<%BANNER%>

Transgressive narratives

University of Florida Institutional Repository

PAGE 1

TRANSGRESSIVE NARRATIVES: GENDER AND REVOLT IN TWO QUBCOIS NOVELS BY YING CHEN By JAIME ODELL A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2004

PAGE 2

Copyright 2004 by Jaime ODell

PAGE 3

To the memory of my grandmothers

PAGE 4

iv ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am grateful to my loving and supportive parents, Kay and Bill, to my brother, Danny, and to my best friend, Christine, who showed me a thing or two about working through pain. I extend my sincere gratitude to Dr. Sylvie Blum for welcoming me in the department, and for her constant support, encouragement, and generous efforts in mentoring me. Special thanks are due to Dr. William Calin for his continuous support and ideas, and to Dr. Tace Hedrick for taking on this project. I would also like to thank the staff in RLL for their tireless assistance and kindness, and Dr. Geraldine Nichols, the department, and the University Womens Club for financial support. My sincere appreciation goes to Drs. Theresa Antes, Bernadette Csar-Lee, and W. Calin for being quite possibly the best bosses I have ever had. I am indebted to Dr. Mark Reid for pushing me in this direction, as well as to the gracious people of Montral who shared their city with me and made me feel at home. I fondly remember Richard Ring, Leila Parrish, and Clemens Hallman, world-class educators and mentors. Last but not least, I am profoundly grateful for my dear friends in Gainesville who offered all their support and lovingly told me to get back to work.

PAGE 5

v TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iv ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vi CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 2 REFUSAL AND DENIAL IN YING CHENS LINGRATITUDE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 3 ON THE THRESHOLD OF MODERNITY: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INBETWEEN IN YING CHENS IMMOBILE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 LIST OF REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46

PAGE 6

vi Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts TRANSGRESSIVE NARRATIVES: GENDER AND REVOLT IN TWO QUBCOIS NOVELS BY YING CHEN By Jaime ODell May 2004 Chair: Sylvie Blum-Reid Major Department: Romance Languages and Literatures This thesis focuses on Ying Chen, a Qubcois novelist who immigrated to Qubec from China in 1989. To work through the painful transition associated with immigration and exile, Chen wrote several novels, in French, and published them in quick succession, starting only three years after her arrival in Montral. The following chapters explore connections in two successive novels, LIngratitude and Immobile The most important connection is the conflict of gender identity and oppressive sociocultural dilemmas that culminates in transgressive acts of revolt by the female narrators. The narrators voices and actions raise questions about origin and priority in history and culture. The thesis considers connections to Chens unique social position as a woman and immigrant, writing in a foreign language and living in a foreign culture, merging her past Chinese culture and history with that of Qubec. The thesis will argue that certain aspects of the two novels refer also to elements indicative of the Qubec national text and its celebrated,

PAGE 7

vii minority, francophone voice. This thesis considers Western critical movements toward minority and francophone literatures as well as notions of diaspora, alienation and exile.

PAGE 8

1 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The richness of Qubcois literature and culture is partially dependent upon the voices of its immigrant and women writers. Both groups have been gaining recognition for the past thirty years, while the latter has enjoyed critical attention for feminist writing, the most important development in Qubec literature in the 1970s (Lequin 2000, Shek 1991). Immigrant writing is increasing in popularity, in best-seller markets, in the education curriculum, and as a focus for literary critics. This recent movement toward cultural plurality also comes in the form of prestigious literary prizes offered to les crivains migrateursthe Goncourt and the Mdicis in France and the Qubec-Paris in Qubec all having been offered since the 1990s to these new voices of French (Robitaille 1997, 78). The movement throughout history of massive numbers of people between continents is now culminating in a Western regard for multicultural discourse. Placing the immigrant writer at the focus of a literary scene can occur as a result of recent trends, movements, marketing interests, and a growing sense of a new population that must be somehow regarded, be it in a good or bad light. Canadas most significant immigration population, the Chinese-Canadian, is making its voices heard. Both the landing records and the 2001 census confirm that the Chinese have become the largest group of immigrants in Canada. Between 1980 and 2000, nearly 800,000 Chinese immigrants landed in Canada and the Chinese language has become the third-most-spoken language in Canada (after English and French) (Wang and Lo 2003, 1).

PAGE 9

2 Despite this explosion in the Chinese-Canadian population, most of the writers in Qubec receiving critical attention are not of Chinese backgrounds. For various linguistic, historical, and geopolitical reasons, there are many more Qubec writers of Haitian, Italian, Middle Eastern, North African and Central or South American background (Saint-Martin 2001, 62). The first Sino-Qubcois writer to gain notable literary popularity is Ying Chen, who came to Montral from Shanghai in 1989 and was published three years later. This thesis examines certain culture and gender discourses that result in acts of transgression by the female protagonists in two of her six novels. Chen uses metaphors of displacement to thematize haunting aspects of alienation and exileparticularly from a gender perspectiveand to put into relief the anger and sadness that these uncertain states produce. As the first and most recognized Sino-Qubcois writer in North America, Chens work contributes to the developing interest in cross-cultural narratives and gender studies. Entering the literary scene at the age of 31, Chen has written on the cusp of two millenniums, publishing four of her six novels in the 1990s and the most recent two in 2002 and 2003. In the formation of a national canon, Chen is considered a significant contributor as a womans voice, as an immigrants voice, and as a writer of novels that raise international questions about heritage, culture, gender, and humanity. With narratives that centralize the minority or marginalized positions of women and immigrants, Chens novels approach different themes, structures, and story lines; all maintain a voice that is powerfully unique, influenced by the combined components of her Chinese culture, her difficult move to the region of Qubec, and the modern dilemmas about which she writes.

PAGE 10

3 What makes Chen so interesting is that she left her family, an established career, and her familiar language and surroundings to live in Qubec and to write in French, when she could have chosen to live among the more sizeable Chinese immigrant populations of Vancouver, Toronto, or New York, with thousands of new Chinese immigrating yearly. Gifted for language, Chen worked as a translator with Mandarin, Russian, Italian, English and French before leaving China to pursue her goal to become a writer. She chose to specialize in French literature at the University of Fudan (Shanghai), and her move from China to Montral began with her studying creative writing and French at McGill University, where she earned a Masters degree. The province of Qubec boasts a formidable group of critically acclaimed writers and works that are, as members of a minority francophone literature, attracting worldwide interest in its culture and discourses on nationality. Ying Chens work, grounded in her Chinese culture and still-forming Qubcois roots, is a component both of this francophone literature and the immigrant minority voice within it. Her unique position is that of a member representative of these groups, as well as of the cultures and languages that embody them. Chen does not easily fit into any one category. Her narratives that are set in China were written in Montral. Her narratives center on the harsh treatment of women that can result from cultural constructs, yet she avoids the political: elle simpatiente si on conclut quelle a dnonc la condition fminine en Chine. Elle est crivain, pas polemiste (Roy 1998, 26). She cannot necessarily be called a migrant author because she does not move back and forth between countries; she is also not in total exile because she was not expelled unwillingly from her country, and she visited China in 1998 with no political ramifications. The terms migrant and exile are

PAGE 11

4 slippery categories anyway. Chen is also one of the few immigrant writers who does not necessarily make her immigration and its problematics the central subject matter of her works. Some novels center on the transition in journeying to a new country and culture; most focus on difficulties that have been endured in the already-learned culture. Chens female characters reveal a good deal of anger in confronting their male counterparts. I would refer to Chen as an exiled writer who left post-communist China in a voluntary search for improved life conditions. What can be said with certainty about Ying Chen is that she is an author, and within her novels, she works out difficulties of alienation and differences in gender status. There are many reasons for Chens acceptance as a contributor to the national literature of Qubec, as well as for the way in which the literary scene in Qubec has embraced her novels. It might begin with her significant choice of residence. She was born in China but chose Qubec. She accepted graduate work at McGill University, located in a bilingual metropolitan, and chose French for her language of study and writing. She said that it would have made little difference if she had moved to France, Toronto, Montral or New York. Her writing itself echoes themes, a certain darkness of mood, and a serious voice common in critically acclaimed Qubcois literature, as will be further illustrated below. Also, the struggles her heroines undergo reflect those of many unconventional but popular figures of modern Qubcois literature. At the same time, they reflect the difficult position of immigrants and minorities in Qubec who have to struggle for attention within the already minority population of Qubcois Francophones, who struggle for respect in the larger, national sphere of Canada. The Qubec narrative has been traditionally centered on the male or father figure, and particularly around the

PAGE 12

5 Church and its ideals. Up until the past 30 years, female characters had been relegated to marginal positions to echo the patriarchal and church laws and values. Chens female narrators contribute to a shift of woman in the Qubec canon from margin to center, and reflect the shift from margin to center that occurred for the Qubec province in the 1960s when its self-reference shifted from French-Canadian (marginal) to Qubcois (center). For Chens literary achievements, the attention paid to her novels recognizes not just the strong influence of Chinese/Shanghai culture in her writing, but also the manner in which she approaches what may be considered elements of a universal human condition, including but not limited to love, death, marriage, family, exile, alienation, and suicide. The difficult transition into a multicultural identity is a source of conflict and creation for the richness of Chens texts, and positions her and her novels within a recent literary preoccupation with identity and difference. The dilemma of being in-between surfaces in almost all of her works because it reflects the difficulty of living a doubleidentity, which immigrants face when they realize the differences between their native culture and language and the new one(s) they are adopting. Christian Dubois and Christian Hommel explain the alienation associated with this double identity: limmigrant soudainement plong dans un monde nouveau vit une double alienation: il est tranger dans sa nouvelle socit qui, inversement, lui est galement trangre, which results in an impossibility to stay as one was and a pressure to become other (Dubois and Hommel 1999, 38). In relocating to Qubec, Ying Chen becomes a part of this group of Chinese immigrants and inherits its history of alienation and refusal of citizens rights by the government. The story of racism against Chinese immigrants in Canada is dark and

