Jee-Eun Regina Song

Jee-Eun Regina Song

University of New Hampshire

American Studies & English


1998

Mentor: Dr. Brigitte Bailey, Associate Professor of English

Class Issues in Contemporary Asian American Literatures

Over the past twenty-five years, Asian American literature has been one of the fastest growing areas of study in the humanities. In spite of this, Asian American literary criticism nevertheless is still relatively under represented, particularly in the east coast and especially in New Hampshire. While Asian American literary and cultural criticism consistently address issues related to race, gender, and sexuality, conflicts and issues related to class have not been examined closely in these contexts.

The purpose of my research project is to present a class analysis of three central works in contemporary Asian American literature: Carlos Bulosan's America Is in the Heart (1946), Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club (1989), and Fae Myenne Ng's Bone (1994). Taking into account differences in time period, ethnicity, and class, my project compares Bulosan's personal history as a Filipino migrant farm worker who struggles to fight poverty through self-education to Tan's Chinese-American fiction based on relationships between mothers and daughters in the middle class to Ng's fiction which focuses on the lower class Chinese American families in California. Generally speaking, I am interested in the (re)construction of class formations in these novels. I will be specifically concerned with the following questions: How is "class" portrayed? As natural difference, as antagonistic conflict, as fate or historical contingency? In what ways and with what degree of consistency do discussions of class differ between characters from middle and upper class locations and those from working classes? How do the different class positions of these characters (and/or authors) and their differential access to class mobility affect the treatment of class in these texts? Yet, my study is also informed by the understanding that the meaning of texts is largely determined by interpretation at the site of reception. Which reading practices lend themselves to a critical understanding of class or to analytic frameworks which privilege other categories (race, gender, etc.)?

While none of these questions can be addressed adequately in the space and time provided, I hope to offer a useful outline or set of parameters for a more sustained study. It is no easy task to delineate the ways in which class conflict under global capitalism and white supremacy is enacted at the site of the text. At the very least, though, I hope to re-emphasize and to further illuminate the fundamental importance of racialized material inequalities to the development of an emergent Asian American literary production.

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