intellectual strain
will turn them mad. However, drawing upon the idea of the sexual model
minority suggests another reading: what if the narrator’s interpretation of
the woman in the wallpaper is incorrect? What if the woman in the wallpaper is not begging to be free, but is actually mocking the white woman
with her more dutiful conformity to gender roles?
What is particularly provocative about this notion is that despite her
more faithful fulfilment of domestic roles. Jasmine is a figure for feminist success in the novel (that is, by the standards of liberal feminism she
is a self-determining, autonomous individual). In fact. Jasmine consistently bests the other women in the novel, and, as we’ve seen, the novel
marks Jasmine as exceptional through this process of comparison. Thus,
as Koshy reminds us. Jasmine’s “feminism” is in keeping with her status as
a sexual model minority, as it is an “exorbitant feminism defined m comparison to white American women and in cotnpetition for white men.””^ Mukherjee
makes Jasmine a dubious feminine heroine by “coding … interracial eroticism as the medium for the Third World woman’s liberation.””-‘ Jasmine’s
feminism, in the end, depends on a sexual and reproductive competition
that deems her more fit than the women around her.
A scene in Jasmine’s obstetrician’s olEce illustrates this well. In this
scene, which takes place in the present tense of the novel. Jasmine is
living in Iowa and is pregnant with Bud’s child. While Jasmine waits for
her appointment, the older white woman next to her starts crying. Tellingly, the woman is crying because she’s having trouble conceiving after
“wait[ing] too long,” thinking she’d be “the next Adrienne Rich” (34). As
Asha Nadkarni 233
she sobs into the book she’s reading. Jasmine notes “there was a man’s
picture on the back of the book, just about the right size for the woman’s
head: I almost laughed out loud” (31). The woman’s dilemma is parodied
in the grotesquely comic image of a man’s head on her neck, an image
that mocks as masculinist her desire to pursue her creative aspirations.
Not only is she not “the next Adrienne Rich,” but her desire to become a
poet has meant she’s unable to have children. Of course the irony is that
Jasmine, in Mukherjee’s words, “ends up being far more feminist” and is
also more reproductive.
As Jasmine attempts to comfort the woman, the sympathetic
moment between them takes a turn when the woman says to Jasmine
“‘you have nice hips,’ … [giving] the ‘you’ a generic sweep. You teeming
millions with wide hips breeding like roaches on wide-hipped continents”
(34). Here, Mukherjee makes this white woman heir to the discourse
of “race suicide” that Gilman espoused. The woman’s lack of fertility
stands in direct contrast to Jasmine as a “generic” representative of her
“wide hip[ped]” race “breeding like roaches.” And yet even as Mukherjee
critiques this racist logic, she recapitulates it. After all, the whole novel
works to show how Jasmine is indeed “more fit” than the other women
around her. This is true in her native village, and it is true in Baden, Iowa.
In this sense, Mukherjee unwittingly presents the flip side to Gilman’s
fears: the immigrant woman as emblem of exceptionalism. Throughout
the novel Jasmine’s power is located in her ability to displace the women
around her (for instance Karin, Bud’s ex-wife). But the problem is not just
that Jasmine signals the return to a retrograde femininity; rather it is that
she is, for Mukherjee, a new kind of feminist hero.
Even in these moments where Mukherjee is launching a critique
against a hegemonic feminism that is, in her words, “built on the hacks
of under-employed” women of color, she is unsuccessful for two reasons.
The first is that she is wedded to the idea of a progress narrative in which
some subjects are more fit than others for feminist development. She does
not dispute the logic of an “us” and “them” (as her portrayals of other
women of color in the novel suggest); rather she insists that Jasmine is
not one of “them” — or, as she says in an interview in relation to her own
experiences of racism, she’s not “a smelly, dark, alien other.””” Of course
234 Asha Nadkarni
we could read this last comment as Mukherjee parroting and critiquing
racist language, but it seems her real problem is being grouped with other
immigrants. As she states in the same interview, “you never got the benefit of the doubt, if you were a Canadian citizen of Indian or South Asian
origin.””= This comment seems to be less a critique of racism than pique
over not being given “the benefit of the doubt.” The second problem is
that she ultimately accepts the terms of the debate as a’sexual contest.