PAGE 13

6 familiar. It includes several riots, the major ones occurring in 1887 and 1907 (by the Asiatic Exclusion League), that drove the established immigrants out of Chinatowns across Canada. Because they were considered cultural and economic threats, Asian immigrants were targeted as an alien population that was not entitled to equality of opportunity nor to services open to other immigrants or Canadians (Canada 2002). In 1903 a $500 head tax was imposed on every Chinese immigrant in an effort by the government and racist groups to limit immigration of foreign cultures. In 1923, the Chinese Exclusion Law stopped Chinese immigration, and during the depression of the 1930s the government used sections 40 and 41 of the Immigration Act to deport nonCanadian citizens on relief. Racial and ethnic bias began to decline with the government granting Chinese-Canadians citizenship in 1947, with revisions of the Immigration Act in 1962 and 1967, and with the 1970 Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission Report that proposed a focus on new citizens and a multicultural society. Today, this negative attention is being refigured through efforts to encourage rather than squash cultural plurality. Chens works, at least through the anxiety her female characters experience, connotate the frustration of alienated peoples who want to improve their positions or question their society, and yet find themselves unable to move in a desired direction. In one way, Chens unique position as a successful, immigrant, feminist writer addresses problematics of globalization and the ballooning of North American culture at the loss of other cultures. She wanted to leave China, like many of her peers. She has been collecting and depositing her own creativity and culture shock, in the shape of narratives that pass from China to Montral, into Qubecs literary belly. With writing, she imprints her narratives and cultural questions on Qubec culture. As the voice of an

PAGE 14

7 outsider who has been accepted inside, her narratives are carefully explored by members of Qubec culture, while she has been carefully exploring this same culture that quickly accepted these narratives. Chen confronts Chinese culture and history with a western perspective, but crucial to understanding her work is the fact that she chose to revolve some of her novels around themes she considers universal, so that whether a work is set in the East or the West, the content and focus of the work are not particular to one nation but rather cross oceans, borders, time periods, and doorways to transcend a specific culture or history. At the same time, Chens works fit into the questioning darkness particular to a prominent genre of twentieth-century Qubcois novels. Many of her tropes are also common in what are considered classics of Qubcois novels. A dusty atmosphere echoes Andr Langevins Poussire sur la ville (1953). The themes of suicide or violence resound in Poussire sur la ville in Yves Thriaults Contes pour un homme seul (1944), and in several works by Anne Hbert and Marie-Claire Blais. The popular (on best-seller lists and in academia) themes of alienation, exile, and dehumanization can be traced back to Ringuets Trente arpents (1938), and since then have recurred as staple themes throughout the modern Qubcois novel and the feminist novel of the 1970s, as with the novels of Gabrielle Roy, Anne Hbert, Madeleine Gagnon, Marie-Claire Blais, Nicole Brossard, and Rgine Robin. As with Nicole Brossards texts, Chens novels include a clear distancing of the confused narrative voice from history, society, the outer world, representation, particularly in the use of a female voice that questions patriarchy. (Shek 1991, 88). Narratives that focus on feminist identities and culture are considered an important site in which to study the personal, cultural, and political transformations that

PAGE 15

8 are the legacy both of the colonial encounter and of the postcolonial arts of resistance it produces (Lionnet 1995, 3). Chens work reflects modes of resistance already present in Qubcois literature prior to her arrival in Montreal in 1989, yet she represents a shift in voice, having carved out her own place as a newcomer to the corpus of francophone women writers. Written twenty years after Qubecs active feminist movement, Chens novels approach perspectives that interpret a world still largely formulated and governed by patriarchal maneuvers. Her novels, most written and published in swift succession in the final decade of the twentieth century, mark the rise of the immigrant voice and the continuation of questions centered around feminine identity, creating a point of intersection in francophone literature that appeals to trends and movements in literature. Further critical study is needed in the future to continue with Chens most recent novels. Because LIngratitude won international acclaim, it received the most attention from scholars and magazine publishers of any of her works. Fewer articles were published on Immobile yet the two texts mirror each other in their first-person narrative styles, brief and dense chapters, poetic language, and themes discussed throughout this introduction. The next step will be to examine her canon as a continuous body of work that changes as this author resolves the memories and knowledge of her past with present Western life. Born in 1961 in Shanghai during the Mao regime, Ying Chen took part in a youth movement/diaspora that saw many young Chinese intellectuals decide to re-direct their lives by turning toward Western countries. After earning a university diploma, she worked for six years as a technical and commercial translator in Shanghai. Her selfimposed exile at the age of 28 came moments before the violent clashes at Tiananmen

PAGE 16

9 Square, which caused her a great deal of anxiety and nostalgia for a country and family that she had just left and was already missing. Her voyage from China included a selfimposed exile from her parents, family, culture, language, and familiar surroundings. Though she already knew French, her bilingualism was not enough to balm the painful recovery from displacement. She admits that given the chance, she is unsure whether she would go through this exile experience a second time. Writing was a means of recovery from her voyage, her memory, and of turning away from an old tradition toward a future. The first novel considered in this thesis is LIngratitude In this work, Chen created a Chinese narrative and situated it in a francophone context. The novel, set in Shanghai, is written in French and published in Montral for a readership in Qubec (though it has since been translated into several languages) and is thus set in motion in a continual international context. The names and places are Chinese, but Chens exploration of consciousness, tradition, love, death and family crosses political borders. The result is a narrative that does not rely on nation or history, as is the case with many Qubcois writers who center their texts on contemporary political movements. Chens female protagonist, Yan-Zi, tries to release herself from the confines of such borders. Her problems are familial and cultural, but these problems are also explored by writers whose textual settings are in Qubec. LIngratitude set in Shanghai, travels through its francophone address to highlight Eastern and Western problems. The themes proposed in this thesis constitute a dilemma Chen uses to address questions of origin and priority through her characters methods of denial or refusal. Through these two modes of revolt, the female narrator succeeds in dismantling the connections that maintain an insensibility and inhumanity of her relationship with her mother. The mother character begins the

PAGE 17

10 cycle of denial and refusal in her family, positioning her daughter at its harsh epicenter and fixing her there. The pattern of disconnection and exile in this novel reflects the desire of Chens narrator to annihilate tradition and culture, to highlight the ways myths fail, and to demonstrate the negative impact of this failure on the individual. The last part of my thesis will focus on the significance of threshold spaces in Immobile the novel published in the wake of LIngratitude s success. These spaces reflect or recall moments of alienation and exile for the female narrator/protagonist, who does not name herself. She is repeatedly reincarnated and so transcends the ancient and the modern, living several lives, both to punish herself for betraying her lover of ancient times, S, and to try to find him again. Because she is female and of low social class, the narrator exists inside a culture and outside its privilege. She seldom arrives at moments of privilege beyond her privileged position as je, the storyteller. Through her ability to tell her own story and appear at the center of the narrative, the reader discovers crucial movements of regression or transgression on her part. These movements and the crucial border spaces in which they appear are a reaction to her husbands oppressive notions of forcing her to progress into modernity, despite her warnings that the modern does not mesh with her identity or her memory. Within the narrative, Chen uses several tropes and themes that recall LIngratitude and effectively fuse the two narrators voices into central parts of a network of voices that question the origin and priority of constructed ideologies.

PAGE 18

11 CHAPTER 2 REFUSAL AND DENIAL IN YING CHENS LINGRATITUDE Men and women set themselves goals that they are never certain will not destroy them, while they are precisely struggling against annihilation. tienne Balibar Ying Chens 1995 novel LIngratitude follows the postmortem narrative of a 25year-old female character who has apparently committed suicide as an act of revenge on her oppressive and abusive mother. Her violent death marks the significance of the question of potential and the individual consciousness. Can a family or a nationa historyrecover from a loss of potential? The female protagonist, also the narrator, addresses her own potential, as seen by her parents and by other representatives of her culture, and puts into question the loss of rights in the name of preserving tradition in a patriarchal culture. The protagonist wants to know about life and love, but her upbringing in an oppressive, patriarchal household (though her mother exercises the most power, she works to inscribe patriarchal laws on her daughter and is thus a representative of male domination) provides a barrier to the exploration of this knowledge and to any exploration of life. Her death challenges a culture that disseminates notions of family, tradition, and the past as embedded with the highest values and priority. It also challenges the view of woman as mater dolorosa. Consequently, she is resigned to explore death as a viable alternative and a more inviting space. In this narrative where self-possession is in conflict with being controlled by society and family, the mother plays the role of the tyrant, and the daughter, the role of the revolutionary who must find the courage to cross the border of death and escape the denial of her self.

PAGE 19

12 The protagonist, Yan-Zi, takes advantage of her deathbed privilege, which can work to grant the narrator potential authority through the final say (she is the last one to speak to the reader), to recount the sequence of events leading up to her (un)timely death. Also particular to this narrative is the unique and singular perspective of the double registre, the observer of oneself as well as the observer of others, which works as a tool because of the absence of other voices, only their traces found at moments while reflecting on her past life, repeated as prior conversations. Yan-Zis voice works to put into relief the theme of silence, which works as a border, found in several sites throughout the text. Her distance from the events she describes, in addition to her desires and motivation, affect her representation of the past. This element of representation can put into question Yan-Zis memory or the exact events themselves, but it does not compromise her need for rebellion and the circumstances under which she and other female characters find themselves unable to act. The continuity and direction of this narrative hint at the possibility that it will be shown in retrospect, to grant the reader a sense of now and then, of a present coming to terms with its past. Through the psychological complexities of denial and refusal, Chens character deprives the reader of this privilege, aborting the appeasement of retrospect and of its literary functioning. There is a rejection of the sentimental, and with it, an attention to the inhumanity of Yan-Zis situation. One could argue that Yan-Zi is sentimental about her suffering, and at times she romanticizes aspects of it, but finally she rejects the life she left behind, watches her mother take care of the pet bird that is her postmortem replacement, and proclaims: Elle continue aimer sa faon. Elle se met duquer et discipliner son oiseau, pour se rconforter de son chec intrieur, se prparer un avenir

PAGE 20

13 quelconque, lguer son patrimoine et assurer une continuit sa vie (132). This may or may not be her mother she watches; her sight is weakening with her memory, and any resolution is unclear. That a bird replaces her daughter is both a revolution (she conceives Yan-Zi only after she is no longer satisfied with the results of raising birds) and an end to her control over bloodlines, tradition, and values. In my estimation, the protagonist did not misrepresent her past situation, therefore a reading of this characters removal from her own life and the sources and elements that led to it is viable. The alienation or marginalization Yan-Zi undergoes is a ruptureany moment where a connection is absent that would have rerouted, in its presence, the potential of the protagonist and caused her to have found a place in her familial and social structures. Yan-Zis location outside her family and society is represented by moments of refusal and denial, to be examined below, the sources of which include the indelible marks left behind from alienation, exile, imprisonment, violence, and the use of borders to alienate. The tension between mother and daughter is the primary source of disconnection in this work; it frames the problematic of a changing female identity in the modern societies of the East and the West. The underlying struggle here is Yan-Zis desire for self-possession at the same time that she is being controlled by society through her mothers adherence to its rules and her fathers inability to act. This society and its consecrated traditions are alien to her consciousness, causing her to be alien to the culture: Quil serait donc merveilleux de ne pas avoir de parents, de vivre loin des obligations imposes par le lien du sang (89).

