Animals in the Writing of Bharati Mukherjee


  • Ruth Maxey University of Nottingham


Bharati Mukherjee, animals, Indian American


James Kim has argued that "despite long noting the links between animalisation and racialisation, critical animal studies have yet to consider their relationship to Asian American studies." Relating to this wider scholarly gap, studies of the South Asian American writer Bharati Mukherjee (1940–2017) have yet to examine the importance of fauna within her œuvre. Tracing specific animal metaphors—from avian to marine mammalian and reptilian to canine—this essay confronts that critical silence via close textual analysis and the use of critical animal studies as a theoretical lens. It compares Mukherjee’s recurrent, often intertextual and interreferential use of such tropes and interrogates the cultural and gendered associations of animals evoked by her fiction and essays. Her literary portrayal of non-human creatures is largely anthropocentric and zoomorphic: a rich, polysemic device to reflect human experience. Writing Indian animal imagery into American literature, Mukherjee's neglected creaturely motifs signify the power of dreams, the fall of the Mughal Empire in India, human communities as endangered species, and predator versus prey within a Darwinian logic of survival. A shorthand for both India and the United States, animal metaphors expose a brutal world of danger, inequality and corruption.

Author Biography

Ruth Maxey, University of Nottingham

Ruth Maxey is Associate Professor in Modern American Literature at the University of Nottingham. She is the author of South Asian Atlantic Literature, 1970-2010 (Edinburgh University Press, 2012) and Understanding Bharati Mukherjee (University of South Carolina Press, 2019) which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2021. She is the editor (with Paul McGarr) of India at 70: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (Routledge, 2019) and 21st Century US Historical Fiction: Contemporary Responses to the Past (Palgrave, 2020). Her articles have appeared in Critique, Textual Practice, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Cambridge Quarterly, Wasafiri, and South Asian Review, amongst other journals.