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An Outsider’s Quest for Identity in Mainstream Society:Reading A Gesture Life

  • Korean Language & Literature
  • 2010, (75), pp.509-533
  • Publisher : Korean Language & Literature
  • Research Area : Humanities > Korean Language and Literature

Song, Myunghee 1

1부경대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper examines A Gesture Life by Korean-American writer, Chang-rae Lee, focusing on the theme of ‘searching for identity’ by the protagonist of the novel, Franklin Hata. Examinations will be made from the perspectives of Carl Jung’s psychoalnalysis and post-colonialism. The protagonist, Hata, had a complex identity as he was not a Korean, a Japanese, or an American. This complicated identity didn’t only manifest in his racial status. He was considered to be a modest and kind person by his white neighbors however, his adopted daughter, Sunny, became a target of ridicule because she focused too much on gestures and etiquette. Also, he appeared to be a benevolent person but he couldn’t genuinely love other people. As an army doctor in the military, he had had compassion for a Korean woman, Kkutaeh(끝애), who was a comfort woman for the Japanese army, but some time later, he turned a blind eye to her death. Besides that, he couldn’t understand a white woman’s, Mary Burns, love for him. Lastly, his daughter, whom he hoped to become a respectable person, ran away from home. In the resolution, Hata used to think if he put effort into a gesture life, to be identified in a domination culture, he could become a true Japanese, American, father, lover, but he realized this was nothing more than an other-directed life, ‘a gesture life’. While he tried to reconcile with his daughter(Sunny), he determined “I’ll take care of my flesh, my blood, and my bones.” and “I’ll return after coming full circle, like returning home.” In other words, he realized, to attain his identity as a true American, he should accept his identity as a Korean rather than try typical efforts. According to E.W.Said’s theory, based on filiations and affiliations, the protagonist’s life was turned into a gesture life from a life of affiliations, by denying his filiations. Therefore, the protagonist’s awakening was that he had been trying to use his filiation to attain a true affiliation. This work offers a message. In American society, a multi racial and multi cultural society, Asian-Americans should accept their identities, not pursue assimilation into a society, to live their own lives.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.