Intergenerational Conflict in Ethnic Literature

Mothers from a Different World

Examination Thesis, 2011

68 Pages, Grade: 1,5



1. Introduction.

2. The United States and Immigration
2.1 From Gold Mountain Laborers to Model Minority: The Chinese
2.2 From Issei to Gosei: The Japanese
2.3 On Racism: Yellow Peril and the Anti-Japanese Sentiment
2.4 The Immigrants’ Literary Produce: Ethnic Literature

3. Literary Techniques: An Analysis
3.1 The Importance of Presentation
3.2 Figure Constellation and Characterization

4. The Central Issues in The Woman Warrior and No-No Boy
4.1 Gender Roles and Their Deconstruction
4.2 The Tacit Rebellion: Femininity in The Woman Warrior
4.2.1 Women vs Chinese community
4.2.2 The Novel ’ s Feminist Agenda
4.3 Virtues of the Samurai: Masculinity in No-No Boy
4.4 Forms of (Non-) Communication and Social Interaction
4.4.1 Speech as a Means of Showing Personality
4.4.2 Voice and Silence in The Woman Warrior
4.5 Identity Formation: In Between the Worlds
4.5.1 A Social-Behavioral Approach: The “ I ” and the “ Me ”
4.5.2 Between Talk-Story and the Laundry Mountain: Maxine
4.5.3 Momotaro ’ s Transition: Ichiro

5 Flowers in the Melting Pot
5.1 Americanization or Why the Mothers Never Really Stood a Chance
5.2 The Endings of the Two Stories

6. Conclusion

7 Bibliography

1. Introduction

The relationship between a mother and her children has been a prominent topic in litera- ture ever since the genre of written fiction has become popular in the past. Mother fig- ures from Jocasta in the ancient Greek tragedy King Oedipus and Gertrude in the Shakespeare classic Hamlet to Norma Bates in the 20th century suspense novel Psycho, to name but a few, have thrilled the audience as well as given critics a diverse subject to deal with. One reason for this ongoing fascination over centuries of literary production may lie in the extraordinarily complex relationship structure which can be developed between a mere dyad of people who happen to be mother and child. Yet, another reason for the perpetual re-invention of the issue can be found in its apparent comprehensibil- ity: every human being has a biological mother and gets socialized by at least one focal person of reference which enables them to relate to the fictional stories easily. The unique quality of mothers in this process - as plain as it sounds - still is their ability to bear children, and by this act to establish an irreplaceable link to another human being.

In the twentieth century, the socio-anthropological development has created a myriad of new possibilities and demographic changes that consequently were to find their way into literature and even have created new genres. Due to “significant shifts […] in attitudes towards sexuality” (Allan 10), technological advance, and demographic changes, a whole new range of potential life-styles has evolved since the end of World War II. This involved deconstruction of a traditional middle-class myth, namely the breaking up of the nuclear family’s near-monopoly position has ultimately led to an “increasing diversity occurring in family and household patterns” (Allan 10). Conse- quently, issues like working mothers, single-parent families, step-families, or same-sex couples adopting children have also enriched literary production of the past fifty years. Additionally to this, the increase of migration to the western industrialized societies has caused a development of a wider ethnic diversity than before the turn of the century. Especially in the United States of America this influx of new potential authors became the cornerstone of a prolific process which has been producing works apart from Amer- ican mainstream literature and still continues to do so.

Speaking of American literature after all, the term only on first glance seems easily applicable to all writings composed inside the borders of the United States. Be- cause of its historically grown status as a “nation of immigrants” (Koven & Götzke 1), it is difficult to point out one specific “American” culture, hence a consistent national literature (see Gray xi). The one population group which used to shape and likewise claimed to be the definition of the term “American mainstream” was naturally the pre- vailing white and English-speaking majority. It was not until the 1960s that this WASP1 -centered structure slowly started to finally open up and consequently the ideal- istic concept of the “melting pot” got at least partially revived (see Koven & Götzke 11). So alongside of the postmodern mainstream, a branch in American literature has begun to thrive which Gray calls the development “towards a transnational nation” (553). He further points out that what all forms of “writing in contemporary America share is their condition: their presence in a permeable space where nations and cultures meet” (Gray 564).

