Intimacy in Cha’s Dictee

Despite its cryptic and avant-garde manner, Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha makes powerful statements about the role of women in heterogeneous romantic relationships. Much of the language in the beginning of the book refers to female characters as she and her, which simultaneously places women as the main character yet fails to ever attach any form of identity (name, background, individuality) to these characters, perhaps alluding to the neglect or inferiority women felt in Korean societies. It is not until one hundred pages into the book that readers get a glimpse into the strict expectations of women and see how she interacts with he in a marital relationship.

Passages such as “One expects her to be beautiful…You are shown the house in which she lives, from the outside” suggests that women are often judged and treated differently based on their physical appearance (98). This passage also reinforces the idea that women are not valued as multi-dimensional, emotional women, but rather as repressed and domesticated wives, mothers, and providers.

Furthermore, there is lack of intimacy in the marriage between husband and wife. On page 102, Cha writes, “He is the husband, and she is the wife. He is the man. She is the wife. It is a given…You only hear him taunting and humiliating her. She kneels besides him, putting on his clothes for him. She takes her place. It is given.” Here, the wife assumes a slave-like position, responding without contention to her husband’s every wish. While the husband has freedom to taunt and humiliate, the woman shows no speech, a theme that runs throughout the novel as a symbol of women’s oppression and disenfranchisement. Cha continues, “Perhaps she loved him…Perhaps she loved him inspite of. Inspite of the arrangement that she was to come his wife. A stranger. A stranger to her….It was given. She took whatever he would give her because he gave her so little. She takes she took them without previous knowledge of how it was supposed to be how it supposed to be. She deserved so little” (110). In this passage, Cha vacillates between whether she loves her husband out of obligation, expectation, desperation, or sincerity. Cha implies her self-confidence has been diminished down to so little that she believes this is what she truly deserves. No where in a chapter entitled “Love Poetry” is there any mention of intimacy, closeness, or warmth, yet there is mention of sex, which suggests that love serves as a strategic tool for economic, political, and religious reasons rather than romantic reasons.

It is also interesting to consider Cha’s repetition of what is “given”. Throughout the book, I find myself asking, who is the giver and who has laid the foundation of what is given? Who is the receiver—is it always women or are men also susceptible to what is given?

Dictee- fragmentation, repetition and gender representation

In this book the repetition is directly link with the anxiety and the impossibility of representing a subjectivity that has been absent from historical discourse. To speak about the story of these women is an attempt to include them in an alternative narration which cannot be completely coherent. The emergence of fragmented subjects, with fragmented speech and fragmented bodies is a gesture that challenges the notion of “progress” behind historical narratives. Moreover, these women emerge as a compulsive repetition (I think that the pronoun “she” is the most repeated the text), as a symptom of a voice that was repressed in a male-centered society.

Nevertheless, the use of repetition is not only related with the emergence of a subject but as a way of unifying the fragmented text. The strong sense of rhythm gives coherence and a sense of harmony among the different characters and episodes. It is also presenting the text as a ritual in which repetition and rhythm are part of a sacred process that is allowing the existence of a new subject. In this sense, the woman subjectivity depends on the evocative nature of language and the possibility of creating a different temporality, an outside from history and time. For these reasons, I consider that the book is proposing a strategic transcendentalism in order to make possible the representation of the self through words rather than through a structured speech.

How is Gualinto a leader?

The conclusion of George Washington Gomez is rushed and leaves more questions than answers for me. The biggest question that comes about from the conclusion relates to Gualinto as the leader of his people. Gualinto even questions multiple times who his people are, which foreshadows his loyalty in a way, and in the conclusion it look as if he finally decides.

One example of Gualinto’s disloyalty to his people occurs in the conclusion when it is mentioned that many community members and his school age friends are doing well. One friend received his pharmacy degree and is now a registered pharmacist, two friends run a successful restaurant, many are involved in local politics, and one is a dentist (289). Yet, despite all of these successes, Gualinto still only acknowledges the downfalls in his hometown and among the people. He even goes so far to stereotype his friends. When Leyton mentions if things continue as they are, the only jobs for Mexicans will be clearing brush and digging more ditches (294). Gualinto’s only response is, “’If that’s all they can do’” (294). Even though his friends have proved Gualinto wrong because they have successful jobs and want to improve their city, he still believes he is the only successful one. Many times throughout the narrative, Gualinto’s actions and remarks gave off the impression that he believed himself to be so much better than his peers and even his family, just because he was thought to be special. No matter what he does, even if he turns his back on his people, he believes he is better than everyone else.

The exchanges between Gualinto and his family and hometown friends in the conclusion overwhelmingly point to the fact he hides his upbringing and has actively chosen to support the American part of him and abandon the Mexican part. This is surprising even though he did battle with his identity throughout the whole narrative. After the conclusion, I am still left wondering though how Gualinto could be a leader for his people, except to show them what not to become. Yes, Gualinto is successful, but he was not loyal to his people, and loyalty to his culture and upbringing seem to be more important than money or success.

