Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Present pasts: The politics of memory and strategic representations of identity in ethnic American writers' works since the 1980s
by Kim, Min Hoe, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2008, 293; 3311322
Abstract (Summary)

Drawing on theories of memory by such writers as Andreas Huyssen, Marita Sturken, and Nancy Peterson, this dissertation examines ethnic American writers' use of historical memories in the public realm of fiction. It discusses contemporary critics' arguments that memory consistently modifies the present in the process of (re)interpreting it. Based on this idea, it argues that selected writers use instability of memory to complicate contemporary master narratives of American history and racial discourses in the narratives. It also examines how they strategically represent ethnic memories to redefine ethnic identities and values in multiethnic America.

Chapter 1 examines Maxine Hong Kingston's use of Chinese Americans' (hi)stories to discuss their historical wounds and ethnic identity. It analyzes Kingston's narrative strategy to transform Chinese Americans' individual memories into a public memory by rewriting their early experiences, evoking their labor on sugarcane plantations and transcontinental railroads; the "driving-out" of Chinese men from the West in the late 19th century; and the immigration detention station at Angel Island.

Chapter 2 deals with Ishmael Reed to examine the broken circle of African Americans' historical memories of the civil rights movement, the murder of Emmett Till and Leo Frank, multiculturalism, and the LA riots in 1992. It sees how satirically Reed's novels foreground the African Americans' struggles to define their ethnic, social and cultural identities in the face of the temptation to assimilate into white middle-class society and the need to contest problematic representations of their histories in public discourses.

Chapter 3 discusses Chang-rae Lee and Nora Okja Keller. They participate in the different processes of transforming from a buried local memory of the comfort women into a public discourse of the memory which foregrounds Korean Americans' historical heritage, and hence, the heritage of all Americans. It analyzes Lee's and Keller's strategically different choices in deploying representations of the comfort women to discuss the formation of Korean Americans' identity.

By examining John Edgar Wideman and Eric Liu, conclusion suggests that ethnic Americans consistently diversely reinscribe their private memories into the public realm to claim inclusion in a multiethnic history of America.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Chu, Patricia P.
Commitee: McRuer, Robert, Miller, James A., So, Christine, Sten, Christopher
School: The George Washington University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 69/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Literature, African Americans, American literature, Minority & ethnic groups, Sociology
Keywords: Comfort women, Driving out, Ethnic identity, Historical memories, Identity, Public memory, Till, Emmett
Publication Number: 3311322
ISBN: 9780549619659
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