Where Gilman looked at Asian women and feared race suicide, Mukherjee just
recodes this as a positive difference in the new America. Instead of a “prolific
influx from the Orient,” Mukherjee gives us a “sexual model minority,”
but ultimately they are they are just different sides of the same coin.
By way of conclusion I turn to Cilman’s and Mukherjee’s writings on
immigration. In doing so, I consider how each speaks to a national project at two distinct moments in immigration history. While Gilman viewed
the first major wave of immigration from Eastern Europe and Asia with
alarm, Mukherjee is part of the post-1965 wave of immigration and understands herself as celebrating a United States changed by its new immigrants. Despite their different historical moments, both appear to reject
racial qualifications for national belonging, taking recourse instead to
a language of “culture” and “psychology.” I argue, however, that such
language masks biological understandings of the fitness and unfitness
of certain subjects for national belonging. In tracing the continuities
between these two writers, therefore, 1 chart a connection between the
nativism of Gilman’s time and more recent assimilationist rhetoric, showing how a language of social Darwinism becomes translated into a developmental narrative about the ability of some, and inability of others, to
become American.
While Gilman believed only certain kinds of people should be
allowed to naturalize as US citizens, she does not resort to standard nativist rhetoric in making her claims; on the face of it, her requirements
for citizenship are not based on race or ethnicity. In a 1914 article titled
“Immigration, Importation, and Our Fathers,” Gilman argues that those
“intelligent enough to know about another country … strong enough
Asha Nadkarni 235
to break home ties and old customs; and competent enough to pay the
passage” should be allowed to immigrate to the United States, provided he
or she is “oí assimilable stock.”‘^” Lest there be any doubt about what “stock”
is “assimilable,” Gilman goes on to say: “Our imported millions of Africans and their descendants constitute a problem … and many millions
of Hindus, even if free immigrants, would make another problem.'”” In
explaining this seeming contradiction between immigration open to
all “intelligent” and “competent” enough to reach the United States and
immigration restricted on the basis of “stock,” Gilman turns to the idea of
national psychology:
The American nation consists of certain Ideas, Ideals, Qualities, Modes of
Conduct, Institutions. Blood does not of itself constitute Americanship.
There are Americans hailing from all countries but they agree in those
qualities which make America.
This national psychology is what must be shared for true citizenship, and
it is the sense of an alien, an irreconcilable psychology, which makes the
American citizen of whatever stock, shrink from the overwhelming flood
of unassimilable characteristics.**
If being American is not a question of biology or “blood,” if race and
nation are not identical, then nationality becomes a question of culture or
development. Here, then, US culture is defined in terms of ideas, customs
(or “modes of conduct”), and institutions. What separates some potential immigrants from others is not race, but their capacity to develop. As
Gilman elaborates in her 1916 sequel to Fierland, With Her in Ourland, “all that
‘America’ means … is a new phase of social development, and anyone can
be an American who belongs to it.'”” At the same time, she also insists,
“the human race is in different stages of development, and only some
races — or some individuals in a given race — have reached the democratic
stage.” ^^ Gilman thus uses a civilizational discourse of social evolutionism
to argue that development is inherently racial.^’
Mukherjee likewise makes immigration into an issue of “psychology” (as we saw in her assertion that being American is “a quality of mind
and desire”), elaborating on her assimilationist stance to state that it takes
a certain kind of person to immigrate and assimilate. She details her
236 Asha Nadkarni
position in a 1996 essay called “Two Ways to Belong in America.” ^^ In it she
compares her relationship to the United States to that of her sister’s: even
though both have lived in the United States for thirty-five years, Mukherjee is a naturalized citizen, while her sister, Mira, retains her Indian citizenship. These “two ways to belong” are for Mukherjee illustrative of
vastly different stances towards the United States. By choosing US citizenship Mukherjee “was opting for fluidity, self-invention, blue jeans
and T-shirts.” Her sister, however, represents those who “stayed rooted
in one job, one city, one house, one ancestral culture, one cuisine, for the
entirety of their productive years.” This stark contrast leaves no space
for a more complicated notion of diaspora in which diasporic subjects
occupy multiple positions and maintain multiple allegiances. “Belonging in America” is an all-or-nothing proposition: you either “transform”
yourself into an American (i.e., assimilate) or you “stayed rooted” in the
culture of origin. Like Gilman, then, Mukherjee emphasizes the ability
to jettison one’s culture of origin in the name of transformation. While
she does not make any claims about “assimilable characteristics,” she
does seem to suggest that to become American requires acceding to what
Maria Josefina Saldaña-Portillo describes as a “developmentalist regime
of subjection.” The resultant subjectivity, as embodied in Jasmine herself,
emphasizes “agency as free will,… consciousness as autonomous and selfdetermining, … [and] progressive transformation as transcendence over
the restrictions of clan or caste (ethnos).””