This aforementioned space becomes particularly important when authors belong- ing to a minority group write about experiences of fictional or actual members of their community. Tensions between the possibly stigmatized minority group and the domi- nating culture are bound to occur in these plots, but also conflicts between the insiders of the respective social sub-segment can be caused by a variety of possible reasons. Two novels that seem almost predestined for an analysis on that score are The Woman Warrior by Chinese American author Maxine Hong Kingston and No-No Boy by the Japanese American novelist John Okada. Despite the decidedly different cultural back- grounds of the two protagonist families, their perception by the society they live in is rather undifferentiated. Hence the two protagonists, both of whom were born as children of immigrants from the first generation, have to face similar challenges in their devel- opment towards finding their places in society. Because of this in many respects parallel constellation, the two texts actually overlap in most of their important themes and mo- tives, which will be under consideration in the following chapters. The paper’s main focus of attention is therefore going to be put on the interaction between the two moth- ers and their American-born children, and in what way the mothers’ constant promotion of their traditional cultural conduct impairs their children’s development. Further on, the question will be raised as in how far the mother figures’ actions, their behavior, as well as the way in which they communicate their values and beliefs are bound to eventually make themselves the primary antagonists in their children’s search for identity.

In order to set a starting point, the following chapter is going to deal with Asian immigration to the United States and its consequences for the country. Moreover, for a better understanding of the foreign culture, it is also necessary to shed some light on the people who decided to come to an alien and in most cases, hostile society.

2. The United States and Immigration

Throughout her book Asian American Literature - An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context, Elaine H. Kim aptly argues that understanding the social context of Asian-American immigration history is crucial to reading Asian-American writings. While reading a novel without any further knowledge about its socio-cultural back- grounds can certainly be entertaining and rewarding, it would be virtually impossible to render an elaborate analysis of the literary work without further investigation in this respect. Therefore, the following chapter is going to outline the most important mile- stones in U.S. immigration history until the beginning of the 21st century, giving special attention to the ethnic groups of interest. In the process, several themes which are quite relevant to Asian-American literature, like racial discrimination or sense of belonging, will be introduced by providing an overview of the historical development of the Chi- nese American and the Japanese American communities.

The United States of America has been an immigrant nation since the very mo- ment when the first European settlers landed on the New World’s shores and thus be- came permanent residents in the 17th century. Henceforth, the by all means controversial topic “immigration”, and how to deal with it as a nation, has time and again been high on the agenda of American politics ever since. The reason for this can undoubtedly be seen in “an especially dramatic way, how race has been socially constructed among immigrants” (Foner 11). Further on, Foner gives a reasonable example to prove the sub- jectivity and negotiability of the term “race”: “At the turn of the twentieth century, when nearly all New York city residents were of European descent, recently arrived Jewish and Italian immigrants were seen as racially distinct from and inferior to those of Anglo-Saxon or Nordic stock” (11) - an expression of zeitgeist which from a modern point of view seems almost ludicrous. As a matter of fact, the ever present influx of for- eigners frequently used to change in provenance as well as in number over the centu- ries; and so did the statutory response to the newcomers from all the different parts of the world. From the first law to regulate immigration, which limited the right of natural- ization to “free white person[s]” and was passed by Congress in the year 1790, to the eventual extension of naturalization to all Asians in 1952, the United States is harking back on a multifarious immigration history (see Foner & Fredrickson 3). This development has found its temporary solution in the 1990 Immigration Act, which has since then permitted 700,000 immigrants to enter the country without racial or other discrimination per year (see CIS).

For the United States of the 21st century the weight of immigration is unbroken. According to the latest U.S. census, which got published in the year 2003, more than eleven percent of all citizens were foreign-born. Together with their children, who mostly are born and raised inside the United States, this segment constitutes over one- fifth of the American population - with a tendency to increase in the long-run (see Malone, et al. 1-12). The number of people who claimed their ancestry to be Asian in the 2000 census was about twelve million people or 4.2 percent of the total population, also with a prospect of rapid growth in the near future (Barnes & Bennett 3).

2.1 From Gold Mountain Laborers to Model Minority: The Chinese

The reasons for people to leave the country where they have been born and raised are manifold. Migration theorists speak of “push” and “pull” factors that persuade common people to take the extreme deprivations, hazards, and costs of turning their back on their home country. As stated in Koven and Götzke (5), “push” factors are related to the im- migrants’ country of origin and include “[u]nemployment, political repression, religious persecution, loss of wealth, natural disasters, poor housing, and exploitative landlords”. The opposite is true for the “pull” factors which add up to the allure that the country of destination embodies for the migrants. Hence, common “pull” factors include “favora- ble job opportunities, better living conditions, religious freedom, political freedom, ac- cess to better education, access to better medical care, and family ties” (Koven & Götzke 5).

