World Literature in English, Spring, '98

Students' Final Take-Home Exams
Spring, 1998

Between the extreme positions of assimilationism and separatism, how do the diasporic writers we have read position themselves?  Concrete evidence can be found from their texts in their characterization (who they side with) and/or emplotment.
Faith Yang
Faith Yang
Characterization and employment of texts can manifest the stance and position a diasporic writer holds. Being caught by the in-between plight, diasporic writers, in one way, employ the characters they create to be their mouthpieces to articulate their sense of cultural identity. In another way, the presentations of their characterization and employment can show how they position themselves as immigrants. Take Bharati Mukherjee and Neil Bissoondath for example, their characterizations explicitly present the ways they identify and position themselves.

Instead of naming himself a Trinidadian-Canadain or a West Indian Canadian, Neil Bissoondath claims to be a Canadian. In ¡§Digging Up the Mountains¡¨ what the protagonist, Hari, encounters on the secluded island, namely, the sense of insecurity and being uprooted, are what Bissoobdath undergoes in the process of cutting off his Trinidadian identity. Hari claims that the island is his, since he was born there, no one can make him leave. Being powerful enough to smuggle money and participate in politics, Hari builds his sense of belongingness toward the island. However, after his being threatened, he is forced to give up not only his property on the island, but also his identity toward the island. What is left and able to go with his is but grass that ¡§had not yet begun to root¡¨ (20). Bissoondath constructs a Caribbean island context, an isolated one, like the one in ¡§Digging Up the Mountains¡¨ that used to be ¡§Land a milk and honey¡¨ (1) but turns to be a place lacking sense of security, then renounces it and throws the protagonist into the arm of an American country. The characterization exactly shows Bissoondath¡¦s negation to his West Indian background and the intention to assimilate with the host country. Similarly, Mukherjee is a diasporic writer who resists ¡§hyphenation.¡¨ She claims herself to be an American rather than an Asian American that labels her being treacherous to her Indian identity. By rendering Nafeeza¡¦s entering into American society and having affair with James, a white immunologist from upper class and able to make the world seem ¡§a happy enough¡¨ to Nafeeza. Her success in blending into the host country, such as being a host in a reception for a foreign students to welcome a lady having similar cultural background to her and her entering James house and having sex with him, shows her intention to be acknowledged by the American society (to ¡§have real intimacy¡¨ (354) with it). Nafeeza¡¦s being assimilated to the host country, to certain extent, parallels to Mukherjee¡¦s literary works which are canonized in American society. Though Mukherjee is not a native born American; however, in order to pursue her American Dream, she transforms herself, like what Nafeeza does, to be liberated and join the host culture.

The characterization sheds light on the ways a diasporic writer position himself and illustrates how he views his cultural identity in a host nation. Both Bissoondath and Mukherjee assimilate them their host countries. Instead of being stuck in an awkward position like other immigrants, they seem to have more liberation that is obtained by being assimilated.