While this developmental subjectivity does not rely on the racebased social Darwinism of Gilman’s pronouncements, it is nonetheless
heir to the logic she describes. In Mukherjee’s formulation, though, racial
descriptions get sublimated into temporal ones. As the title of her essay “A
Four-Hundred-Year-Old Woman” states, Mukherjee thinks of herself “as
a four-hundred-year-old woman, born in the captivity of colonial, preindustrial, oral culture and living now as a contemporary New Yorker.””’
Using what Johannes Fabian has termed the “denial of coevalness,” she
paints India as premodern “captivity” in contrast to a United States
defined by contemporary and forward-moving energy, a formulation
that willfully denies the extent to which the underdevelopment of India
is related to larger structural inequalities that benefit the United States.’^
Asha Nadkarni 237
While this scheme differs from Cilman’s civilizational one in its sense of
the mutability of individuals (provided an individual casts off the particulars of a native culture they can develop into a US citizen), it nonetheless preserves a logic in which the only way to become a modern subject
is to assimilate to hegemonic US culture. Moreover, while the imperative to
develop might apply equally to all, for Mukherjee the capacity to develop
applies to only a select few. As in fasmine, where the protagonist describes
her transformation as “genetic” rather than “hyphenated,” some people
are simply born American while others are not. Such reasoning allows
Mukherjee to claim that “wherever [she] travel[s] in the (very) Old World,
[she] find[s] ‘Americans’ in the making, whether or not they ever make it
to these shores dreamers and conquerors, not afraid of transforming themselves, not afraid of abandoning some of their principles along
the way.”^* Although this statement mirrors Cilman’s pronouncement
that “there are Americans hailing from all countries, but they agree in
those qualities which make America,” it differs in that to be American for
Mukherjee is linked to transformation and “conquest,” not race. In other
words, it is linked to the subject’s ability to develop. As Saldaña-Portillo
aptly notes, in this shift from Cilman’s time to Mukherjee’s,
we have left behind the social Darwinism of British and Anglo-American colonialism, in which evolution is determined by one’s proximity to
an appropriately potent whiteness, without fully abandoning its racial
legacy. In its stead we bave a model of development in .which modernity
was determined by one’s proximity to this risk-taking, decision-making,
frugal, nonornamental (i.e. elemental), productive, fully masculine,
national subject.”
Although Saldaña-Portillo stresses that to be a national subject is to
be “masculinist, whether the agent/object of a development strategy is a
man or a woman, an adult or a child,” I am interested in how her formulation applies to the feminist nationalist subject.^^ She rightly notes that
the discourse of development interpellates national subjects as masculine,
but my focus here is on the ways in which Cilman and Mukherjee understand nationalism as a feminist problem. After all, for both Cilman and
Mukherjee the sense of different nations being at different stages of development has specifically feminist consequences. Eor Cilman, the issue with
Asha Nadkarni
US culture is that men are allowed to develop to their full potential while
women’s development is stilted. This is not only bad for individual women,
it is detrimental for society as a whole. Gilman turns to Asia to prove this
point: because women in Asian societies have developed their “sex” characteristics over their “race” ones, these once great civilizations have now
fallen. Therefore, the key to national reproduction is the creation of properly feminist subjects. Mukherjee also seems to suggest that women (like
Jasmine) are more fit than men to become national subjects, and that to
immigrate is in itself a feminist move. For her, immigration is “about transformation—psychological transformation—especially among women.””