Certainly a lot of those factors played a role for the first Chinese immigrants who settled along the west coast in the middle of the 19th century. Still, the most salient reason to come to Gum San, or “the gold mountain,” as the Chinese metaphorically called the United States at that time, was the news of rich diggings and good wages which “fired the imagination of young men who were unable even to find the next meal in their homeland” (Gall & Natividad 42). As the majority of these young men used to be relatively unskilled laborers or peasants, many of them got exploited by companies that tried to maximize their profits with the indigent and virtually helpless venturers.

The work the Chinese got recruited for was mainly tough, physical labor; they had to “extract metals and minerals, construct a vast railroad network, reclaim swamp-lands, […] and operate highly competitive, labor-intensive manufacturing industries in the western states” (Wang 299). The objective of enduring these exertions was clear and shared by all the young Chinese, namely to “advance their […] economic well-being during their sojourn and to return to their ancestral villages to enjoy the fruits of their labor during retirement” (Wang 299). Nonetheless, although many of the immigrants’ glamorous expectations did not turn out as hoped-for, it was still possible for “[a] work- er in Gum San earning a dollar a day” to help their left-behind “Gold Mountain wives” or even “an entire clan by sending part of his wages back to his village” (Gall & Na- tividad 43).

Meanwhile, conditions have taken a turn to the better. The winds of change for the Chinese started to blow during and after the years of World War II. As the number of American-born children had significantly risen in the Chinese communities since the 1920s, the U.S. government began to see the Chinese Americans as potential work force. Along with being drafted into all branches of military service, the Chinese Amer- icans eventually got the possibility to work in defense-related industries where they “excelled in science and technology and made substantial inroads into new sectors of the labor market during the war” (Wang 307). In 1952, the “McCarran-Walter Act” eliminated race as a bar to immigration and finally made naturalization possible for all ethnic groups. Ten years later, President John F. Kennedy ushered a new era when he claimed that U.S. immigration policy should both be fair and generous, and made the following statement in Congress: “It is time to correct the mistakes of the past and work toward a better future for all humanity” (qtd. in Gall & Natividad 51).

In the years leading up to the turn of the millenium, a new influx of highly- skilled scientists and engineers from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong got recruited by the leading U.S. research centers, the rising high-tech industries, and not least by uni- versities (see Wang 307). It seemed like the once so deprived and mistreated Chinese had ultimately found their way into the American society, and even had even become a “model minority”. In fact, the “model minority” stereotype, which has been created and fiercely maintained by the media since the 1960s is a misleading one since the “highly celebrated intellectuals […] have little, politically, economically, or socially in common with the direct descendants of the prewar Chinese communities in big cities” (Wang 307). The effects of this bifurcation of post-war Chinese American society are still visi- ble today: beside the mostly well-educated middle-class there is still the majority of the urban working class. These owners of laundries, restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses have become an integral part of the cityscape of American cities as they “with little or no English […] pursued their ‘American dream’ by working long hours, often with free labor from family members or cheap labor from relatives” (Wang 307). To put it in a nutshell, the modern Chinese American community is - like any other - not so much a homogenous assemblage of people as a reference to individuals who share a common ethnic heritage.

2.2 The Japanese: From Issei to Gosei

“People are shaped by their history and few examples more graphically illustrate that point than Japanese Americans” (Gall & Natividad 111). Mostly because of their status as “non-whites”, the Japanese American community - like the Chinese Americans - underwent a tumultuous history of racial and social degradation. Especially the issei, or “first generation” Japanese immigrants, had to suffer the most as they “were excluded from some occupations, could not own land, […] could not become U.S. citizens, […] faced discrimination and prejudice” (Easton & Ellington 802). Despite, or maybe even because of these adverse conditions, the Japanese American community continually showed a strong will to acculturate and adapt to the Caucasian-dominated society which eventually enabled them to become what they are today: a well-established and highly esteemed minority. And although the Japanese in the past were relatively small in num- ber and still are so today, they nevertheless “played a major role in American history, especially in the history of the American West” (Niiya ix).

