Negotiating Identities in Asian American Women's Writing
: Gender, Ethnicity, Subjectivity

  • Helena Grice

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


A central concern of much of the emergent literature of Asian American women is the question of how identity is defined. Living in, and writing from, what has been called the `between worlds' condition, engenders an often contradictory and frequently shifting sense of identity in Asian American women's texts. The `hyphenated identity' is further destabilised and complicated by gender.
This precarious female subjectivity is often reflected textually through shifting narrative voices and fractured narratives. A self-consciousness can be detected in the relation between the structures of narrative and the construction of self. Conventional genre distinctions are often traversed so that in particular the demarcations between fiction and autobiography are challenged.
I refract current theoretical discussions of identity and the processes of identity formation through a series of texts by Asian American women which are preoccupied to varying degrees with the question `Who am IT Several possible answers are suggested to the question of where identity actually originates. They are: the maternal, language; physiognomy; `home' and the prominent cultural marker of national identity. It is around these locations of cultural identity that I organise my analysis.
Chapters One and Two introduce a discussion of the ways in which identity is negotiated in this group of texts, and analyse the ways that genre is used and abused by these writers to suit their purposes. Chapter Three addresses the prevalence of mother/daughter writing in this body of work, suggesting that in their depiction of alternative maternal-daughterly arrangements, several Asian American women writers actually challenge dominant analyses of the mother/daughter dyad. As I discuss in Chapter Four, linguistic identity is also a focus of extended interest for many writers, for whom bilingualism is an uneasy condition.
In Chapter Five, I address the Asian American feminist re-writing of the body as signifier. The body is often a battleground of identity. Asian American women's texts repeatedly address the practice of reconstructing the body to project less racially marked identities, as part of a wider project of recovering a positive sense of self-identity. This emphasises the corporeality of identity as well as the connections between the internal and external body.
Chapter Six stresses the roles of culture and the polity in defining and creating identities, through the culturally and legislatively defined identity afforded by citizenship. I argue that particular texts by Asian American women may be read as challenges to dominant constructions of national identity, constructions which sought to exclude certain Asian American groups at critical moments in American history. Chapter Seven addresses the dynamics of space and home, a preoccupation with the idea of return as fundamental to the negotiation of identity. The search for `home', both as psychological construction and real location, is a recurrent preoccupation in many texts.
Date of Award1998
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorLyn Pykett (Supervisor) & Martin Padget (Supervisor)


  • Asian American
  • identity

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