PAGE 21

14 Her death disrupts the order of priority, sending her where her grandparents should go first. Her grandmother says, Jaurais prfer la remplacer, men aller avant elle (10). This tragic tone is continued by the narrator to describe both the trauma of her death and the trauma of her life. She describes her life in terms of functioning through her mothers commands and wishes, and she is trapped in a triumvirate that operates through marital, filial, and cultural obligations. Yan-Zi recounts her story, demonstrating the effects of this denial on her own humanity. The patriarchal culture and this cultures representatives fail to recognize the potential of a female to move beyond the roles of wife and mother. Yan-Zi is alienated from her family and culture because she does not want to be married, have children, or adhere to the codes of virtue imposed on women. She desires to be old, a desire contradictory to others in the community who fear age and dying, thus avoid signs of it. She describes the world in which she lived as their world and her mothers world, focusing on those who are in control of the rules and codes. She understands that these codes silence women and force them into inferior positions. Reflecting on her relationship with her mother, Yan-Zi notes, Quelquefois, dans les bains publics, nous nous piions en silence (20). This silence, also framing her relationship with her father, suffocates her. Her fathers silence, she complains, empowers her mother to control every aspect of her life and fostered the spiteful environment in which she grew up. She describes how her mother practices espionage to control her daughters actions. To lend credibility to her complaints, she also gives the example of the humiliation of her woman friend, Hua, in attempting to express herself: Son pre dcachetait ses lettres. Son frre lisait haute voix son journal intime table. Lorsquelle avait eu son premier

PAGE 22

15 rendez-vous avec Bi, sa mre les avait suivis jusquau parc pour voir si ce dernier tait assez beau pour sa fille (89). Within this patriarchal culture, Yan-Zis most valuable characteristic is her intact virginity, and the peddler of this virginity is her mother. The father, an impotent and ineffective perpetuator of patriarchal culture (he is an intellectual, and Yan-Zi recounts that during the Mao regime, this profession was not so much shameful as it was useless), is removed from the process of choosing a husband for his daughter. His character is only half-alive, always sleeping or sitting restlessly at his desk, producing no words. When Yan-Zi has sex for the first time, she comes home late, setting off aggression in both her parents. Her mother scolds her absence from the house, and Yan-Zi reveals the fait accompli. Upon hearing this news, the father delivers a punishment but is unable to assemble a complete, unruptured sentenceCest une iidiote! (85)and never touches his daughter; he throws his glass of water at her head and misses, hitting the wall behind her and only splashing drops of water on her. The mother, on the other hand, delivers the judgement: Aucun homme digne ne tpousera, tu vas voir. Ton bonheur a chut avec ta morale. Tu passeras le reste de ta vie sans mari, sans enfant, sans famille, donc sans destineTa mort est faite, ma pauvre. Tu vivras comme une morte (88). This is the fate Yan-Zi would have chosen for herself anyway to reject life and exist without a community. The operations of this community as is bring her only silence and suffering. She explains that, through witnessing the silent relationship of her parents, she sees no advantage in being married. Furthermore, marriage will create an additional connection to her mother that she wants to avoid. Also, she understands her own useless role in marriage while her future husband, Chun,

PAGE 23

16 and her mother are chatting after dinner. Mais ils navaient plus besoin de moi; she was not instrumental in selecting a husband because her mother was not pleased if she herself was pleased (if she desired the man). The mothers main criteria are race, blood and honor. Later she reveals the reason for working in an office: to accumulate a dowry that her mother collects in a bank account. Cette dot mavait enchane maman dune manire presque humiliante (114). It marks her inability to control her life and highlights the aspect of neglect she feels her mother is guilty of when it comes to food and clothing. She is unable to control her own money, which she would like to spend on the delicacy of meat. Yan-Zis mother (who, like her father, is not named) always gives advice, indicating her level of attachment to her daughter as well as her inability to live her own life, an attachment and inability reflected in Yan-Zis perception of her mother. The characters situations face and reflect each other. The mother is aware of her own hardness, but refuses submission or softening. If she is laughing and catches sight of her daughter, she stops laughing and repositions her face to appear severe and serious. She does not trust Yan-Zi to make good decisions and thus feels she must make the decisions herself, leaving Yan-Zi to remain, throughout her life, a shell of a humanbody only and no spirit, no liberty, no choice (except death). The mother refuses Yan-Zis humanity and most of all, her sexuality, which she perceives as dangerous to the family honor and to Yan-Zis collateral for marriage proposals. Her perception ignores her daughters humanity and is thus a source of her alienation. In return, Yan-Zi wishes to refuse her mother a sense of legacy and permanency, a rebellion that would abort the cycles of culture, tradition, and genealogy.

PAGE 24

17 The title Chen chose for this novel refers to estrangement between family and child. It locates the rupture in tradition and filial piety as Yan-Zi is disconnected from feelings of responsibility or gratitude for the life her parents give her. Jtais ingrate envers eux, car je ltais envers la vie quils mavaient donne (24). She questions the attention a mother and a father gain for their role in the outcome of their childrens lives at the same time that she wants her mother to take responsibility for her unhappiness and even her death. Yan-Zi describes her participation in a family as ill-fated, like a prison sentence or an exile: Je me savais condamne avoir une mre et un preQuand jallais lcole, jenviais les orphelins, leur libert (15). This refusal of priority and origin complicates the notions of family and culture; it puts into question the origin of role-making and role-playing, while also questioning the origin and dissemination of culture. Will a cultures priority be work or family? Slavery or liberty? Chen demonstrates through Yan-Zis distress that these are decisive movements generated by individuals in communities who follow their beliefs, with or against the flow. Yan-Zis heart is a crucial component of her tragic universe and a site of her inability to become a part of her surroundings. The heart guards sentiments that language cannot convey: fear, desperation, suffering, longing, etc. She cannot understand the sentiments of others because she is trapped between her own complex story and her mothers version of the same story, which offers a one-word description of her daughters behavior: ingratitude. She cannot understand herself because she is trapped within and between her own stories of her mothers selfishness and her fathers impotence. Her heart, a central part of her body, signifies the void, fear, denial, and pain of her character, because through guilt, her mother refuses her to feel any emotions.

PAGE 25

18 Yan-Zis body is perhaps the most important site of alienation between woman and family. The violence with which she has been treated culminates in an ultimate marginalizationher violent deathwith some self-created confusion around its causes. She only reveals the action leading up to her death near the end of the narrative, having promoted the notion of suicide up until the moment when she reveals that she was not actually in control of her body, the arrangement of her own termination, when she was hit by a truck. Yan-Zi plans to kill herself in a specific manner, in a predetermined location and with designed results. At a crucial scene in the narrative, her will is usurped by the presence of Chun, the man she is supposed to marry and a character who represents and reflects her mother. Chun appears on the outside of the restaurant window, looking in on Yan-Zi (a repetition of the espionage leitmotiv). He is neither with her nor without her, but touches and indicates the window that is the border between her chosen location to finally act, the Bonheur restaurant, and the traffic in the urban landscape that will ultimately kill her. His presence on the border resembles Yan-Zis mother, in his gaze or look, as well as in his role of preserving cultural tradition and the interests of the state, which promoted the priority of marriage. He is unable to protect Yan-Zis body in two ways: he was unaware and consequently unable to stop her from having sex (preserving her virginity), and his action of chasing her causes her to move into the street, destroying her body. Yan-Zi relates traces of violence on her body to her mothers influence: Elle se souvient sans doute encore de mes regards craintifs et de mon dos courb en sa prsence (13). Her mother will not claim this violence, but will relocate it into signs of ingratitude

PAGE 26

19 in order to be absolved from responsibility. Nor will her mother allow the possibility of suicide to enter into her familys story. Yan-Zi declares the event of death un accident peut-tre volontaire (13). The circumstances of the violent moment perpetuate the dynamic of refusal and denial. Yan-Zi refuses the value of life, and her mother denies the reasons for her refusal. The fait accompli Yan-Zi so desires becomes the reckless violence of the urban landscape, and a prior accident in the family (when the father was hit by a truck; the mother theorized conspiracy against intellectuals) allows the mother an alternative to reality, the reinvention of conspiracy, and a consequent escape from both guilt and from satisfying Yan-Zis desire that she suffer. Her mother refuses to be devastated by the death of an ungrateful daughter. Yan-Zis death is complicated because of the unexpected collision that replaces her own will and desire. She deliberately organizes a method of collecting sleeping pills, and at a determined moment, when she feels she can, she will swallow the pills and change herself (a trope used also with the mother to want to swallow her and change her personality), perhaps at the restaurant Bonheur. She is unable to abort herself in the womb, as she reflects that she would have liked. She is intent on the necessity of a decision on her part about living: On ne mavait pas demand mon avis avant de me jeter au monde. Alors jesprais quau moins on me laisserait choisir le moment de mon dpart (23). Her death is contrary to her plan; it is the final moment of dissolution of her control in this life. She becomes frightened by Chuns interactions with the owner at Bonheur, and nervous at the prospect of being caught in the act of committing suicide and ending in a mental hospital where her mother could have total control over her life. She frantically tries to register the purpose of Chuns visit, then dashes into the crowd on the