This history of the Japanese Americans begins in the year 1868 when 149 Japa- nese emigrants literally got imported as substitutes for Chinese workers on Hawaiian sugar plantations (cf. Easton & Ellington 799). Yet, for the time being, those contract laborers meant an exception to the rule for two reasons: on the one hand, as Japan “fe- verishly modernized […] a rapidly industrializing economy and a strong military” (Easton & Ellington 799) in the decades after 1870, the “push” factors to leave the country were not as strong as for other nationals. On the other hand, due to the govern- ment’s isolationist policy, it simply remained illegal to emigrate from Japan until 1884. As a result, Japanese sojourners only sparsely entered the United States until the 1880s. This circumstance should in a sustained manner get changed when the Chinese Exclu- sion Act became law in 1882 and hence the expanding U.S. economy was jeopardized by a sudden lack of foreign labor inflow. At the same time, the Japanese government’s fear of Western imperialism also began to show its drawbacks: although it eventually triggered off modernization and industrialization in the formerly isolated country, a bundle of new taxes had to be imposed on the population in order to finance those ef- forts. In the following economic depression, many farmers lost their lands due to an inability to pay these taxes (see Gall & Natividad 100). So in 1885, when the Japanese government finally “announced openings for 600 emigrants for the first shipment of labor to Hawaii, it received 28,000 applications” (Gall & Natividad 100).

In the following decades, a constant flow of Japanese migrants reached Hawaii and the continental U.S. - and just like the first Chinese immigrants before them, the predominantly male issei did not at all intend to seek new homes or lives in the United States. On the contrary, their plan included an ultimate “return to Japan ‘in glory,’ using their savings to discharge and erase family debts and regain lost property or purchase new land” (Gall & Natividad 101) in their home country. Likewise, the Japanese gov- ernment expected their emigrants to come back sooner or later; and “[f]ueled by a rising sense of nationalism, they tended to view these emigrants as representatives of Japan. It was important, therefore, that the emigrants maintain Japan’s honor” (Gall & Natividad 101). Steadily growing in number until the beginning of the 20th century, these relative- ly well-educated Japanese emigrants quickly began to challenge the roles which they had inherited from the Chinese: they formed trade unions, demanding equal payment and better working conditions. As a reaction to this, the corrosive stereotype of “the aggressive, cunning, and conspiratorial Japanese requiring more active dominant efforts to keep them in their place” (Kim 123) developed in the Caucasian majority.

Like for the Chinese American community, the overall situation should improve rapidly for the Japanese Americans after World War II, as the issei now started to ac- tively encourage their children to form friendships and close associations with Cauca- sians. Along with that, “[h]ierarchical thinking, characteristic of Japanese culture, led to pressure to achieve academically and to compete successfully in the larger Caucasian- dominated society” (Easton & Ellington 802). In recent decades, Japanese Americans have also been attributed the cachet of being a “‘model minority’ because of their repu- tation for hard work and their high education attainment” (Easton & Ellington 802). Due to a lack of new arrivals from Japan and an exceptionally high rate of outmarriage, most current predictions estimate that “by the time the gosei (the fifth generation Japa- nese Americans) reach adulthood, the Japanese American community […] will very likely have disappeared” (Gall & Natividad 111).

2.3 On Racism: Yellow Peril and the Anti-Japanese Sentiment

One very central issue in the history of Asian immigration to the United States is racial and social discrimination of the individuals by the Caucasian-American majority. Now from a modern point of view, it seems only natural that along with their hopes, dreams, and their almost boundless willingness to work, the Asian venturers and laborers also brought their language, culture, social institutions, and customs to the foreign country. Unfortunately this did not always appeal to the Caucasian majority which at several points of time felt economically threatened by the growing number of industrious and successful Asian immigrants (cf. Kim 124). To call a spade a spade, the nation more than only once reacted with most flagrant forms of racist and discriminatory legislation; thus it carelessly accepted the corrosive impact on the Asians’ feelings of national be- longing. Fortunately, in the United States of the 21st century misconduct towards immi- grant communities, like large-scale violent riots or racial segregation laws, clearly is a thing of the past. Still, as novels like No-No Boy, The Woman Warrior, and numerous other Ethnic texts prove, the turbulent history of American immigration has spawned some issues yet to be reviewed and worked on in the future.

