Abstract: Gish Jen’s The Love Wife (2005)

This is the abstract for a paper I recently presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Missoula, Montana.

Reemerging Histories: Destabilizing Normative Models of Kinship, Identity and Nationality in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife

Family and identity are consistently linked to a conception of nationality—one that emphasizes the importance of cultural and biological ties as rooted in particular locales. However, as globalization facilitates the blurring of bodies and boundaries, the resulting changes suggest a need to re-conceptualize figurations of kinship and the self. This paper examines how Jen’s The Love Wife (2005) destabilizes normative constructions of family, identity and nationality, ushering in new modes for negotiating operant transnational dimensions. Her portrayal of Blondie and Carnegie’s family exemplifies American diversity through the interracial marriage of a Caucasian female and Chinese-American male, a union further complicated by the couple’s adopted and biological children. But rather than painting an idealized portrait of the “new” American family, Jen presents readers with a model of multiculturalism in crisis, illustrating how repressed histories contest current kinship practices. I argue that these reemerging histories create a rupture in the family that transforms it from a private to transnational space, opening a discourse between cultures that allows for a reexamination of kinship and identity across national boundaries. Therefore, as Jen exposes the flaws in this “multicultural” family, rending it apart and reconstructing it in a globalized context, she not only alters our understanding of kinship and identity, but also re-imagines America. By perceiving family and nation from a transnational framework, where complex histories intersect and overlap, where racial and ethnic differences are acknowledged rather than repressed, it becomes possible to create new models for self and national identification. Ultimately, through my analysis of The Love Wife, I will demonstrate how Jen transforms our understanding of “ethnic” narratives as merely localized texts, compelling them to be recognized as part of an American literature that is, at its heart, fundamentally global.

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