The fact that women are more transformed by the United States than
men relies on her belief (as in Jasmine) that the “old world” is “repressive, traditional … caste-bound, class-bound, [and] genderist.” Immigration in this
equation is about women finding feminist freedom in the United States.
While men come to the United States for “economic transformation” and
are “afraid of pollution,” women’s adaptability and ability to transform
make them paradigmatic immigrant subjects: “we’ve all been trained to
be adaptable as wives, and that adaptability is working to the women’s
advantage when we come over as immigrants.”â„¢
Linking women’s adaptability to their training as wives in their culture
of origin (a logic that again caricatures such cultures as uniformly patriarchal), Mukherjee understands immigration through a marriage metaphor in which women represent feminist change and progress, and men
represent tradition and conservatism. In “Two Ways to Belong in America”
she repeatedly likens immigration to marriage (saying “America spoke to
me—I married it”). Doing so not only sidesteps the real economic and
social issues pertaining to immigration, it also genders immigrants as
wives who must adapt themselves to a masculinist nation. In this metaphor the immigrant, no matter whether they are man or woman, is
gendered as female. Nonetheless, women have a particular advantage
because, paradoxically, patriarchy in the culture of origin (which teaches
women to be adaptable as wives) enables immigrant women’s success.
Mukherjee codes this success as a movement from repressive tradition to
a “new world” of freedom and choice. In doing so she reverses the typical mobilization of gender within nationalism, where women represent
Asha Nadkarni 239
the conservative forces of tradition and men are the actors for progressive change, and instead posits women as the “risk-taking, decisionmaking … national subject[s].”‘”‘ While seemingly contradictory (women’s
adaptability as wives in their culture of origin allows them to become
successful liberal feminist subjects in the United States), this account
agrees with that of the sexual model minority, in which conformity to
traditional gender roles is one of the keys to feminist success.
Perhaps Mukherjee describes immigration as marriage because
in her case the relationship is more than metaphoric—she was able to
naturalize because she married a US citizen. With this act she claims to
be “renouncing 3,000 years (at least) of caste-observant, ‘pure culture’
marriage in the Mukherjee family” for “cultural and psychological
‘mongrelization'” in the United States. Such a narrative ignores the history
of US anti-miscegenation laws and immigrant quota systems, just as her
use of the marriage metaphor makes heterosexuality a prerequisite for full
citizenship. Additionally, her overall assimilationist stance, which seems
to suggest that you have to get rid of all aspects of the culture of origin
in order to become a modern US subject, contradicts her stated support
of “mongrelization.” In an article in Mother fones she explicitly critiques
a multicultural discourse that would celebrate an attachment to the
culture of origin, arguing that “the multiculturalist emphasis on raceand ethnicity-based group identity leads to a lack of respect for individual differences within each group, and to vilification of those individuals who place the good of the nation above the interests of their particular
racial or ethnic communities.”‘^^ Here the “good of the nation” is necessarily at odds with “the interests of… particular racial or ethnic communities” inhabited by individuals who have not transcended their clannish
identifications to become fully modern subjects. Therefore, even though
Mukherjee rejects multiculturalism for a “melting pot” where both the
immigrant and the United States are changed by their encounter, ultimately she’s only talking about superficial differences. While it is true
that the America she depicts is not all white by any means, what we have
instead are differently raced subjects in different stages of assimilation.
Thus while her eugenic feminist stance is more inclusive than Gilman’s
in that it seems to chart a narrative of feminist development open to
240 Asha Nadkarm
women of all races, in fact her assimilationism insists any connection to
the culture of origin is an unhealthy attachment to the past that must
be overcome in the name of feminist progress. The irony here, as Inderpal Grewal points out, is that despite Mukherjee’s rejection of a hyphenated or multicultural identity, her novels are read through such identities
precisely because they offer assimilation in many different colors.”