Despite their reputation of being reclusive, the Chinese actually “tried to become an integral part of the U.S. population” (Wang 298) right from the start. This sentiment, that the newcomers from Asia should be integrated into society, was shared by the Eu- ro-American majority at least until the mid-nineteenth century, before the first big wave of Asian immigration had fully hit the united States: in 1850, for instance, “groups of Chinese were invited to march in President Zachery Taylor’s funeral procession, and helped celebrate California’s admission to the union later that year” (Gall & Natividad 43). However, as time went by, and the racially distinct minority grew in number, this positive attitude towards the Chinese changed. In the mid-1850s, anti-Chinese workers’ groups were founded by people who disfavored ethnic diversity and feared “that cheap Chinese labor would drive down wages” (Gall & Natividad 47) - a bigoted combination of beliefs that became known as “Yellow Peril”. In the following years, the “Yellow Peril” development was heading for escalation, starting with organized boycotts of Chi- nese labor, and eventually leading to violent mob attacks on Chinese communities by the mid-1870s. This negative attitude towards the Chinese was kept upright in the fol- lowing decades: by the 1920s they had been driven to the fringes of society; hence they were seen as being the “perpetual aliens, […] far from the mainstream, […] as stub- bornly clannish outsiders locked into Chinatowns” (Gall & Natividad 50).

The authorities meanwhile turned a blind eye to the infringements on their citi- zens without citizenship. “When Chinese labor was no longer needed and political agi- tation against the Chinese intensified, the U.S. Congress enacted a series of very harsh anti-Chinese laws […], designed to exclude Chinese immigrants and deny naturalization and democratic rights to those already in the United States” (Wang 299). So in the years after 1854, the Chinese were refused housing in many areas, got barred from testifying in court, and were forced to educate their children in segregate “Oriental” schools. Ad- ditionally a set of oppressive taxes, like the “foreign Miners Tax”, the “monthly Alien Poll Tax” or the “laundry license fee” got introduced over the years, and were mostly successfully challenged over time by members of the Chinese communities (see Gall & Natividad 43-45). Although some of the Chinese frequently litigated these human rights violations, the community as a whole nonetheless appeared to be a rather obedient and submissive. As already mentioned, most of the Chinese did not plan on staying in the United States for good. With this “sojourner mentality, they developed a high degree of tolerance for hardship and racial discrimination” (Wang 301). Still, the anti-Chinese laws effected exactly what their designers intended to achieve; namely to “discourage immigration and intimidate and segregate Chinese Americans further” - a circumstance which ultimately “instilled in the Chinese a deep-seated distrust in U.S. law, which was repeatedly altered to be used against them” (Gall & Natividad 45). As the attitude towards Asian immigrants had already deteriorated in general by the late 19th century, the formerly preferred Japanese also became targets of racial dis- crimination. A new phenomenon started to arise at the beginning of the 20th century: the “Anti-Japanese Sentiment.” Due to a growing fear of too much diversification in the demographic structure, many Americans favored restricting immigration through a quo- ta system by the beginning of the 1920s. So without further ado, the legislature re- sponded to this sentiment in the population with a new law in 1924: though originally designed to restrict immigration “without discriminating against any country” (Easton & Ellington 800), the exclusion of Japanese immigration was explicitly incorporated into the Immigration Act by the Senate. Yet, already before this particularly discrimina- tive decree got signed into law by President Coolidge, the Japanese had had to accept significant setbacks in their integration process. The most prominent example is certain- ly the case Ozawa v. United Stated in which the plaintiff, Takao Ozawa, is described as follows:

The appellant is a person of the Japanese race born in Japan. He applied, on October 16, 1914, to the United States District Court for the Territory of Hawaii to be admitted as a citizen of the United States. […] Including the period of his residence in Hawaii the ap- pellant had continuously resided in the United States for 20 years. He was a graduate of the Berkeley, Cal., high school, had been nearly three years a student in the University of California, had educated his children in American schools, his family had attended American churches and he had maintained the use of the English language in his home. That he was well qualified by character and education for citizenship is conceded. (cf. Ozawa v. United States)

Once again, this process gives a detailed impression of American zeitgeist when Ozawa eventually got denied U.S. citizenship by the Supreme Court in 1922. In the reasoning the judges claimed that “[t]he appellant, in the case now under consideration, however, is clearly of a race which is not Caucasian” (Ozawa v. United States) and is therefore not eligible to citizenship under the naturalization laws.

Although events like the aforementioned can be considered as outbursts of an ever-present subliminal xenophobia, World War II ultimately brought along a new qual- ity in the United States’ policy of racial discrimination. And as much as the war marked a turning point towards a positive development in the Chinese American desegregation, it initially meant exactly the opposite for the Japanese Americans. As already men- tioned, in the Japanese community of the late 19th century, men outnumbered women by far. Now, in order to protect the Japanese men from “problems of gambling, prostitu- tion, and alcoholism” (Gall & Natividad 101) the Japanese government encouraged the emigration of women. Understandably, the “Japanese emigrant men required little en- couragement to bring wives to the United States” (Gall & Natividad 101), and so by 1924, “over 14,000 Japanese women had come, mostly as ‘picture brides,’ to join hus- bands they had seen only in photographs” (Kim 124). In the following years this caused a significant shift in the community’s demographic structure: “By 1930, second- generation Japanese Americans constituted 52 percent of the continental U.S. popula- tion of their ethnic group” (Easton & Ellington 805) who in turn were granted American citizenship by birthright.