PAGE 27

20 sidewalks. Chun chases her and in this pursuit, she moves in front of a truck that crushes her. Chuns presence transforms Yan-Zis action. She plans to annihilate her mothers control and instead, she is prematurely annihilated, affording her mother an easy path to denial. In a previous scene, when Yan-Zi is at the restaurant with friends, she becomes part of a listening audience for a spectacle in the street: a man on a bicycle is run over and killed. The event of her death, with this prolepsis, serves merely as an effect for the society in which she lives and is alienated. It is a spectacle, the visual impact of which is more valuable than the event itself. Chen dramatizes the time and events swirling around Yan-Zis death, weaving a graphic narrative to support her characters perspective, credibility and humanity. Another important aspect of Yan-Zis desire to annihilate her own life is the desire to destroy the two-part focus on genes and genealogy. This desire approaches questions of both origin and priority. The gene is fetishized when it seems to be itself the source of value, and those kinds of fetish-objects are the stuff of complex mistakes, denials, and disavowals (Haraway 1997, 144). The science of genes and the study of genealogy, as well as the parents attention to bloodlines, focus on imprints from the pastmarks from ancestors and relatives that situate the female protagonist in her uncomfortable position of daughter and woman. Her violent suicide will not only kill her body, it will effectively terminate her mothers and fathers genes, une douleur inconsolable (18), as they are both too old to reproduce or continue their name, heritage, traditions, and bloodline without Yan-Zi. The fact that Yan-Zi will not be able to carry the family name past the wedding day does not problematize the relevance of these elements for the mothers character. Yan-Zi wants to kill the traditions, wants to refuse filial responsibility and

PAGE 28

21 marriage, while inscribing these points of conflict in a narrative that continues to explore and be explored. Her body, which previously reveals traces of violence, now is the means by which Yan-Zi refuses the circulation of life and her mothers genetic legacy. Mon corps commenant pourrir par ces journes chaudes, ses gnes cesseraient de circuler dans mes veines, se perdraient au fond de la terre uniforme (18). The genes, the name, and the traditions all represent each other, inscribe each other, and rely on each other. The actions Yan-Zi takes to commit suicide link her desires in life to a desire to annihilate myths of the power of life, the importance of life, and the relevance of tradition in holding a culture together. For this character, life is not a necessity. This suicide is a womans refusal to assume a role; it is a reaction to her societys refusal to allow her a choice. It is directly linked to abandoning essentialist notions that certain biological or traditional stages presuppose a necessity to act out certain impulses such as getting married, giving birth, or nurturing a baby. This narrative problematizes the notion of impulse and replaces the natural impulse to be one of two, part of a couple, part of a love-marriage-parent narrative, with the impulse to be removed from such a movement. The movement is perpetuated by invested members of a culture that respond to the direction of the movement and punish or reward other members according to their participation in it. Yan-Zi uses her mothers tone to simulate a reaction to suicide, reciting what the mother would say, which is like several other recitals Yan-Zi rejects in the narrative: Les gens ordinaires ne sachvent pas. Ils saccrochent la vie, nimporte quelle vie (13). Her grandmother had conveyed this attachment to Yan-Zi, who recounts: Ils [les

PAGE 29

22 gens] collent la vie comme les plumes loiseau sans se rendre compte de linsignifiance de leur poids. Ils hassent ceux qui prfrent dbarquer, abandonner une vie quils ne possdent pasIls les accusent de lchet afin de prouver leur propre bravoure (16). The attachment to life is therefore a tradition. The struggle to live has been called natural by Enlightenment science, which narrates the imperative to survive. Considering to live as a tradition, and a nations potential investment in this tradition, reveals why suicide would be considered taboo. Suicide is the ultimate, irreversible act of protest to attempt to throw light on the malfunctioning of a societal structure. Yan-Zi reveals the fabrication of taboo in explaining that for people in general, who like to judge the difference in others, la mort est devenue une chose comme les autres auquelles ils attribuent un prix qui varie selon leur humeur (17). Is her death a success? Yan-Zi tries to erase the essential states noted above and moves directly into a state of death where she reevaluates her life and actions, seeming to hesitate on the most important moments. From the limbo of death, she is approached by a state of rebirthagainst her will or not. While in the state of death, she finds herself blinded and more encumbered by her release than empowered by it. She cannot influence the world she left behind, and her sole source of power over her mothers grief, the suicide note, is misread and reinterpreted by the mother. The characters marginalized position places the character within life, bordered by its body and spirit, at the same time that the character is moving beyond it, as this life is a space of discomfort and violence. In addition to finding herself inside and outside herself, Yan-Zi is placed inside and outside of a family. There exist no alternate parents and no alternate family space. Her sole supporter is a grandmother who is not

PAGE 30

23 empowered to act on her behalf while she is still alive. After she is dead, her grandmother prompts her to tell her story, to blame her mother if necessary, to blame even the world if it will help her on her journey in death. Yan-Zi removes herself from the family map but remains preserved in writing. Her reasons for wanting to leave the tradition, the country, and the life will not be recognized by those who knew her because the mothers alienation from her daughters consciousness, coupled with her fear of shame, will not allow her to accept a suicide, which is culturally taboo, to become a part of their familys story and tradition. This moment of denial brings to the surface a prominent issue in Quebec womens writing. In the introduction to Doing Gender, Paula Gilbert and Roseanna Dufault explain how women are still very much concerned with recording their contributions that were formerly omitted from historical accounts and/or perceived through a misogynist lens, and with re-presenting cultural mythology in ways that validate the female experience instead of suppressing it (20). The small, condensed chapters open and close like the shutter on a lens, focusing only for a brief time before closing again, moving between past and present, and leaving the impression of snapshots scattered across the floor, disconnected, just as Yan-Zis body is disconnected, fragmented, and confined to solitude. The chapters recollect the temporal restraint that the protagonist momentarily escapes. There is little talk of future, until the last line of the novel, when Yan-Zis spirit is approached by the wailing of a child, crying Mother! and turning the ending of the story into a revolution that reaches forward.

PAGE 31

24 The cycle of killing the parent to define oneself plays out in this work. Yan-Zi considers her body and its potential as mother the source of her parents own continuation. Yan-Zi must destroy the culture, tradition, and history to move beyond it and find a location in which she can be connected to her environment. Her role in the culture of this narrative is stifling; it does not allow her to breathe or move freely, so she must destroy that which was the cause of her alienation. Her death annihilates these traditions, rules, and values, as well as her parents genes, and reduces her mothers role to that of caretaker to a birdan animal that will resist its cage. I understand the social and moral dilemmas of Chens characters to be speaking to a national priority of resolving cultural shifts in a colonialist legacy. A resolution in this narrative proves problematic because the cycles of violence, rejection, denial, and refusal are not broken. Yan-Zi will not relieve her parents with a note that explains her true feelings. She is resigned to lie, as her mother previously hides the truths of life; she wants her parents to suffer from grief. She desires that her mother be imprisoned by her daughters death (not legally but emotionally) so that she will be destroyed by her daughters rejection as her daughter is previously (and presently if one reads that a narrative is continuous) destroyed by her mothers. At the end of the narrative, the reader finds that the mother and uncle had also been severely punished for table manners, revealing the imprints of the cycle of domestic violence. Is Yan-Zis death a success? Does she find what she needed and recover from her past? Yan-Zi is an outsider placed at the center of this text, making the outsider the most important character. The male characters are ineffective and weak, causing problems for Yan-Zi, as seen in her fathers inability to protect her from her mother, in Bis inability to

PAGE 32

25 convince her to marry him after sex, and in Chuns clumsy pursuit of her, trying to keep her body intact for marriage. But she has found her voice, spoken to her mother with the determination of a person who has made up her mind and shifting all focus on herself, at the center: je suis libre.

PAGE 33

26 CHAPTER 3 ON THE THRESHOLD OF MODERNITY: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INBETWEEN IN YING CHENS IMMOBILE Following her award-winning novel LIngratitude (1995), Ying Chen published an unconventional romance that continues several intertextual tropes and themes present in her work. Her 1998 novel, Immobile follows a female protagonists struggle to reconcile her present with her past from an previous life and its memories. The narrative begins with her estrangement from the mothers body and, like the character Yan-Zi in LIngratitude the female protagonist in Immobile is cognizant of her displacement in the world and she protests through voice and action. She is an unwanted child, but her circumstances are different from Yan-Zis. The narrator in Immobile is an orphan in both her past life and her present life, and from this initial estrangement the narrative follows her strained relationship with her present husband, A, who is trying to make her fit in a modern world. She is clinging to the past and to memories in an effort to exonerate herself from the guilt of having betrayed her lover and slave, S, in what the reader understands to be her first life, vaguely set at a hundred or a thousand years ago. Both characters are preoccupied with the past; Yan-Zis memories are from her current life, whereas the narrator in Immobile is obsessed with her ancient past, for she has lived many lives and is reborn with her oldest memories. Chen uses tropes such as ashes, dust, shame, and regret to darken the characters emotions. These characters life

PAGE 34

27 circumstances may not seem unconventional, but their attitudes and actions are outside of what is considered normal or acceptable behavior for the culture within these narratives. For both characters, their moments of isolation, solitude and silence reflect the powerlessness of their female status in a patriarchal culture. Chen emphasizes the themes of rank, placement, and genealogy in these novels, using her female characters to demonstrate the limitations of womanhood in a society constructed around male power. Their individual actions toward this solitude differ greatly, in that while Yan-Zi moves toward suicide to punish her mother, the narrator in Immobile moves toward death to punish herself. Their voices are related but unique. The female narrator of Immobile who does not reveal her name in the novel (or is nameless), is abandoned as an infant and found on the edge of a road by an opera troupe in the first life, and brought up in an orphanage in the second. She refers to herself as continually abandoned, an orphan in each of the lives she has lived. Both female protagonists in these novels are in search of a reprieve from their alienation. The displacement of the protagonist in Immobile is not located within a home, whereas Yan-Zi struggles between and against her parents, within the walls where she grew up. The narrator in Immobile is wandering, searching throughout time and space for a home [foyer], for a resolution to her past, where she acquired the burden of guilt and of being born continuously. She is traveling the span of time in search of the possibility of ending and restarting. The word she uses is recommencer. It translates into new beginning, but her story is repetitive and ends with a gesture toward recycling rather than renewal. She will return to a point of origin, the mothers birth canal, but does not appear to be able to exit the cycle. When she lives, she is only half-alive as a result of

