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.

Works Consulted:

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Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. 5.2 (2005): 124-148. Print. (Annotation)

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Annotation: Helena Grice’s “Transracial Adoption Narratives” (2005)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my CUNY Pipeline Thesis, titled: “Reemerging Histories: Destabilizing Normative Models of Kinship, Identity and Nationality in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife.” See my prospectus here.

Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. 5.2 (2005): 124-148. Print.

In this article, Grice describes the challenges of transracial adoption for both parents and children, paying particular attention to cases from China. By analyzing these narratives, she reveals the complex issues that surround transracial adoption. For instance, the difficulty of “birth heritage,” both from the perspective of parents trying to expose adopted children to their cultural heritage and the children’s own efforts to negotiate these ancestral and American customs (136). Grice also explains the importance of naming in the adoption procedure, the complexity that arises between keeping a child’s Chinese name or anglicizing it to provide a new identity (138). However, the most relevant issue Grice discusses in terms of my own project is the significant role race plays in the adoption process, since it is the “most obvious marker of difference between a transracially adopted child and her parents” (141). In Jen’s novel we witness the racial divides in terms of Blondie’s relationship with her adopted Asian daughters, Lizzy and Wendy. Lan’s appearance in their family seems to heighten these racial tensions by forcing Blondie to acknowledge her own physical differences and the barriers these differences create. She instead learns to look at her family through the eyes of an outsider, which forces her to recognize the persisting racial tensions that she has thus far tried to ignore.