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Spatial Relocation, Modern Experience and the Construction of Female Identity: Ronyoung Kim's Clay Walls

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  • Political Science


Ronyoung Kim’s Clay Walls reexamines Korean colonial history through the perspective of a Korean woman. Treatment is given to both the Korean independence movement and Korean emigration to America. It is particularly significant in that it provides a commentary on the role of women through these periods that has not been recognized by official Korean history. Furthermore, it illustrates the degree of multiple oppression which Korean immigrant women suffered through patriarchy, colonial imperialism, racism and poverty. This paper explores how the female protagonist, Haesu, deals with the experiences of displacement as a result of her emigration. It examines how geographical movements and the experience of modernity influenced the formation of Korean American women’s gender and national identities. Also, it explores how Korean women reacted differently to the experience of lost homeland and adopted nation than did Korean men. Haesu's aristocratic status as Yangban in Korea prevents her from achieving a sense of belonging in a newly adopted country, unlike her husband who comes from the lower class and believes in the American dream. In addition, the paper focuses on the influences of white popular culture on the construction of female identity. Immigrant Korean women were oppressed by the standard of white beauty as represented in popular media such as Hollywood movies of the day. This was destructive to their sense of identity. The novel which deals with the historical period of political turmoil and changes has to be read in the context of international geopolitics. Korean nationalism emerged in response to an opposition to both Japanese colonial occupation and the racial politics of America. This is directly connected to the formation and consolidation of the Korean nation-state in the first half of the 20th century. The experience of modernity which results from the geographical relocation transforms the gender and class dynamics of Koreans in American society. This is represented by a Korean couple who travel time and space. The novel emphasizes spaciality and temporality as the core elements in the formation of diasporic subjects.

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