PAGE 35

28 weariness from her unresolved guilt. Jessaye de regarder sans voir, dcouter sans comprendre, de toucher sans rien sentir, de dormir sans rver (14). Chen uses tropes that work against each other to create a tension in language that reflects the tension between the characters, which results in their lack of resolution. Chen combines death and want, isolation and desire, darkness and happiness, silence and voice. She uses walls and water, ocean and tide to lend the impression that the narrator is of all time, without nation, and without placement by nature, all of which contribute to her location inbetween. Her difficult position as an in-between is a transitional space between traditional values and rhythms and the relatively new way of life associated with industry and large urban centers (Purdy 1990, 49). In this section of my thesis, I will examine the effects that living in a state of inbetween produces on the direction of movement of the female narrator in Immobile Her archaeologist husband, who represents the voice of science, tries to move her in a direction he calls progress, while she limits herself to movements of regression or transgression. I will argue that she is immobilized because she is between states, on the cusp of different identities and eras, and is unable to reconcile her past with her present or her femininity with a culture of masculine domination. Chen creates this on-the-cusp position with images of doorways, thresholds, border spaces, and also through differences in language. Her state of in-between is unacceptable to the other characters in the narrative, and they reject her, reinforcing her social marginalization and alienation. Her position in the text is central because the novel is written from her perspective, in the first person. She focuses, however, somewhere between her reflection as it is mirrored in the other characters perception of her, and her confidence in her own story. They represent

PAGE 36

29 the cultural ideals of familial unity, rank, progress, and modernity that she, in turn, questions, rejects, and revolts against. Chen opens the novel with the narrator explaining her nameless and continuous origin and her abandonment by her mother, but there is no mention of a father, as if she is of half a biological origin. Later she explains, javais acquis un penchant pour tout ce qui tait demi, imparfait, irrparable, (8) which is an identity that she experiences in both lives. Her identity is complicated because it is split between her own will and the prescribed roles of females in the society that surrounds her. Because she can never reconcile the two, she does not become a part of any society. Even after becoming the wife of a prince, she is alienated within his palace walls as a result of expressing her own wants. Furthermore, she is the wife of an exiled prince, whose brother, the king, removed him from court and disallowed his traveling. This circumstance places her in the interior of the interior, exiled in exile. Her historical significance could be considered divided with each new circumstance. For instance, she is half as important as a man in the culture, then half as important as this because her prince is exiled, then further halved because he rejects her. Her marginalized existence is reflected in the trope of doorways and thresholds in the palace. In a doorway, one is neither coming nor going, but remains undecidedly inbetween two spaces. Just after their marriage, she is walked through the palace to be greeted by all, and the two other wives remain sur le seuil de leurs appartements (29), never crossing through their doorways, demonstrating to this new bride the distance they will always assume when she is around. For a while after the wedding, the prince is so pleased with her that he never crosses her doorway because he desires to remain on its

PAGE 37

30 interior. Just after she uses her voice to express her own desire, he is dissatisfied and punishes her by choosing to not pass through her doorway. Her voice, when used unrehearsed (as opposed to during her performances in the opera where the prince saw her sing), becomes a barrier to the princes attention. This rejection on the part of the prince underlines her feminine condition to please or to be abandoned. She understands her situation: Je ne mappartiens pas (23). In this setting, as well as with her present husband, A..., she is only allowed to speak and behave in a way that is appropriate to the social status she has been assigned as a woman. She complains of restrictions imposed on her body by an unnamed society. Il me faut surtout manger modrment, parler avec retenue, porter des jupes courtes, faire attention ma coiffure, en un mot, vivre avec lgance (11). Her ability to make a distinction between her world and the world men occupy causes her distress. She tells her husband, A..., about her envie de devenir moins femme, de mlever un peu sur cette chelle infiniment longue qui mne au paradis des hommes (11). This plea falls on deaf ears because A... is a scientist and follows the ideology that constructs rank, marriage, history, and distinction. She, on the other hand, is unable to cross over into his beliefs and remains stuck in-between her obligations and desires as his wife and her obligations to herself and her consciousness. The notions of progress and the modern context are also problematic for the narrator. Her memory begins in an ancient context and the reader finds her in a present/modern context, yet both are timeless, as that which is ancient will find ways to continue, and that which is modern will later become ancient. The narrator has trouble separating her memory from her present day life. This weak border between past and

PAGE 38

31 present signals her not moving fully into one story or another. This becomes the source of strife between her and her husband. At times, she cannot distinguish between her husband and the three men who dominated her ancient life: the prince, the general, and her slave/lover, S.... The narrator exists on the cusp of a past world and a modern world. Through her, the reader finds the intersection of science and mysticism, of what is antiquated and what is modern. She wears pants for comfort, chooses outdated styles, and communicates in a way that her husband finds slow [retard]. He wants to educate her, because he is a professor, to live in the present and she makes an effort to learn. Because her identity brings the narrative to this intersection of ancient and modern, it is through her memory that the intersection can be revealed. She is at a state of in-between, not fully in the past or present, and not fully in the present or future. On ne me trouve jamais dans un endroit prcis (96). Her in-between state is indicated both by her movement, with un pas en avant et un autre en arrire, and her immobility (88). Any movement is cyclical and repetitive, but not in the direction of time that is perceived as progressive, or forward. This repetition, this un-budging, culminates in her regression or transgression, and disallows her progression in each life she lives, including the particular life that unfolds in the narrative. Her in-between state collides with the progressive desires of her modern husband. Sa conversation dborde de sa rgion. Il commence vanter le monde moderne. Un monde qui a miraculeusement volu depuis quelques sicles, et tolre donc mal lesprit primitif (12). A... is focused on the future and attempts to impress on his wife the importance of concentrating on his time, instead of on the past. Il sempresse dabord

PAGE 39

32 de me moderniser (55). The narrator notes the fervor with which her husband is approaching the task: Sr de son pouvoir, il ne me lche pas. Il veut une femme moderne et il laura (13). Their differences compel her to regress to a more comfortable scene, located in the past, where she was sure of the story because she had repeated it to herself and because it seemed to be the origin of her nature. Il moblige en quelque sorte reculer sur la piste qui ma amene jusquici, presque regretter le chemin parcouru (13). She experiences difficulty releasing the past and moving in A...s progressive direction. Le pass continue me possder, me tirer du haut de la prcieuse certitude laquelle jai cru atteindre le jour de ma renaissance (14). At times, she longs for the simplicity of being an insect or an unevolved animal. At other times, she follows behind A... and assumes the mannerisms or footsteps of a child. A... perpetuates this behavior by addressing her in a pejorative tone. To find her situated behind himself gives A... the satisfaction that he is both progressing and that she is assuming a subordinate role. In remarkable ways, the narrator moves beyond regression into transgression. When she is desperately unable to resolve official ideologies in marriage, history, rank and the injustice of the master-slave condition, she refuses to abide by the rules for her feminine role and she revolts. In her life with A..., she begins by erasing his name from her memory and calling him A.... This defies his tireless efforts to maintain his familys genealogy book to prove his ascendance immacule (129). Il se sert de son livret gnalogique comme dun solide objet de rfrence, dun point de repre indispensable, sur lequel semblent reposer tout son orgueil et sa raison dtre (10). The narrator will not appear in this family tree because, by custom, only the mens names are recorded,

PAGE 40

33 pour simplifier les choses (9). By renaming him A... (Archaeologist?) in her own story, she retaliates against a history without womens names, calling into question such a historys accuracy. She laments that an entire drawer in his apartment is reserved for this family tree and that there is no room in the apartment for her things. She argues with A... that origin is the product of chance and not of respectable bloodlines. This argument, which forces A... to consider his own obsession with the past, eventually makes him weary and causes him to spend less time with his peers and in his work for science, a change that is disapproved of by his colleagues. The narrator also erases the name of her slave and lover, S. Her decision to have sex with him is a transgression against the laws of the monarchy in which she lives. Le mal tait fait, si vite et si facilement. Contre le prince, contre toutes ses pouses, les prcdents commes les suivantes (67). She is liberated by her action, dlivre du respect, de la vertu et de la crainte. Je mtais rachete de la main du prince et revendue la joie (67). In this transgression, she reclaims herself and annihilates herself concurrently, causing instability in the ideal of the monarchy. Her most impressive transgression occurs when shethe wife of a princeescapes from the palace, disguised in her servants clothing, and returns to the opera to sing the part of the princess. She is an unconventional princess, rejected by the members of the palace. As is the case with her other transgressions, she does not improve her condition, but she reveals the construction of the ideologies of rank and priority. The reason she wants to escape from the palace is crucial to the scene: the prince has become more human than godly. He has smelly feet, is lazy, and his control is limited to dominating his wives and servants. Mon matre me paraissait ordinaire, trop ordinaire. Je ne

PAGE 41

34 daignais plus flatter son orgueil Je savais comment devait se comporter un prince. Un prince se devait dtre le tonnerre (45). In a brilliant scene of masquerade and theater, the narrator returns to her origins, mounts the stage and sings the rehearsed songs that please the public; the princess plays the part of the princess, dressed in servants clothes. The public reacts badly, hissing and throwing pebbles at her. A cause des vtements que je portais ce jour-l, le rle de la princesse ne me convenait plusJe hurlaiOn tendit le poing vers moi (48). She possesses a raised consciousness that allows her to understand their behavior. Ils naimaient pas me voir jouer la princesse en tenue de domestique. Mon apparition gchait leur rverie et leur respect envers les nobles (48). She is unable to play the role that she lives, either on the stage or in the palace. This scene shows the limits of consciousness in adopting a constructed culture. The public is willing to see an orphan sing the part of a princess, but is unwilling to allow a princess to lower herself to the stage. The first is an ideal and the latter destroys their ideal. The scene also demonstrates the illusory material of dress and voice manipulated in theater and in life. The narrators trouble with appearances in this scene contributes to her ability to see beyond ideologies of rank, truth, and reason. Malgr ses apparences parfois solides et fermes, la vrit tait une chose fugitive et inconstante, tel un courant la surface duquel tournoyaient la fois des lumires et des ombres, qui dun moment lautre chappaient lobservation (77). Her own ancient observations put her in opposition with her husbands traditional scientific observations. A tries to anchor her, to establish her in the modern moment where he finds himself. His way of looking back, through the lens of genealogy and science, underscores patrilineal progression. He equates science with progress and

