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Society for Intercultural Studies


Authenticities East and West
March 30 - April 1, 2001

Comparative Analysis of Two Immigrant Novelists: Amy Tan and Miri Yû
Fumio Maeda (
Department of East Asian Language & Cultures, Columbia University

In general, the event of immigration involves many elements that provide excellent material for novel-writing. Usually, these might include difficulties in the home-country's political or cultural milieu and the often arduous journey involved in escaping from them; the initial contact with the alternative world and the cultural conflicts that arise during the acquisition of a new language; the fading out of the original culture by the second generation and intergenerational conflict. These elements are powerful enough to build characters and drive stories. In addition, from the view point of a member of a minority group, immigrant literature puts the spotlight on the particular tendencies toward social diversity of the society out of which it evolves.

In this presentation I will compare two novelists of today: Amy Tan of Chinese American background and Miri Yû, a Korean Resident in Japan. Through close examination of their work, I will initiate a discussion about theoretical analysis of immigrant literature in general. First, I would like to focus on the distinct styles of these two novelists. They would appear at first glance to have totally different approaches. Tan maintains a moderate value system consistent with that of middle-class America, while Yû describes the double-standards of Japanese society in an aggressive writing style that includes scenes of explicit violence and sexuality. Their parents, too, had completely different immigration experiences. Tan's parents chose to flee from the danger of Chinese civil war and to emigrate to the "free world," while Yû's parents were forced to move to Japan by the Japanese military during the colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Even after Korean independence, they could not return home because of their complicated family situations and considerations of employment. However, I would like to suggest that they do share many qualities as immigrant writers.

The second point I would like to raise for discussion, is how the two writers' works reflect the diversity of the two societies. Although the US and Japan would seem to have totally different policies about immigration acceptance and appreciation in the US and hesitation and discrimination in Japan Tan and Yû's works reveal rather unexpected tendencies in the two societies. Tan's novels highlight America's struggle to maintain an accepting stance toward immigration, while Yû's stories expose the strong desire in the Japanese people for a diversity that has never been realized even after their economic success.

Finally, I would like to open up the discussion so that we might place these novelists within a more general theoretical comparison of various immigrant literatures.

Fumio Maeda, graduate student of Columbia University (Japanese Pedagogy), currently teaches at Princeton Community Japanese Language School. He has developed a challenging curriculum for the student with advanced level proficiency and bilingual background. He is interested in establishing a theoretical teaching method for the advanced level student through close analysis of texts from bicultural viewpoint. His interest in biculturalism is not limited to literature but includes analysis ofbusiness societies. After 10 years' experience in the Japanese publishing industry, he spent 4 years as a corporate executive in a multinational language service company before starting his academic career. He also writes literary criticism and his latest work "Princeton and Jun Eto" was nominated as a finalist for the 2000 Shincho New Comer Award.

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