Thus my point in pairing Gilman and Mukherjee is to say that,
because it is populated by people of color, Josmme could be read as a feminist tale that confronts the issues “The Yellow Wallpaper” tries so desperately to contain and repress; it is thus a story fit for the “new America,” as Mukherjee herself would put it. But I argue it is really a version
of Gilman’s story in brown face: it still relies on a eugenic feminist logic.
Modernization theories of development would dictate that the particular
(i.e., “traditional culture”) must be transcended for the universal trajectory
of development. Likewise, the mode of feminism to which both Gilman
and Mukherjee subscribe seems to require the jettisoning of particularities in the name of feminist progress. Therefore, the extent to which
a work such us Jasmine can be accommodated within a feminist canon is
itself suspect, particularly given Mukherjee’s own stated antagonism to a
US feminism she implicitly characterizes as white. At stake is not only the
assimilationist nature of Mukherjee’s text, but also the ease with which it
can be assimilated to the very narrative of heroic-feminist progress that
it supposedly seeks to disrupt. In this sense, feminist-progress narratives
(which led to the recovery of “foremothers” such as Gilman and the inclusion of writers such as Mukherjee) depend on a developmental narrative
that cannot but be racialized, because even in their call for inclusion they
operate in a eugenic mode.
Asha Nadkarni 241
1. Bharati Mukherjee, jasmine (New York: Grove Press, 1989). Hereafter all references
cited in the text.
2. Michael Gorra, “Call It Exile, Call It Immigration,” review o(Jasmine, by Mukherjee,
Nein York Times, September 10, 1989, Sunday Book lleview. This quote is featured prominently on tbe cover of tbe Grove Press edition o(Jasmine.
3. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, “Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and
the Anxiety of Authorship,” in their The Madwoman in the Attic: Tlie Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979).
4. See Dana Seitler, Atavistic Tendencies: The Culture of Science in American Modernity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 175-98. While my use of this term acknowledges Seitler’s formulation, I use the phrase “eugenic feminism” to refer not only
to a historically specific relationship between feminism and eugenic movements
but also to a trope witbin feminism tbat insists tbat difference must be removed in
order for feminist advance.
5. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Tbe Yellow Wallpaper,” in The Yellow Wallpaper: A Bedford Cultural
Edition, ed. Dale M. Bauer (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998), 41-59. Hereafter all references cited in the text.
6. Elaine Hedges, “Afterword,” in Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Tlie Yellow Wallpaper (New York:
The Feminist Press, 1973); Gilbert and Gubar, “Infection in tbe Sentence”; Annette
Kolodny, “A Map for Re-reading: Or, Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts,”
New Literary History II, no. 3 (1980); Jean E. Kennard, “Convention Coverage: Or, How
to Read Your Own Life,” New Literary History 13 (Autumn 1981). For a more tborougb
discussion of these and other readings of “The Yellow Wallpaper” see Elaine Hedges, “‘Out
atLast’?The Yellow Wallpaper’ after Two Decades of Feminist Criticism,” in Critical Essays
on Cliarlotte Perkins Gilman, ed. Joanna B. Karpinski (New York: G. K. Hall, 1992).
7. Susan S. Lanser, “Feminist Criticism, The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the Politics of Color
in America,” Feminist Studies 15, no. 3 (Fall 1989): 424.
8. Ibid., 435.
9. Tina Cben and S. X. Goudie, “Holder of tbe World: An Interview with Bharati Mukherjee” Joni-eri I, no. 1 (1997).
10. Review oí Jasmine from the Baltimore Sun, quoted on the cover of the paperback edition
Bbarati Mukberjee, Jasmine (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1989).
11. Victoria Carcbidi, “‘Orbiting’: Bbarati Mukherjee’s Kaleidoscope Vision,” MELUS 20,
no. 4 (Winter 1995): 93.