PAGE 42

35 progress with modernity. Non seulement le monde tourne, dit-on, mais il avance (123). His epistemology includes precise language and order that makes no room for his wifes story or its ancient connotations. She explains that A a besoin de donnes prcises pour comprendre mon histoire et pour y croire (8), and believes in order: chaque chose a sa place, les tres sont ceci ou cela (9). His observation is founded on the impersonnel and on a dtachement exquis (23). For A, la vie est concrte, et bonne, il suffit de la prendre en mains, de savoir la gouverner (13). A secures his identity and knowledge on the blood of his ancestors, on their names permanently inked into his genealogy booklet. The booklet traces his perception of origin, inside which is located lhistoire de la famille et la puret de son sang (9)a tool for his qualification of priority. He uses the presence/absence of his ancestors as a jumping board to progress in the modern state, leaving them behind yet taking their rank with him. It is through rank and control that A is afforded potential placement in the annals of his personal and national histories. The narrator complains that scientists are perceived as the matres de lhistoire (127). She puts into question their unscrutinized prestige and rank, unable to connect their motivations for work to a helpful impact on humanity. For scientists, les prix les attendent, les collgues les surveillent, lhumanit entire est leur remorque, ils ne doivent pas hsiter (117). As determination to hurry his wifes progress into modernity disengages him from her life/story and causes a rupture between them. He refers to her past life as a fantasme malsain (57), illusory, unclean and absurd. When she first arrives at his apartment, after she gets off the train to live in his world, he scrubs her clean in the bath to the point of hurting her. He also wants to scrub her mind [cerveau] and her memory clean. Later, he

PAGE 43

36 takes her to several specialists trained in the language of science who demonstrate that she is sick and that he is not to blame. He finally takes her to the sea, to the site of her original story and the ruins of the palace. Here, the two characters approach understanding and unity, but her near-drowning experience causes her to remain silent. The silence will not allow A to observe any progress or regressionit is the ultimate language barrierand he loses patience with her. The narrator, however, cannot be modernized, and perhaps A understands this, which may explain why he leaves. Or, sur la voie de la modernisation, jai en vain progress. Inutiles ces efforts pour madoucir, mabaissermembellir le visage (121). The modern landscape to her is unrecognizable and filled with the inorganic: Les frustes villages que javais lhabitude de traverser du temps de la troupe dopra ont fait place des villes prospres. Le triomphe du mtal est irrvocable, de mme que la dfaite de la terre. Je vois les traces de destruction et lvidence de la prosprit. (123) The narrator problematizes As belief in the positive influence of prosperity, progress, and a scientific structure as universal truths. She forces him to question the nature of origin, of roots, of the validity of observation and of turning up the earth to reveal ruins, of turning fossils over onto themselves to discover the past. She is from the past but he is unable to recognize her value because she hesitates to give him proof. Her husband is in need of proof to satisfy the requirements of his scientific education. Her memory is her own proof, but as it is untransferrable and cannot be observed, A considers it the source of his own distress and fatigue, and of rupture in their relationship. Les dsaccords entre mon mari et moi sont surtout dus ses tentatives pour me normaliser et pour remodeler ma mmoire (83). After he leaves her, she replaces the modern story with the memory of the ancient story, making them inseparable and

PAGE 44

37 conserving their trace in her mind. Maintenant quil ne sera plus l, sa voix et son corps commenceront me hanter, si bien que le souvenir de ce mari moderne se superposera peu peu celui de lamant ancien (153). The narrator is on the threshold, often finding herself on the border of two rooms or spaces. Her double positioning in the past and present indicates the nature of several moments of hesitation about progressing into the present or future with her husband. Her hesitation is caused less by the instability of marriage itself or the nature of her husband, but more so by her own instability from dislocation in her marriage and in her society, which is evidenced in her indecisiveness and her physically teetering [chanceler] on the edge. Her position between spaces is the representation of a females inability to move forward successfully in a culture that is still dominated by notions of patriarchy and a masculine science. She does not possess the voice or language to communicate her wants or needs to her husband. This void causes a rupture between them that results in several moments of approach and repulsion, a repetition that ensures the rupture is never resolved. The narrator admits that her husbands work to bring her into his location and beliefs are futile. Ses efforts, hlas, ne font que mloigner davantage de lui. Ses exigences me rendent malgr moi nostalgique de mon ancienne vie (13). Her husband approaches the rupture, but he does not speak her language. His final approach is a movement toward her past in which he finds himself at the location of her ancient life, in a town by the sea, in a dusty, salty air that gives him headaches and nauseates him. The couple experience brief moments of happiness here, but another rupture occurs. After visiting with a fortune-teller, the narrator is convinced that her fate

PAGE 45

38 is to continue to journey and to be recycled, but not into the future. While swimming in the ocean with A, she experiences a crucial moment of physical loss of control to the water that surrounds her. She is able to see A but cannot hear him or call for help. She is drowning in her own decision, in the possibility of progress, and unable to save herself, she remains fixed in the water in an immobile state. The narrators difficulty in communicating, and her inability to leave her past behind is not only a reflection of womens difficulty in placing themselves in a patriarchal society but also reflects the difficulties of language appropriation, either by an individual or by a region. The narrator is bilingual, speaking the ancient language, stories, and songs, and is also able to communicate to a certain extent (the couple somehow moved into a relationship and marriage together), but her husband speaks only the language of the present and future. He is the voice of science while hers remains the voice of mysticism that the science has worked to replace. This relationship echoes the difficulty Qubec has experienced in trying to maintain its native French during periods of war and crisis with the English and English-speaking Canada. Qubec has been embroiled in a long and bitter battle with English-Canadians over questions of language, culture, and nation. Even within the province itself, Qubec writers have struggled, since the birth of Qubcois literature, with the prescribed language of the church and its prescriptive focus on religion, family, and land. For modern novelists, disengaging the church prerogative meant fighting a battle about language and culture, which in turn signified a personal battle about ones identity and its reflection or absence in a larger regional or national identity.

PAGE 46

39 At the end of her story in Immobile the narrators language and her structures will be lost to the modern. She is the embodiment of a time continuum rather than a precise moment in the past or present. Her ancient codes (dress, actions, knowledge, stories, spirituality, desires) and particular metaphors are sources of discontent between her and A, rendering her incomprehensible and unrecognizable. In scenes where the narrator collides with scientists, Chen demonstrates the chasm that is created in social ranks to deliberately exclude members of society perceived as of lower standing. A takes her to breathing meditation treatment, and she cannot understand the language of these scientists because they put themselves in a rank above her. Nous ne sommes pas du mme rang, nous ne parlons pas le mme langage (118). By slowing down his pace, helping her with chores in the house, and listening to her memories, her husband attempts to learn her languagea movement toward bilingualismbut he regresses and fails. The consequences of this attempt and failure result in a rupture in which he reverts back to the language of science and the masters, and, worse, he is confounded by and grows increasingly impatient with hera movement that culminates in his final act of separation from her person and her story. The tug-of-war between them, represented in the language of the narrative, is set in motion by her teetering position on the threshold of modernity. This imbalance is coupled with her indecision to enter the present era completely and leave her memory behind. Her location is central in the text and the husband moves toward her, speaking freely of present and future, pulling her toward both and destabilizing her story. Similar to the long history of war between bordering nations and its subsequent divisions of territory, the couple moves in spatial undulation, attaching and losing each other, re

PAGE 47

40 attaching and re-losing each other. They swap roles of master and servant, each trying to approach the others ideal, but they fail to meet as equals. Their struggle changes the landscape, indicated in part by the way the narrator modifies her clothes, behavior, and language to appear more modern and subsequently to gain approval from the man who appropriated her. The landscape of the apartment is also changed during their own quiet revolutions; sometimes there is a husband moving through the scene, cleaning, cooking, arranging, and sometimes a wife. Also, the noise and bustle of intellectuals gathering for dinner in the apartment turned into the domestic confinement and isolation of both characters. In the end, they lose each other. Her husband leaves her in solitude in the town by the sea. She sits on a rock, the smoothness of which mirrors the effects of time and the circulation of the tide, and decides to remain in the ruins of this ancient place rather than follow her husband (which she claims would have be a simple effort) to his academic and modern life. He turns again to his life of science, the life he led before her with the language he spoke comfortably, and leaves. His departure from the scene, his turning his back on her, reveals a lack of strong male characters in this novel (a theme pursued by Chen in LIngratitude as well, the father being a professor who is unable to write). The male characters in Immobile are peripheral characters, moving toward or away from the central female protagonist in ways that cause her an undulation of happiness, pain, and regret. Their actions and dialogue appear in the narrative for the purpose of presenting the narrators perspective, revealing the marginalization of these male characters within the narrative. They speak for a traditionally patriarchal cultureof masters, fathers, bloodlines, marriage, and

PAGE 48

41 monarchybut they are ineffective in bringing the female character to understand her role within that culture. In fact, the points of conflict between the male characters and the female narrator occur at moments when she is questioning or expressing her individuality. Furthermore, these male characters are unable to reconcile their own positions in society. A cannot reconcile his loathing of his wifes past life and his own fascination with roots, fossils, and ruinsmarkers of the past. S (for servant?) cannot fully submit to authority and fulfill his obligations to his masters; he secretly hopes to change his destiny. They are also located in-between the ideals and myths taught to them and the realities they encounter. Their position in-between amplifies the narrators since they surround and work to define her. The narrator in Immobile implies a departure similar to that of A, her husband. Le patron de lauberge me dit que, demain, un camion viendra enlever les ordures du temps mconnaissable (156). Turning toward the familiar past by situating herself near the ruins of the palace, the site of origin for her guilt and memory, she sits in the dust kicked up by the pace of hurried pedestrians and awaits the arrival of a truck that will carry her away (the truck recalls the death and modern dilemma of Yan-Zi in LIngratitude whose planned suicideand lifeare wiped out by a truck that crushes her). As the narrator in Immobile faces the arrival of a truckvehicle of modernityshe is located in-between the impossibility of escaping the modern condition completely and her desire to return to her ancient memories. She will become part of the ruins that have been singled out as irreconcilable with the modern landscape and mode of life. The placement of the narrator on the threshold of space and time may refer back to the authors present placement in Qubec with roots in China. I would not suggest that

