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Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature

erin Khuê Ninh
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Anger and bitterness tend to pervade narratives written by second generation Asian American daughters, despite their largely unremarkable upbringings. In Ingratitude, erin Khu Ninh explores this apparent paradox, locating in the origins of these women's maddeningly immaterial suffering not only racial hegemonies but also the structure of the immigrant family itself. She argues that the filial debt of these women both demands and defies repayment - all the better to produce the docile subjects of a model minority.Through readings of Jade Snow Wong's Fifth Chinese Daughter, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, Evelyn Lau's Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, Catherine Liu's Oriental Girls Desire Romance, and other texts, Ninh offers not an empirical study of intergenerational conflict so much as an explication of the subjection and psyche of the Asian American daughter. She connects common literary tropes to their theoretical underpinnings in power, profit, and subjection. In so doing, literary criticism crosses over into a kind of collective memoir of the Asian immigrants' daughter as an analysis not of the daughter, but for and by her.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5919-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This is a book about the Asian immigrant family and intergenerational conflict—conflict that we think we know; after all, the story has been often enough told. But in order to dislodge us from our tired circuits around the immigrant family romance, this analysis deliberately brackets the (inter)personal. SoIngratitudewill not be particularly interested in the mothers in our bones. Instead, it will conduct a reading of the immigrant nuclear family as a special form of capitalist enterprise: one invested, Gayatri Spivak might say, in obtaining “justice under capitalism.” To the extent that migrating to positions of global advantage...

  4. 1 The Filial Debtor: Jade Snow Wong
    (pp. 19-54)

    Of Jade Snow Wong’s early autobiography, it is well established that the 1989 introduction invokes, from its very first sentence, an exoticizing and problematic rhetoric of Chinese cultural otherness, and introduces her childhood experiences immediately into a discourse of “cultural conflict” or (in her words) “conflicting cultural expectations.” “[M]y upbringing by the nineteenth-century standards of Imperial China, which my parents deemed correct, was quite different from that enjoyed by twentieth-century Americans in San Francisco, where I had to find my identity and vocation” (JS Wong, vii). In the narrative, that which is Chinese in association is often felt to be...

  5. 2 Refractions of Harm: Maxine Hong Kingston
    (pp. 55-80)

    Maxine Hong Kingston’sThe Woman Warrior¹opens with the most famous of her chapters: the story of the No Name Woman. This family fable, in which Maxine’s aunt drowns herself and her newborn in the family well on the night of the villagers’ masked raid, contains violence, judgment, illicit sexuality, and retribution—the elemental high drama of fairy tales, folk legends, and nightmares.² It is said by the narrator to exemplify the manner of story her mother would tell, and, like the more broadly circulated versions of childhood’s oral traditions, it serves to mark out the parameters of gender, morality, family...

  6. 3 The Caring of Jailers: Evelyn Lau, Catherine Liu
    (pp. 81-124)

    Though it catapulted her to mainstream fame, and notoriety, the publication of Evelyn Lau’sRunaway: Diary of a Street Kid(1989)¹ was not well received by the Chinese Canadian community. An abridged journal of the teenager’s two years on the sidewalks of Canadian cities, in and out of social services and strangers’ homes, the book devotes the bulk of its pages to her harrowing accounts of homelessness, hunger, beatings, drug use, prostitution, and to her ongoing dialogue with her psychiatrist. Framing and underlying these accounts, however, are the writer’s condemnation of her parents and bitter rejection of the immigrant home....

  7. 4 Desirable Daughters: Fae Myenne Ng, Elaine Mar, Chitra Divakaruni
    (pp. 125-158)

    Among the three ill-fated daughters of Fae Myenne Ng’sBone—“one unmarried, another who-cares-where, one dead” (Ng, 24)¹—there is a suicide to be sure, but there is also a disownment. When Nina, pregnant and unmarried, decides to abort, she decides also to inform her parents of these developments. The disclosure is unnecessary on any legal or logistical level—bound to do no good, then, but to prompt her expulsion from the family; it is both baffling and intelligible to her eldest sister for that same reason. As their parents curse Nina, sure enough, to suffer and die abandoned and...

  8. Afterword: The Ending
    (pp. 159-164)

    Ingratitudegoes to press something like a decade since its first pencil outline, and it’s strange to see how predictive that outline truly was. Though what I could not at that time have predicted, what would have confounded the imagination then, is the present. In which living is not a debtor’s prison, and one’s most cherished wish is not escape. But this book ends on a bridge. Which is why it is important that I finally say to my sisters, whom I do not want to abandon at that wind-whipped railing: the heroine lives. There is a happy ending. Yet...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 165-186)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-196)
  11. In Gratitude
    (pp. 197-198)
  12. Index
    (pp. 199-206)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 207-207)