Themes and Motifs Present in El Colorado’s Speech

When reflecting back on the themes of the George Washington Gomez, one moment in particular stood out to me because it addressed so many aspects of the novel at once—El Colorado’s speech to Gualinto (250-252) after the knife fight in which he insists that Gualinto goes to college. In this single speech, Paredes addresses the role of masculinity in Mexi-Texan culture, the realities of immigrant (or at least borderland) life, the American Dream and its potential fallacy, and draws in connections to the previsioning of Gualinto’s life.

I think one of the most immediately apparent aspects of this passage is its sort of frank and dismal portrayal of El Colorado’s life—which could then potentially be used as an example of what life is like for immigrants in his situation. In this speech, he discusses very real and visceral moments of his life. For example, he mentions times when he needed to support his mother and sister, his family’s frequent hunger and their lack of access to food, and when he needed to learn how to delouse himself in order to go to school. Once these harsh conditions are established, Colorado goes on to talk about how he kept working and going to school despite the challenges present in his personal life. I found this moment in his speech particularly interesting because it seems to follow the quintessential narrative of the “American Dream”. Here, Colorado must go to school and try as hard as he can to succeed, and although he hasn’t yet achieved great success, he’s on the path of achieving that dream.  The presence of the American Dream narrative becomes strikingly clear when he outlines his future plans to Gualinto—”I’m gonna get my high school by studying nights. And then I’ll go to the Jonesville business college and become a real accountant, not just an assistant bookkeeper.” Thus, as Colorado expresses this deep desire to fulfill the American Dream, Paredes establishes a quintessential narrative that follows our society’s notions of what is possible for people.

What I then thought was kind of odd about this speech is the fact that it begins with Colorado telling Gualinto to go to school because Gualinto is the one who will be successful and help the town. This point stood out to me at first because it’s a reiteration of the theme that Gualinto will grow up to be an important person who will help his people—but this time it is coming from someone outside of his family. However, the more I thought about this ending, the more I pondered Colorado’s understandings of  his own personal goals. To me, it seems that if he has these grand ideas of becoming an important and successful person, wouldn’t he want to be the person to lead the people and help the town? He even states that Gualinto needs to be their “point person.” Perhaps there is a connection between Gualinto’s access to resources vs. Colorado’s lack of access to resources. Perhaps there’s no connection and he just isn’t interested in leading the town. But I couldn’t help but make a connection between Colorado’s establishment of his dream and his vision of the future leadership of the town.


Gringo Territory

As I was reading George Washington Gomez this week one main thought kept popping into my head. I kept thinking about Gumersindo’s obsession for Gualinto to be free of hatred against white people, gringos, rinches. Gumersindo’s wish for his son seems to be unattainable due to Gualintos inevitable socialization. Throughout the book we learn that Gumersindo’s wish will never be true and on page 105 Gualinto specifically states how white people cannot be good.

Another section of the novel where we can see Gualinto’s response to living in a county ruled by white people is when Gualinto is hiding from the police after Filomeno’s murder. As the police officers arrived, Gualinto was too afraid to show himself. He was too afraid to present himself to these white men. He expected them to torture him for information or arrest him. Gualinto’s thoughts were striking to me, because the idea of police brutality and fear of law still rings true in present day America. In this scene, the police do not go after the perpetrators of the murder. They do not do much, because the man who died was not white. The book never elaborates on if the killers were caught, but this inability for marginalized people to receive justice continues to this day.

Many times throughout the story we see Gualinto’s fear of white men. Feliciano attempts to follow Gumersindo’s wish of raising Gualinto free of hatred; however, he fails. He fails because Gualinto is growing up in a society where Mexicans are constantly oppressed. Gualinto can’t grow up free of hatred, because he doesn’t know what that looks like or feels like. This feeling of otherness due to culture and race is all Gualinto knows.

The Non-Immigrant Narrative

Through my first reading of My Ántonia most of my initial reactions centered around the notion of a man analyzing a female immigrant’s experiences with American society. I’m not sure how this work will compare with others that we read, but I found it most interesting that there is actually contention for the role of protagonist. Jim certainly transforms throughout the novel, but alongside an entire plot surrounding a dynamic Ántonia. We discussed filtering in class and I always wonder how others define immigration as they see it at a personal level. Every day in the media we are exposed to objective observations on a particularly personal subject. But in My Ántonia’s we see personal growth through simultaneous protagonist development over a lifetime of friendship. The experiences I found most fascinating were those regarding gender. When our common perceptions of immigration are objectified through any lens, I think we often overlook gender as an important identity in immigrant narratives. Even in insignificant moments, like the argument between Jim and Ántonia where she repeats her mother’s justification for emigration, “American big country; much money, much land for my boys, much husband for my girls.” (98, Cather) gender norms influenced their movement. Again, Cather stresses Ántonia’s strong or brutish demeanor with constant reference to her physical appearance and work habits, and then describes her migration to the city as a form of gender assimilation. Meanwhile, Jim develops as a young man in school learning to, “…fight, play ‘keeps’, tease the little girls, and use forbidden words as well as any boy in [his] class.” (128) We see a family’s immigration experience contextualized by American working class during a time when societies of most cultures had strict gender roles for working people. The division is apparent on a broad scale in the first half of the book, but it’s not until Ántonia comes to the city when the roles become anecdotal. Her experiences with the pavilion and Cutter show the difference between working as a female and male immigrant.