PAGE 49

42 Chen regrets her decision to leave China, but the culture shock involved in transferring her life from east to west was difficult for her to endure and compelled her to write. I would argue for the simple connection between the authors life and the characters written experiences, and then for a movement beyond this connection, beyond the psychological analysis of the author to explain her work, to a greater one of language and culture in general, two social spheres that Chen has studied and experienced in depth, both in her native China and in her adopted Qubec. The narrators double registre (the observer of herself as well as the observer of others) marks the unique vantage point of an immigrant in a new culture: suddenly hyperconscious of the difference of oneself and the simultaneous difference of others, while recognizing the rejection of the one and the acceptance of the other socially, linguistically, legally, etc. Immigrants try to reconcile the differences between their native and still-foreign cultures into aspects of belonging to one or both, and at least being able to function in the new environment without being rejected. Chens device of the self-conscious narrator lends a certain credibility to her story. Although she erases her own name, as well as those of her male characters, the narrator is literally placed at the center. Her story, in a way, replaces her name, the story being less simple and based on a personal narrative that counterbalances the authoritative voice of science. The narrator has perhaps lost the battle to impose her antiquity on her modern husband, but she embodies a revolution, a cycle of life. In response to her powerlessness, she will revolt continuously as she lives continuously. Tout sera alors fini. Tout recommencera (156). She is perpetually located between ending and restarting. Her location in-between causes her to depart and return with no ties to life or death except for

PAGE 50

43 that which she carries in her memory. Through this character and her cyclical act of dying, Chen forces an examination of notions and fears of death. Her character moves against the eternal life myth of Christianity to recreate it under new circumstances. This is a significant literary aspect for the Qubec canon, which has problematized the Catholic narrative and the modern condition since the 1930s. The narrator in Immobile lives without end, but it is not the eternal life of Western dreams; she wanders in exile, unable to locate a reprieve from her ancient guilt of betraying her lover. Que lternel devienne dj un vulgaire rel, et que le commencement et la fin ne soient que de charmantes illusions? (52). Regardless of past or present, she will continue to exist and to be herself. Jexiste, tout simplement. Jexiste avant ma naissance et aprs ma mort (51). Ying Chens novels, like the very act of immigration, lead to questions about origin and priority. The two novels examined in this thesis reveal an anger and darkness in Chens oeuvre that was not yet present, or not as dark, in her first two novels, La Mmoire de leau (1992), and Les Lettres chinoises (1993). Some critics write that LIngratitude and Immobile are not immigrant novels, but I disagree. Chens experience in exile, albeit voluntary, shaped these narratives. She is now settled in Qubec but continues to explore the path that led her here. The anger of her female narrators comes from Chens effort to retrace the history of social domination in China and in Qubec that leads to violence and oppression against women. Through these novels, Chen explores revolt against male domination and the possibility or impossibility of escape. In an interview with LActualit Chen reveals a strong connection to her female protagonists: Moi, je me rvolte. Je ne respecte pas beaucoup les rgles (LaChance 1995, 90).

PAGE 51

44 LIST OF REFERENCES Balibar, tienne. Politics and the Other Scene London: Verso, 2002. Canada. Government of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Learning. Racial Overtones: Immigration and Asians A component of the Evergreen Curriculum. 2002. Last accessed March 2004 . Chen, Ying. Immobile Montral/Arles: Boral/Actes Sud, 1998. . LIngratitude Montral/Arles: Lemac/Actes Sud, 1995. Dubois, Christian, and Christian Hommel. Vers une definition du texte migrant: lexemple de Ying Chen. Tangence (Rimouski) 59 ( janvier 1999): 38-48. Gilbert, Paula, and Roseanna Dufault, ed. Introduction. Doing Gender: Franco-Canadian Women Writers of the 1990s Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001. 15-20. Haraway, Donna. Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouseTM: Feminism and Technoscience New York: Routledge, 1997. LaChance, Micheline. Des vies lencre de Chine. LActualit 20.18 (15 novembre 1995): 89-90. Lequin, Lucie. Talking about Values: Quebec Womens Writing and Cultural Plurality, Bulletin of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute 18/19 (2000): 75-84. Lionnet, Franoise. Postcolonial Representations: Women, Literature, Identity New York: Cornell University Press, 1995. Purdy, Anthony. A Certain Difficulty of Being: Essays on the Quebec Novel Montral: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990. Robitaille, Louis-Bernard. Les Ecrivains migrateurs, LActualit 22.8 (15 mai 1997): 78-83. Roy, Monique. Ying Chen: Retour en Chine, Chtelaine 39.4 ( avril 1998): 26-28. Saint-Martin, Lori. Infanticide, Suicide, Matricide, and Mother-Daughter Love: Suzanne Jacobs LObissance and Ying Chens LIngratitude , Canadian Literature 169 (Summer 2001): 60-83.

PAGE 52

45 Shek, Ben-Z. French-Canadian and Qubcois Novels Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1991. Wang, Shuguang, and Lucia Lo. Chinese Immigrants in Canada: Their Changing Composition and Economic Performance. Research paper presented to the Conference on Sub-Ethnicity in the Chinese Diaspora. September 12-13, 2003, U of Toronto. Last accessed March 2004 .

PAGE 53

46 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Jaime Elizabeth O'Dell was born in Winter Park, Florida, in 1971. She graduated from high school in Orlando, Florida, in 1989 and moved to Gainesville for undergraduate coursework in French and journalism at the University of Florida. She started a career in newspaper in 1995 at the Gainesville Sun and in 1999 decided to shift her focus to education. In 2000, she earned an M.Ed. in foreign language education at UF. In 2001, she was offered an assistantship in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department at UF, where she taught French and worked as a research assistant while pursuing the M.A. in French literature. Her participation and work in this program was met with several scholarships, grants, awards, and a nomination for the UF Graduate Teaching Award. After graduation, her goals are to join the UF in Provence studyabroad program in France as an assistant for the summer, and to return to France in the fall to teach English. Upon returning to the states, she plans to teach French to highschool and community college students.


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0004831/00001

Material Information

Title: Transgressive narratives : gender and revolt in two Quebecois novels by Ying Chen
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Language: English
Creator: O'Dell, Jaime ( Dissertant )
Blum-Reid, Sylvie ( Thesis advisor )
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2004
Copyright Date: 2004

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Romance Languages and Literatures thesis, M.A
Dissertations, Academic -- UF -- Romance Languages and Literatures
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
thesis   ( marcgt )

Notes

Abstract: This thesis focuses on Ying Chen, a Québécois novelist who immigrated to Québec from China in 1989. To work through the painful transition associated with immigration and exile, Chen wrote several novels, in French, and published them in quick succession, starting only three years after her arrival in Montréal. The following chapters explore connections in two successive novels, L'Ingratitude and Immobile. he most important connection is the conflict of gender identity and oppressive sociocultural dilemmas that culminates in transgressive acts of revolt by the female narrators. The narrators' voices and actions raise questions about origin and priority in history and culture. The thesis considers connections to Chen's unique social position as a woman and immigrant, writing in a foreign language and living in a foreign culture, merging her past Chinese culture and history with that of Québec. The thesis will argue that certain aspects of the two novels refer also to elements indicative of the Québec national text and its celebrated, minority, francophone voice. This thesis considers Western critical movements toward minority and francophone literatures as well as notions of diaspora, alienation and exile.
Abstract: Chinese, gender, Quebec, women
General Note: Title from title page of source document.
General Note: Document formatted into pages; contains 53 pages.
General Note: Includes vita.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2004.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
General Note: Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0004831:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0004831/00001

Material Information

Title: Transgressive narratives : gender and revolt in two Quebecois novels by Ying Chen
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Language: English
Creator: O'Dell, Jaime ( Dissertant )
Blum-Reid, Sylvie ( Thesis advisor )
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2004
Copyright Date: 2004

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Romance Languages and Literatures thesis, M.A
Dissertations, Academic -- UF -- Romance Languages and Literatures
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
thesis   ( marcgt )

Notes

Abstract: This thesis focuses on Ying Chen, a Québécois novelist who immigrated to Québec from China in 1989. To work through the painful transition associated with immigration and exile, Chen wrote several novels, in French, and published them in quick succession, starting only three years after her arrival in Montréal. The following chapters explore connections in two successive novels, L'Ingratitude and Immobile. he most important connection is the conflict of gender identity and oppressive sociocultural dilemmas that culminates in transgressive acts of revolt by the female narrators. The narrators' voices and actions raise questions about origin and priority in history and culture. The thesis considers connections to Chen's unique social position as a woman and immigrant, writing in a foreign language and living in a foreign culture, merging her past Chinese culture and history with that of Québec. The thesis will argue that certain aspects of the two novels refer also to elements indicative of the Québec national text and its celebrated, minority, francophone voice. This thesis considers Western critical movements toward minority and francophone literatures as well as notions of diaspora, alienation and exile.
Abstract: Chinese, gender, Quebec, women
General Note: Title from title page of source document.
General Note: Document formatted into pages; contains 53 pages.
General Note: Includes vita.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2004.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
General Note: Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0004831:00001


This item has the following downloads:


Full Text











TRANSGRESSIVE NARRATIVES: GENDER AND REVOLT INT TWO
QUEBECOIS NOVELS BY YING CHEN














By

JAIME O'DELL


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA INT PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2004




























Copyright 2004



by



Jaime O'Dell


































To the memory of my grandmothers
















ACKNOWLEDGMENT S

I am grateful to my loving and supportive parents, Kay and Bill, to my brother,

Danny, and to my best friend, Christine, who showed me a thing or two about working

through pain. I extend my sincere gratitude to Dr. Sylvie Blum for welcoming me in the

department, and for her constant support, encouragement, and generous efforts in

mentoring me. Special thanks are due to Dr. William Calin for his continuous support

and ideas, and to Dr. Tace Hedrick for taking on this proj ect. I would also like to thank

the staff in RLL for their tireless assistance and kindness, and Dr. Geraldine Nichols, the

department, and the University Women's Club for financial support. My sincere

appreciation goes to Drs. Theresa Antes, Bernadette Cesar-Lee, and W. Calin for being

quite possibly the best bosses I have ever had. I am indebted to Dr. Mark Reid for

pushing me in this direction, as well as to the gracious people of Montreal who shared

their city with me and made me feel at home. I fondly remember Richard Ring, Leila

Parrish, and Clemens Hallman, world-class educators and mentors. Last but not least, I

am profoundly grateful for my dear friends in Gainesville who offered all their support

and lovingly told me to get back to work.



















