Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Jeanne Garane


Bharati Mukherjee and Jhumpa Lahiri, writers of Indian origin, have earned recognition in the English speaking world as American writers, since both of them are residents of the United States. Their literary work has mostly been received as literary production in the United States reflecting the immigrant experience. Mukherjee's work especially has resulted in discourses of India and the "Third World Woman" as singular and monolithic entities reflective of a failed modernity and an oppressive patriarchy. Very little work has been done to connect their literary activity with socio-cultural changes and the emergence of a plural modernity in India. This dissertation is an attempt to read the fiction of these writers as reflecting the postcolonial predicament of India, in which the concept of the family has been discursively reconstructed as a signifier of national identity. Such an identity seems to have become a necessity at a time of global movements that keep shifting the definitive boundaries of culture.

The readings are grounded in a theoretical framework incorporating anthropological and psychoanalytical studies on the Indian family, together with critical thinking on the nation, and transnational processes conceptualized with migration and globalization as critical tools. In my methodology I make special mention of the idea of "locality" produced in the works of these writers with the use of region, vernacular language, and everyday life. I have made a selection of their short stories and novels in which the family is represented as a collectivity that offers an oppositional location to an "American" identity, either in the form of public sphere institutions such as the labor force, educational institution, or state policies ostensibly launched for the safeguard of minorities; or through the peripheral existence or erasure of white Americans.

In the final chapter I argue that this is a way of projecting a cultural difference. The family is a representational strategy for these writers to articulate an identity that is inflected by class, gender, and religion. These identities are also crucial contesting positions in the postcolonial politics of India. In writing about the family, these writers are also creating a public diasporic sphere of belonging.