The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club Asian-American Women Writers

Many Asian-American women writers choose to confront their dual minority status through their writing or in their identities as writers. Do they have a responsibility to emphasize the special issues and prejudices they might face? Or should they demand to be read like any other author, without laboring to express these aspects of their personal lives? Should they write more universally, treating human themes that do not depend primarily on the accidental qualities of race and gender or on their other personal qualities? Harold Bloom puts the identity issue concisely: "Is Emily Dickinson to be read as though she has more in common with Elizabeth Barrett Browning than with Ralph Waldo Emerson?" Since high-profile critics have proclaimed that we are in an enlightenment period for Asian-American literature, this issue has seemed more pertinent in recent years. Even so, many such questions are now more than a generation old, and writers and critics who take up this issue are already in some ways behind the times.

Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, pathbreakers among Asian-American women writers, and notably Anchee Min and Gish Jen more recently, have embraced these questions. They have focused on prejudice against women and Asians (a topic of continuing relevance in American society) as well as on crises of cultural identity. These writers seem to acknowledge that in their social context, an important way to become recognized as "writers" is to address topics of culture and prejudice. To ignore these topics, for some readers and critics, would be to do themselves and their heritage a disservice. Yet they are sensitive to the fact that to focus primarily on these topics would limit their range and impact. In In Her Mother's House: The Politics of Asian American Mother-Daughter Writing, Wendy Ho argues that by creating specific images of Asian-American women as mothers, daughters, wives, concubines, victims, heroes, and so on, writers can redefine what an Asian-American woman can seem to be. Yet, the best writers go far beyond such redefinitions, showing people in their uniqueness and complexity, or focusing on nature or some other topic altogether. Besides, many readers already appreciate the interesting balance between human similarities and differences and, for these readers, it would be a step backward to retrace identity politics through the best Asian-American women writers.