It is important to read and discuss Mukherjee's "A Wife's Story" as an integral part of twentieth-century American literature and not as an "exotic" short story by a foreign writer. As the essay accompanying "A Wife's Story" points out, Mukherjee identifies herself very strongly as an American writer writing about twentieth-century Americans. Although most of her stories are about South Asian-Americans (South Asia in the contemporary geopolitical arena usually consists of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldive Islands), she sees herself as being primarily influenced by, as well as being part of, the tradition of Euro-American writers. In a brief interview published in the November, 1993 issue of San Francisco Focus in which she discusses her novel In order to avoid the trap of reading "A Wife's Story" as being from a "marginal" group, I have found it best to first discuss the crafting of the story as a literary work in the tradition of English/American literature, and then move on to the aspects of the story that deal with specific concepts and cultures.
Keeping in mind Mukherjee's own comments on racism, multiculturalism, and literary influences, it is interesting to discuss how she uses, or does not use, her ideas on these subjects in "A Wife's Story." A classroom discussion on the students' views regarding these concepts helps them understand the importance of these concepts in American literature. Further discussions of the story, especially on specific issues related to Mukherjee's major themes and the literary influences that emerge out of her root culture, may be based on the statements made in the following parts of this Instructor's Guide essay. Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues Her 1993 novel, The Holder of the World, takes place in the United States as well as in India. It also takes place across historical time. The framework of the novel takes place in contemporary United States and India. The central story takes place in seventeenth-century America and India. The Euro-American women protagonists of this work have lovers who are from other cultures or countries.
A significant number of her stories and novels present the encounters between cultures in the context of encounters between women and men either of different root cultures or from the same root culture. Some of these very personal encounters have the poignancy of underlying affection, some of them range from gentle humor to an attempt at broad satire, some are marred by stereotypical characters and events, while others reveal the dangerous, violent side of such encounters.
"A Wife's Story" is an excellent example of encounters between cultures presented in a narrative of encounters between women and men. It is a fascinating story because it presents the surprise of role reversal and because of the sense of a dramatic presentation that permeates the story. It is the wife, not the husband, who has come to America and who is knowledgeable about this new home. Panna is the guide and often the protector for her husband who is visiting her. And her story is constantly dramatic. It begins with her in a theatre and every episode that follows is carefully situated in a stage-like setting with set actors.
The story also contains echoes of the memory and nostalgia for the past that play a significant role in the writings of many South Asian-Americans. This memory and nostalgia for the landscape of places and people of the writers' childhood is often juxtaposed with the excitement and challenge of their new life and the unfamiliar landscape of the people and places of the U.S. It is interesting to explore how Mukherjee uses these two strands in this story, bringing one or the other--memory or the excitement of novelty--into the foreground to present her characters and to build the circular, winding pattern of her story. Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions...
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