Spring 2008

Memory, Haunting, and Migration in Contemporary American Novels by Women

Listed in: English, as ENGL-95


Marisa Parham (Section 03)


At the beginning of Joy Kogawa's Obasan, the narrator wonders, "If I could follow the stream down and down to the hidden voice, would I come at last to the freeing word?" This class takes as its topic the many ways American female authors have written about memory-memories of the past as well as of other places, about memories that refuse to be surfaced and memories that are at times not even of their protagonists' own lives. How, for instance, do writers portray the ways painful pasts have influenced their characters' identities? Or what it means to suffer for a past whose details one does not even know? Is the "truth" freeing, or does overcoming the hidden and silent increase memory's burdens? What are some of the possibilities and limitations of portraying what are often traumatic experiences in the novel form? And can "trauma" even mean the same thing across ethnic experiences? With such questions in mind, we will look specifically at novels concerned with two of the foundational experiences of American civilization, slavery and migration, and at the pervasive problems of longing, disjuncture, and displacement endemic to such experiences. Authors we may read in this cross-cultural course include Maxine Hong Kingston, Edwidge Danticat, Alesia Perry, and Cristina Garcia. Professor Parham.