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The Search for Voice & Identity in Dictee

2022-03-25 来源: 51Due教员组 类别: Essay范文

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The 1960s United States was in a period of prosperity and development of the civil rights movement and feminism movements. The birth and development of these movements have improved the status of Korean Americans and women in the United States. In the 1970s, deconstructionism was prevalent. It was intended to dispel the logocentric thinking in Western traditional philosophical ideas and shake the Western traditional value system. Therefore, under the interaction of the civil rights movement and the feminist movement, under the cultural atmosphere of deconstructionism, the history of American literature has shown a sudden rise of prosperity. Asian American literature is unprecedentedly thriving. During this period, the theme of Korean-American literary works is no longer a simple manifestation of resistance to mainstream society. Instead of telling their own stories as "others," they were strengthening their ties with Korean culture in their works. They tell stories as “Americans” that are different from mainstream whites, from their own special experiences. In the novel, Theresa Cha uses symbolism, mirroring and illustrations to demonstrate the pain of the Korean Americans for not owning a voice, and the journey to search for the voice and identity.

 

Dictee is a representative of Korean American writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. This work subverts the single narrative technique in traditional autobiographical novels, changing the protagonist of the work from one to multiple. In addition, the whole work also employs the technique of juxtaposition of movie montages, installation art collages, and a variety of media are juxtaposed in the text. These include Bible texts, photographs, Korean inscriptions, stone carvings of Chinese characters, human anatomy, vocal organs, photographs, and movie scenes. The book is divided into nine chapters, each of which uses the nine goddesses of Greek mythology as the basic framework. It tells the story of the history of several national heroes, mothers, saints, unnamed women, and the narrator. Theresa Cha, through the use of different media and the depiction of the historical fragments of minorities, intends to present the history of the little-known American Koreans in mainstream history.

 

The "dictee" action is essentially a recording of the information that is heard. In this set of actions, the narrator records all the information she hears in text, including punctuation marks. Therefore, in this group of actions, the ones dictating are the owner of the discourse and also the owner of power. The Dictee has neither consciousness nor subjectivity, and can only completely reproduce the information she hears onto the paper. This also reflects the plight of the Korean-Americans living in the United States. They are lost the subject's discourse and consciousness and are constantly instilled in the mainstream American cultural thought. Dictee who are in the mainstream culture of the United States are also in a muted state. They do not have the right to speak and they cannot speak. The loss of discourse power and the inability to speak to oneself are extremely painful for narrators of Korean descent. "She mimics the speaking. That might resemble speech. Bared noise, groan, bitstorn from words (Cha 3)."

 

In the description of this passage, “She” refers to the American-Korean population that is muted by mainstream American culture. The object that "She" imitates is the mainstream culture based on white culture. As Americans and Koreans living in the mainstream of white culture, they have no language and no right to speak. In this context, "She mimics the speaking." But this imitation did not allow “She” to speak the standard language, it was similar to making noise and groaning. The “speech” here refers to the mainstream American discourse. As a Korean “She,” it is in a state of being silenced by mainstream culture. Therefore, "She" does not possess a language that belongs to the self, and does not have the right to express the self, either. So, "She" wants to make her own voice, only to imitate the "speech". This vocalization is obviously very painful for Korean Americans.

 

In Dictee, Theresa Cha not only portrays the inexplicable suffering of Koreans of Korean descent as Koreans, but also parallels the body's vocal organs in the text to express this unspeakable pain. In the third chapter of “Dictee”, URANIA ASTRONOMY, Theresa Cha juxtaposes the picture of human vocal organs in the text (74). The picture shows the main organs of the human voice. The sound waves pass through these organs. Only normal sound can be made. Theresa Cha links the body's vocal organ in text, allowing the reader to read the information in the form of a picture. This is to show that the subject narrator cannot continue to speak in words. The narrator has neither the power to speak nor the language of their own. In addition, in this section, Theresa Cha uses both English and French to write. Odd pages numbers are written in French and even pages numbers are written in English. Although the languages used are different, the content reflected in both parts is exactly the same. The use of the two languages is intended to show the confusion of the Korean language as the subject of its own language. English and French are the two authoritative languages of the Western culture. None of them belong to the American-Korean language. Theresa Cha uses these two languages to intersperse written texts. The main purpose is to express that in the cultural context of the United States, Korean-Americans do not have their own voice. Therefore, it is an extremely painful thing to express themslves.

 

Korean-American women in the United States are living in the gap under the mainstream culture of the United States. They think they are Koreans, but they are not familiar with Korean history, language and culture. In Dictee, the mother treated herself as a Korean, but she did not return to Korea until she was 60. South Korea is a distant place for narrator. However, the United States, which is the mastermind of mainstream discourse, does not recognize the narrator's American identity, either. In Dictee, she tried to find the genealogy of American-Korean women, including the country, the nation, and their ancestors, hoping to establish her own identity through these. However, the national identity established through this approach is limited and narrow. Korean Americans are paralyzed between the United States and South Korea and do not belong to either country. As described in the novel, the protagonist got her passport and returned to South Korea, but the problems followed. She showed them their skin color, appearance and even blood to show that she was a Korean and that she belonged to this group. Despite this, they still did not recognize her Korean identity and treated her as an alien.

 

The patriarchal suppression of women is also reflected in Dictee. In Chapter 5, Theresa Cha divides odd and even pages and describes two love stories to the reader. Here, Theresa Cha tells the nameless woman who lives in a patriarchal society dominated by men. Her actions are closely monitored. Here "You" and "She" are actually two sides of an unnamed woman: "You are she, she speaks you, you speak her, she cannot speak. She goes to the piano while he plays. You know that he cannot speak either. The muteness. The void muteness. Void after uttering. Of. Each phrase. Of each word. All but. Punctuation, pauses (Cha 106)." The personal pronoun "You" refers to the women who are disciplined and controlled by the patriarchal system. The “You” is monitoring of the unnamed woman at all times. It was internalized in the mind of the unnamed woman and she was constantly told that she should abide by the corresponding norms and serve the interests of men before hers. This monitoring of internalization plays a psychological role at all times. Therefore, “she” is under the scrutiny of “You,” and becomes the object of marginalization in the patriarchy society. However, the nameless woman is not the only victim of the marriage system in the patriarchal society. On the mirror side of the story, even the well-known Sister Therese cannot be spared.

 

Theresa Cha wrote in "Dictee": "I have the documents. Documents, proof, evidence, photograph, signature. One day you raised the right hand and you are American. ...Somewhere someone has taken my identity and replaced it with their photograph. ... Their own image (Cha 56)." Although the mother became a U.S. citizen, her identity is not a complete U.S. identity. This identity only exists on the outside. The mother still does not change from inside to become a real American. Dictee vividly portrays living in the United States, in the gap, as immigrants of the 1.5th generation. They neither belong to the long-disengaged Korean culture nor belong to the mainstream culture of the United States. Cha wanders between two cultures, feeling lost and confused. Dictee used postmodernist writing techniques such as the use of different media and the mirroring narrative to question the authenticity of the history that had once dominated the United States. It utters a voice for those who do not know the history of the masses, the vulnerable, and the overlooked, restoring their own authenticity of history. As Koreans who want to be heard in the white mainstream society of the United States, they must fight against the mainstream American discourse. In addition, the mother's history described by Theresa Cha is in South Korea in the feudal society. Therefore, women want to make their voices heard in the muted history. All that must be done is to resist the male-centered patriarchal discourse. In the end, her work closely linked her experience with Korean culture to her search for the identity. It can be seen that this is how Theresa Cha intends to position herself, through the relationship with her mother and South Korea.


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