12. Ibid.
13. Inderpal Grewal, “The Postcolonial, Ethnic Studies and the Diaspora: The Contexts
of Ethnic Immigrant/Migrant Cultural Studies in the US,” Socialist Review 24, no. 4
(Autumn 1994): 45-74; Gurleen Grewal, “Born Again American: The Immigrant Consciousness inyosniiiie,” in Bharati Mukherjee: Critical Perspectives, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson (New
York: Garland, 1993), lSl-96; Fred Pfeil, “No Basta Teorizar: In-Difference to Solidarity in Contemporary Fiction, Theory and Practice,” in Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity
and Transnational Feminist Practices, ed. Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan (Minneapolis:
242 Asha Nadkarni
University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 197-230. For more sympathetic readings o( Jasmine
see Anthony C. Alessandrini, “Reading Bharati Mukherjee, Reading Globalization,”
in World Bank Literature, ed. Amitava Kumar (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
2003), 265-79; Samir Dayal, “Creating, Preserving, Destroying: Violence in Bharati
Mukherjee’s Jasmine,” in Bharati Mukherjee: Critical Perspectives, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson
(New York: Garland, 1993), 65-88; and Malini Johar Schueller, “Globalization and
Orientalism: Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu, Alexander’s Fault Lines, and Mukherjee’s Jasmine,” in her Locating Race: Global Sites of Post-Colonial Citizenship (Albany: University of New York Press, 2009), 73-100.
14. Bharati Mukherjee, “A Four-Hundred-Year-Old Woman,” in The Writer on Her Work Volume
II: New Essays in New Territory, ed. Janet Sternberg (New York: Norton, 1991), 34.
15. Critics have focused on the wallpaper as representing either a repressed or overabundant female sexuality. See Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, “‘Fecundate! Discriminate!’: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Theologizing of Maternity,” in Charlotte Perkins
Gihnan: Optimist Reformer, ed. Jill Rudd and Val Gough (Iowa City: University of Iowa
Press, 1999), 200-16.
16. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Letting Sleeping Forefathers Lie,” Forerunner VI (October
1915): 261.
17. Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Minna Doskow, eds., Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Utopian
Novels: Moving the Mountain, Herland and With Her in Onrland (Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; 1999), 320.
18. In Women and Economics Gilman uses Asian (or in her term “Oriental”) cultures to represent the “injurious elfects” of “excessive sex-distinction”: “in the Oriental nations…
the female in curtained harems is confined most e.\clusively to se.x-functions and
denied most fully the e.xercise of race-functions. In such peoples the weakness, the
tendency to small bones and adipose tissue of the over-se.\ed female is transmitted
to the male, with a retarding effect on the development of the race.” Charlotte Perkins
Gilman, Women and Economics (Boston: Small, May nard and Company, 1898), 46.
19. Edward Alsworth Ross, “From ‘The Causes of Race Superiority,'” in The Yellow Wallpaper:
A Bedford Cultural Edition, ed. Dale M. Bauer (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998), 212.
20. In reading Jasmine as the yellow woman in the wallpaper, I don’t mean to create an easy
equivalence between tbe immigration histories and racial positionings of Chinese and
Indian women in the United States. Instead, I make this link to underscore how narratives of feminist development in what would seem to be two very different times and
texts exhibit similar reproductive anxieties. Moreover, the slippage between Chinese
and Indian is warranted in regard to Gilman’s larger writings and theories. While
many of her anti-immigrant writings do indeed target the Chinese (as her choice of
yellow for the wallpaper suggests), she was equally opposed to “Hindu” immigration
to the United States, and convinced that botb the Chinese and Indian were “modern
ancients”—degenerate representatives of once-great but now fallen civilizations.
21. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Man-Made lK)rW(Amberst,NY: Humanity Books, 2001), 202.
22. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, With Her In Ourland, published in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Utopian
Novels, ed. Minna Doskow (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999), 298.