It was on December 7, 1941, when the future of the Japanese American commu- nity got thrown into upheaval and disarray, and the birthright of the nisei, or second- generation Japanese Americans, suddenly lost its validity. The insidious and devastating assault on one of the most important U.S. naval bases in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by the Imperial Japanese Navy was all the U.S. officials needed to violate several Constitu- tional and general civil rights themselves in the following process. After years of grow- ing anti-Asian sentiment and under the pretext of “securing the United States from threats of espionage or sabotage” the U.S. government finally gave way to “a wide- spread and even more vociferous desire to rid the West Coast of Japanese Americans” (Gall & Natividad 105). When signing the “Executive Order 9066” on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt most certainly must have acted against his con- science as he evidentially had access to a 25-page report which stated that “Japanese Americans were possessed of an extraordinary degree of loyalty to the United States and the immigrant Japanese were of no danger to the United States” (Gall & Natividad 104). Nonetheless, all persons of Japanese ancestry were rounded up in a cloak-and- dagger operation and deported to what the officials euphemistically called “assembly centers”. People like Takao Ozawa who had been living and working in the United States for more than thirty or forty years, issei veterans who had fought for the United States in World War I, and also U.S. born children of issei parents - none of the more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent received a trial or even charges before being forced to precipitately abandon their homes and lives.

For the remaining war years the Japanese Americans in custody had to stay un- der humiliating conditions in the so-called internment camps, which were inter alia lo- cated in the desert areas of Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming. Due to effective wartime propaganda only few parts of the population objected to the oppressive treatment of loyal American residents or citizens while “most Americans either approved or were neutral about the actions” (Easton & Ellington 808) of their administration. Still, the U.S. government’s most absurd gambit was yet to come: by the end of 1942 all young Japanese American men were henceforth classified as enemy aliens; a status which they could only rebut by joining the U.S. armed forces (see Gall & Natividad 106). While many of the young Japanese American men also interpreted this as “their first real op- portunity to prove their loyalty to the United States” (Kim 133) it was, in fact, nothing else than blunt and federally organized blackmail. When in February 1943, all the in- terned Japanese Americans over the age of 17 had to fill in a 33-item “loyalty question- naire”2 the following two questions caused trouble for the young men:

Q. 27: ‘Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?’ and Q. 28: ‘Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by for- eign or domestic forces, and foreswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japa- nese emperor, to any foreign government, power or organization?’ (cf. Gall & Natividad 106)

For these two items only “yes” or “no” answers were accepted, respectively with two possible consequences: those who answered affirmatively got drafted and sent to the European war theaters. The young men who answered “no” and “no” got prosecuted and, without exception, sentenced to prison on the grounds that “draft resistance consti- tutes a criminal offence against the State just like tax evasion, extortion and drunk driv- ing” (Sakai 244).

In the following years, questions 27 and 28 created “a huge controversy among and caused bitter divisions within the Japanese American community” (Gall & Nativid- ad 106). On the one hand, the response to the enforced loyalty oath divided the young and male generation into veterans and “no-no boys”, as the draft-holdouts were called derogatively later on. On the other hand, the questioning in particular, and also the in- ternment procedure as a whole meant a “bitter disillusionment over what were perceived the empty rhetorical promises of American equality and justice” (Yogi, Literature 132) for all members of the ethnic minority.

2.4 The Immigrants’ Literary Produce: Ethnic Literature

When defining the term “ethnic literature”, the most obvious approach is certainly to speak of “literature by writers who perceive themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority and write from this perspective” (Palmer & Rasproich). Apart from that, “literature works that deal with immigrant or ethnic experience but are not necessarily written by a member of the group portrayed” (Palmer & Rasproich) are also considered to match the genre. Now the most prominent point of interest for a literary analysis would certainly be the question what exactly constitutes the “ethnic experience” and which consequences can it possibly entail for a literary text.

