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Ross Pudaloff


This study examines the social and psychological dimensions of establishing identity in four recent American novels that deal with personal and historical trauma for two generations: Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior , Nora Okja Keller's Comfort Woman, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony. In each of these books, a woman from the older generation suffers from some form of historical trauma - the Communist Revolution in China, the invasion of Korea by Japan, slavery in the southern United States, and World War II that in each case causes the loss of a child, resulting in the destruction of an elemental aspect of her identity, her identity as a mother. Subsequent children (or foster child in the case of Ceremony) are marginalized or treated as Other, and they suffer from the trauma of absence, specifically the lack of a communicative, nurturing relationship with a mother. The shared features of these four novels - loss, identity disruption, and supernatural intervention - are not only aspects of trauma but are gothic literary conventions as well. Thus, in addition to exploring the theme of trauma and its affect on individual identity formation, each work is examined in terms of its relationship to the gothic, a genre with a long history of employing the supernatural while examining social injustice. This study proposes that these works of contemporary American ethnic fiction employ or revise the gothic in order to deal with trauma, identity, the past, ethnicity, and gender and concludes that the treatment of the supernatural in these works is neither imaginary nor inimical to the characters (as is the case in traditional gothic works) but has a positive influence on the protagonists that qualifies them as neo-gothic. This study also suggests that the protagonists make new connections to their ethnic communities, providing a sense of communal identity that their trauma had previously denied them.

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