Asha Nadkarni 243
23. Lanser, “Feminist Criticism,” 429.
24. For an elaboration on how jasmine’s rape by Half-Face kills her former self, see Cathy
Schlund-Vials, “Reading and Writing America: Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine and Eva
Hoffman’s tosí in Translation,” in her Modeling Citizenship:Jewisli and Asian American Writing (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011).
25. Celia McGee, “Foreign Correspondent,” New York Magazine, January 30, 1989, 22.
26. Lanser, “Feminist Criticism,” 415.
27. Grewal, ” The Postcolonial, Ethnic Studies,” 45.
28. Kathy ]. Whitson, Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004).
29. Alys Eve Weinbaum, “Writing Feminist Genealogy: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Racial
Nationalism, and the Reproduction of Maternalist Feminism,” Feminist Studies 27, no. 2
(Summer 2001): 271-302. See also her Wayward Reproductions: Genealogies of Race and Nation
in Transatlantic Modern Thought (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).
30. In addition to Lanser, Sietler and Weinbaum see Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A
Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, lSSO-1917 {Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1995); Louise Michèle Newman, Wlnte Women’s Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in tlie
United States (New York: Oxford University’ Press, 1999); and Thomas Peyser, Utopia and Gosmopolis: Globalization in the Era of American Literary Realism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,
31. Judith A. Allen, The Feminism of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2009), 367.
32. For more on generational conflicts within academic feminism see Devoney Looser and
E. Ann Kaplan, Generations: Academic Feminists in Dialogue (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Robyn Wiegman, Women’s Studies on Its Own: A Next Wave Reader in ¡nstitiitionat
Change (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002). See also a special issue of Differences: “Notes
from the Beehive: Feminisms and the Institution,” Differences 2, no. 3 (Fall 1990).
33. Mary A. Hill, ‘”Letters Are Like Morning Prayers’: The Private Work of Charlotte Perkins
Gilman,” in The Mixed Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, ed. Catherine Golden and Joanna
S. Zangrando (Newark: Un iversity of Delaware Press, 2000), 51.
34. Susan Gubar, “What Ails Feminist Criticism?” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 4 (Summer 1998):
35. Chela Sandoval, Meltiodology ofthe Oppressed (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
36. Bharati Mukherjee, “An Interview with Bharati Mukherjee,” by Michael Connell, Jessie
Grearson, and Tome Grimes, Iowa Review 20, no. 3 (1990): 21.
37. Ibid., 25-26.
38. Ibid., 22.
39. Ibid.
40. Susan Koshy, 5e.v:iial Naturalization: Asian Americans and Miscegenation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 135.
41. Ibid., 137.
42. Ibid., 146.
43. Ibid.
244 Asha Nadkarni
44. Mukherjee, “An Interview with Bharati Mukherjee,” 12.
45. Ibid.
46. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Immigration, Importation and Our Fathers,” Forerunner 5
(1914): 118.
47. Ibid.
48. Ibid.
49. Gilman, With Her in Ourland, 318.
50. Ibid., 323.
51. For more on the racial underpinnings of civilizational discourse see Bederman, Manliness and Civilization.
52. Bharati Mukherjee, “Two Ways to Belong in America,” T/ie Neic Kirt Times, September 22,1996.
53. Maria Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 43.
54. Bharati Mukherjee, “Four-Hundred-Year-Old Woman,” in The Writer on Her Work: New Essays
in New Territory, vol. 2, ed. Janet Sternburg (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991), 27.
55. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Olher: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1983).
56. Mukherjee, “Four-Hundred-Year-Old Woman,” 27.
57. Saldaña-Portillo, The Revolutionary Imagination, 42.
58. Ibid., 9.
59. Mukherjee, “An Interview with Bharati Mukherjee,” 15.
60. Ibid., 15, 16, 19.
61. For the most influential version of this argument in relation to Indian nationalism see
Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).
62. Mukherjee, Bharati, “American Dreamer.” Motherjones22, no. 1 (February 1997): 32.
63. Inderpal Grewal, Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neotibmlisms (Durham: Duke Unsity Press, 2005) 71-72; and Grewal, “The Postcolonial, Ethnic Studies.”
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