As the historical overview has shown, immigrants - and especially those who are racially distinct from the predominant mainstream culture - have always been the targets for marginalization and racial discrimination. It is exactly this kind of “pheno- typical distinction and the ongoing social construction of race” (Douglas 129) that has constantly provided complex and interesting topics and thus made ethnic literature a thriving branch of American literature in the past decades. Recently, books of authors belonging to an ethnic minority have ultimately achieved mass-market appeal, and es- pecially “the literary works by Asian American authors are being published in record numbers” (Gall & Natividad 557). Some of the reasons for this trend seem not too far too seek as, for instance, the number of citizens of Asian ancestry had risen constantly since the 1960s and thus the potential audience automatically grew with it. But also the Euro-American majority started to get interested by the 1970s when the social change movement started an ongoing process that has “empower[ed] Asian Americans while challenging many fundamental beliefs and practices of mainstream society” (Gall & Natividad 558). Hence, in these times of perpetual redefining identities and social roles, it makes good sense to be aware of certain cultural settings and relationships in a coun- try heading towards a pluralist ethnicity.

To achieve this, literature is the perfect medium as it cannot only give a multi- plicity of historical and sociological facts - which ideally gets incorporated into an ab- sorbing plot - but it can also generate understanding on an emotional level. In concrete terms this means that nowadays it is relatively easy to get all kinds of statistical and factual information about any historical or sociological topic. However, there is no way to illustrate in a statistic the inner turmoil of an individual who had to experience the Japanese interment in World War II, or the confusion of a child being socialized by a Chinese family and an American environment at the same time. This is something only literature can achieve to the full extent.

3. Literary Techniques: An Analysis

When trying to analyze such highly respected and esteemed pieces of literature like No- No Boy and The Woman Warrior, it seems to make good sense to differentiate between the analysis of the actual content of plot on the one side, and the authors’ literary tech- niques to convey these contents as felicitously as possible on the other side. In order to lay the groundwork for the analysis of plot, the immediately following part will be ex- amining some of the very noticeable methods utilized by Okada and Kingston in their novels. Hence, initially the focus of attention will be on the relation between author, narrator, narration, and narratee and in how far the author is capable of influencing the reader’s perception of what is being presented in the plot. Secondly, as the main argu- ment of the paper claims that the protagonists’ mothers are at the same time their main obstacles in developing the way they intend, the novels’ figure constellations and their respective impact on the plot will be inquired in further detail thereafter.

3.1 The Importance of Presentation

Revisiting the topic of how to create an understanding for an ethnic minority’s foreign culture in an outsider, one question of vital concern is how the plot gets presented in a novel. As literature, and especially ethnic literature, gets inter alia utilized by its authors “to promote the political agendas of their ethnic groups” (Chang What You Eat 175) in a non-violent way, it is especially important for them to depict the cultural roots of the Asian emigrants and their differences to an occidental world view as comprehensibly as possible to the Western socialized reader. In order to achieve this, the author usually relies on a narrating instance through which his messages get filtered before reaching the potential reader. This narrator then acts as the “voice and implied speaker of a fic- tional work, to be distinguished from the actual living author” (DiYanni 2002) and his intentions. In the case of No-No Boy and The Woman Warrior, this discrepancy between the authors’ actual intentions and their partly changing viewpoint characters’ rendition of those intentions is used on the one hand to convey a broader range of different “first- hand” impressions, and on the other hand to subtly give the reader some more leeway for his or her own interpretations.

On the surface, the narrating perspective in No-No Boy seems to be an absolutely plain one: the story’s narrator is obviously a third-person subjective narrator whose point of view is that of the protagonist, Ichiro. Hence, most of the time the reader gets constant access to Ichiro’s thoughts and perceptions, as well as his interactions with his environment. Despite the apparent advantages this narrative mode is bound to bring with it, like for instance an enhanced authenticity, there are to be expected some draw- backs concerning the narrator’s credibility. As Sakai in his article argues, Ichiro is al- most “never allowed to speak unapologetically” (246) throughout the novel. Presuppos- ing that it is the reader, to whom Ichiro constantly tries to justify his reasons for saying “no” in the trial, it is likely that “he would speak to satisfy your [the reader’s] expecta- tions and not offend your sensitivities” (Sakai 246). Apart from Ichiro’s possible unreli- ability as a focalizer for the narration, the narrating perspective in fact is not as stable and continual as it appears on first glance. By having “the narrative voice oscillate be- tween the narrator and Ichiro,” (Sakai 245) the author, Okada, leaves the door open to on the one side present Ichiro’s stream of consciousness-like interior monologues, artic- ulating “some of the most poignant and prescient thoughts about racialized identity in the United States” (Huang 772) in an authentic and credible way. On the other side the narrating perspective is not categorically restricted to Ichiro’s point of view, as for ex- ample the description of the Kannos’ family meeting proves. In this scene the narrating voice suddenly changes from “showing” to “telling,”3 from limited to omniscient: “They laughed together comfortably, the father because he loved his son and the son because he both loved and respected his father, who was a moderate and good man” (Okada 118). This shift in perspective makes perfect sense for two reasons: firstly, as the author intends to depict the intimacy between the members of the Kanno family, Ichiro’s presence would in the least be unnecessary, if not a disturbing factor. Secondly, Okada’s use of the omniscient narrative voice enables him to explicitly characterize the Kanno family and its members’ properties himself, thus not leaving it to the reader’s conclusion. Of course this has to do with the particular function of the Kannos as a counter-image to the Yamada family, which will be discussed later on in further detail.

