A House is Not a Home: Searching for Home in the works of Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Gish Jen


Erin Lem

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America, long considered the melting pot of global cultures and people, has evolved from a refuge for the once displaced and abandoned to a diverse and pluralistic community. As America remains a country of immigrants, it is fitting that both immigrant and minority authors concentrate their works on thematic concerns relevant to immigration, assimilation, and displacement. Most notably of contemporary Chinese American authors, Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior, 1975), Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club, 1989), and Gish Jen (The Love Wife, 2004), all confront their own complex identities as Chinese-Americans, women writers, mothers, and daughters. While the thematic concern with ?home? is prevalent in immigrant texts, there proves no easy method to define home, as this term, especially for ethnic minorities, is often complex, abstract, and fluid. The ambiguity of this word suggests that a home is not solely a physical establishment, but also an abstraction that is defined and fashioned by culture, family, nationality, and gender. Each author sheds light on the evolution of the Asian American experience from 1975-2004. As assimilation occurs and diversity increases exponentially, change, especially for Asian Americans, is a certainty. In searching for home, each author helps to re-define the Chinese American experience and attempts to investigate and clarify the transformation from Chinese to Chinese American. As Xiao-Huang Yin comments, ?in the past assimilation meant that you had to become 100% white American. But ideas of assimilation change and now you can be both Chinese and American. You can be both an insider and an outsider? (Interview 7.15.05). It is the search for the new American reality, in short, an existence between worlds that drives my investigation to discern what it means to exist on both the inside and the outside.


Eric Newhall




Ford Research Endowment

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