By way of contrast, the narrative presentation of events is Kingston’s The Wom- an Warrior can be considered a little more complicated. Again, if not examined in more detail, the novel’s narrative voice appears to be rather simple: written from a first- person point of view, the narration seems to be relying on a plain “I” focalization. Fur- ther on, considering some background information about the author’s life story, one might easily assume that author and the narrator are in fact the same person, thus mak- ing the novel an autobiographical work. Dealing with an outstanding piece of literature, all this is only true to a certain degree, with the actual circumstances naturally a bit more subtly nuanced. So like in the examination of the narrative perspective in No-No Boy, one major question of interest addresses the focalization of the narrating voice in The Woman Warrior. Already in this instance a significant difference between the two novels becomes obvious: while in No-No Boy there clearly is only one actual Ichiro, a precise distinction has to be made between three different versions of narrative “I”, or Maxine, in The Woman Warrior. Firstly, there is of course the very narrator, telling the novel’s plot “from the point of view of a middle-aged woman who has finally come to terms with her upbringing and her mother” (Storhoff 77). Secondly, there is the young- er-Maxine’s “I” whose recollections of childhood events along with some of her moth- er’s talk-stories get reproduced by the narrator. Naturally, this coming-of-age version of “I” is also the one that has not yet found its place in society and therefore has to struggle with living in a confusion of Chinese talk-story and the world outside her parental home which is the reality of solid America. Lastly, there is the fictional “I” in “White Tigers,” in which the narrator deliberately chooses to not tell her version of the Fa Mu Lan story from a third-person point of view. Instead she fills the role of the woman warrior herself by referring to the story’s protagonist, Mulan, as “I,” thereby clearly identifying with the properties and virtues of the folktale hero. Due to its nonlinear narrative structure the focalization keeps once and again switching from one narrative “I” to another. This requires the reader’s close attention, as the younger Maxine’s “I” additionally varies in age from scene to scene; from early childhood to adult age, yet, not in a chronological order in the novel.


1 “WASP” is an acronym standing for “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant”. It was first used by the political scientist Axel Hacker in 1957 to denote the affluent upper-class part of the American population which had been dominating the social structure of the United States since the early settlement in the 17th century. The term then got published and thus popularized by Prof. Edward D. Baltzell in his book The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America (1964) .

2 This questionnaire was basically designed to investigate and record the camp dwellers’ whole life under the pretext of military necessity. In fact, no group other than the Japanese Americans had to answer such a questionnaire. Immigrants of German or Italian descent, who logically should have embodied an equivalent potential hazard, were left alone or only bothered on a case-by-case basis (cf. Douglas 133).

3 When ‘showing’ (also called ‘the dramatic method’), the author simply presents the characters talking and acting and leaves the reader to infer the motives and dispositions that lie behind what they say and do. The author may show not only external speech and actions, but also a character's inner thoughts, feelings, and responsiveness to events. In ‘telling,’ the author intervenes authoritatively in order to describe, and often to evaluate, the motives and dispositional qualities of the characters. (Abrams 33-34)

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Intergenerational Conflict in Ethnic Literature
Mothers from a Different World
University of Augsburg  (Neue Englische Literaturen und Kulturwissenschaft)
New English Literatures
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, John Okada, No-No Boy, George H. Mead, The "I" and the "Me", Japanese-American Literature, Chinese-American Literature, Mother - Son Conflict, Diasporic Literature, History of US and Asian Immigration
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Michael Burger (Author), 2011, Intergenerational Conflict in Ethnic Literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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