TABLE OF CONTENTS



ACKNOWLEDGMENT S ........._._ ...... .__ ..............iv....

AB S TRAC T.........._.._.._ ..............vi..._.... ....

CHAPTER

1 INTRODUCTION ................ ................. 1...............

2 REFUSAL AND DENIAL INT YINTG CHEN' S L 'INGRA TITUDE. ....................... 1 1

3 ON THE THRESHOLD OF MODERNITY: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE IN-
BETWEEN INT YING CHEN' S IALVIOBILE .........____....... __ .............. 26

LIST OF REFERENCE S............ _...... ._ .............. 44...

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............ _...... ._ .............. 46....
















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

TRANSGRESSIVE NARRATIVES: GENDER AND REVOLT INT TWO
QUEBECOIS NOVELS BY YING CHEN

By

Jaime O'Dell

May 2004

Chair: Sylvie Blum-Reid
Maj or Department: Romance Languages and Literatures

This thesis focuses on Ying Chen, a Quebcois novelist who immigrated to Quebec

from China in 1989. To work through the painful transition associated with immigration

and exile, Chen wrote several novels, in French, and published them in quick succession,

starting only three years after her arrival in Montreal. The following chapters explore

connections in two successive novels, L 'Ingratitude and Immobile. The most important

connection is the conflict of gender identity and oppressive sociocultural dilemmas that

culminates in transgressive acts of revolt by the female narrators. The narrators' voices

and actions raise questions about origin and priority in history and culture. The thesis

considers connections to Chen's unique social position as a woman and immigrant,

writing in a foreign language and living in a foreign culture, merging her past Chinese

culture and history with that of Quebec. The thesis will argue that certain aspects of the

two novels refer also to elements indicative of the Quebec national text and its celebrated,










minority, francophone voice. This thesis considers Western critical movements toward

minority and francophone literatures as well as notions of diaspora, alienation and exile.















CHAPTER 1
INTTRODUCTION

The richness of Quebcois literature and culture is partially dependent upon the

voices of its immigrant and women writers. Both groups have been gaining recognition

for the past thirty years, while the latter has enjoyed critical attention for feminist writing,

the most important development in Quebec literature in the 1970s (Lequin 2000, Shek

1991). Immigrant writing is increasing in popularity, in best-seller markets, in the

education curriculum, and as a focus for literary critics. This recent movement toward

cultural plurality also comes in the form of prestigious literary prizes offered to "les

ecrivains migrateurs"-the Goncourt and the Medicis in France and the Quebec-Paris in

Quebec all having been offered since the 1990s to these new voices of French (Robitaille

1997, 78). The movement throughout history of massive numbers of people between

continents is now culminating in a Western regard for multicultural discourse. Placing

the immigrant writer at the focus of a literary scene can occur as a result of recent trends,

movements, marketing interests, and a growing sense of a new population that must be

somehow regarded, be it in a good or bad light. Canada's most significant immigration

population, the Chinese-Canadian, is making its voices heard. "Both the landing records

and the 2001 census confirm that the Chinese have become the largest group of

immigrants in Canada. Between 1980 and 2000, nearly 800,000 Chinese immigrants

landed in Canada" and "the Chinese language has become the third-most-spoken

language in Canada (after English and French)" (Wang and Lo 2003, 1).










Despite this explosion in the Chinese-Canadian population, most of the writers in

Quebec receiving critical attention are not of Chinese backgrounds. "For various

linguistic, historical, and geopolitical reasons, there are many more Quebec writers of

Haitian, Italian, Middle Eastern, North African and Central or South American

background" (Saint-Martin 2001, 62). The first Sino-Quebcois writer to gain notable

literary popularity is Ying Chen, who came to Montreal from Shanghai in 1989 and was

published three years later. This thesis examines certain culture and gender discourses

that result in acts of transgression by the female protagonists in two of her six novels.

Chen uses metaphors of displacement to thematize haunting aspects of alienation and

exile-particularly from a gender perspective-and to put into relief the anger and sadness

that these uncertain states produce.

As the first and most recognized Sino-Quebcois writer in North America, Chen's

work contributes to the developing interest in cross-cultural narratives and gender studies.

Entering the literary scene at the age of 3 1, Chen has written on the cusp of two

millenniums, publishing four of her six novels in the 1990s and the most recent two in

2002 and 2003. In the formation of a national canon, Chen is considered a significant

contributor as a woman's voice, as an immigrant' s voice, and as a writer of novels that

raise international questions about heritage, culture, gender, and humanity. With

narratives that centralize the minority or marginalized positions of women and

immigrants, Chen's novels approach different themes, structures, and story lines; all

maintain a voice that is powerfully unique, influenced by the combined components of

her Chinese culture, her difficult move to the region of Quebec, and the modern

dilemmas about which she writes.









What makes Chen so interesting is that she left her family, an established career,

and her familiar language and surroundings to live in Quebec and to write in French,

when she could have chosen to live among the more sizeable Chinese immigrant

populations of Vancouver, Toronto, or New York, with thousands of new Chinese

immigrating yearly. Gifted for language, Chen worked as a translator with Mandarin,

Russian, Italian, English and French before leaving China to pursue her goal to become a

writer. She chose to specialize in French literature at the University of Fudan (Shanghai),

and her move from China to Montreal began with her studying creative writing and

French at McGill University, where she earned a Master' s degree.

The province of Quebec boasts a formidable group of critically acclaimed writers

and works that are, as members of a minority francophone literature, attracting worldwide

interest in its culture and discourses on nationality. Ying Chen's work, grounded in her

Chinese culture and still-forming Quebcois roots, is a component both of this

francophone literature and the immigrant minority voice within it. Her unique position is

that of a member representative of these groups, as well as of the cultures and languages

that embody them. Chen does not easily fit into any one category. Her narratives that are

set in China were written in Montreal. Her narratives center on the harsh treatment of

women that can result from cultural constructs, yet she avoids the political: "elle

s'impatiente si on conclut qu'elle a denonce la condition feminine en Chine. Elle est

ecrivain, pas polemiste" (Roy 1998, 26). She cannot necessarily be called a migrant

author because she does not move back and forth between countries; she is also not in

total exile because she was not expelled unwillingly from her country, and she visited

China in 1998 with no political ramifications. The terms "migrant" and "exile" are










slippery categories anyway. Chen is also one of the few immigrant writers who does not

necessarily make her immigration and its problematic the central subj ect matter of her

works. Some novels center on the transition in journeying to a new country and culture;

most focus on difficulties that have been endured in the already-learned culture. Chen's

female characters reveal a good deal of anger in confronting their male counterparts. I

would refer to Chen as an exiled writer who left post-communist China in a voluntary

search for improved life conditions. What can be said with certainty about Ying Chen is

that she is an author, and within her novels, she works out difficulties of alienation and

differences in gender status.

There are many reasons for Chen's acceptance as a contributor to the national

literature of Quebec, as well as for the way in which the literary scene in Quebec has

embraced her novels. It might begin with her significant choice of residence. She was

born in China but chose Quebec. She accepted graduate work at McGill University,

located in a bilingual metropolitan, and chose French for her language of study and

writing. She said that it would have made little difference if she had moved to France,

Toronto, Montreal or New York. Her writing itself echoes themes, a certain darkness of

mood, and a serious voice common in critically acclaimed Quebcois literature, as will be

further illustrated below. Also, the struggles her heroines undergo reflect those of many

unconventional but popular figures of modern Quebcois literature. At the same time,

they reflect the difficult position of immigrants and minorities in Quebec who have to

struggle for attention within the already minority population of Quebcois Francophones,

who struggle for respect in the larger, national sphere of Canada. The Quebec narrative

has been traditionally centered on the male or father figure, and particularly around the









Church and its ideals. Up until the past 30 years, female characters had been relegated to

marginal positions to echo the patriarchal and church laws and values. Chen's female

narrators contribute to a shift of woman in the Quebec canon from margin to center, and

reflect the shift from margin to center that occurred for the Quebec province in the 1960s

when its self-reference shifted from French-Canadian (marginal) to Quebcois (center).

For Chen's literary achievements, the attention paid to her novels recognizes not

just the strong influence of Chinese/Shanghai culture in her writing, but also the manner

in which she approaches what may be considered elements of a universal human

condition, including but not limited to love, death, marriage, family, exile, alienation, and

suicide. The difficult transition into a multicultural identity is a source of conflict and

creation for the richness of Chen' s texts, and positions her and her novels within a recent

literary preoccupation with identity and difference. The dilemma of being in-between

surfaces in almost all of her works because it reflects the difficulty of living a double-

identity, which immigrants face when they realize the differences between their native

culture and language and the new one(s) they are adopting. Christian Dubois and

Christian Hommel explain the alienation associated with this double identity:

"I'immigrant soudainement plonge dans un monde nouveau vit une double alienation: il

est stranger dans sa nouvelle society qui, inversement, lui est egalement etrangere,"

which results in an impossibility to stay as one was and a pressure to become other

(Dubois and Hommel 1999, 38).

In relocating to Quebec, Ying Chen becomes a part of this group of Chinese

immigrants and inherits its history of alienation and refusal of citizen' s rights by the

government. The story of racism against Chinese immigrants in Canada is dark and









familiar. It includes several riots, the major ones occurring in 1887 and 1907 (by the

Asiatic Exclusion League), that drove the established immigrants out of Chinatowns

across Canada. Because they were considered cultural and economic threats, "Asian

immigrants were targeted as an alien population that was not entitled to equality of

opportunity nor to services open to other immigrants or Canadians" (Canada 2002). In

1903 a $500 head tax was imposed on every Chinese immigrant in an effort by the

government and racist groups to limit immigration of foreign cultures. In 1923, the

Chinese Exclusion Law stopped Chinese immigration, and during the depression of the

1930s the government used sections 40 and 41 of the Immigration Act to deport non-

Canadian citizens on relief. Racial and ethnic bias began to decline with the government

granting Chinese-Canadians citizenship in 1947, with revisions of the Immigration Act in

1962 and 1967, and with the 1970 Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission Report

that proposed a focus on new citizens and a multicultural society. Today, this negative

attention is being refigured through efforts to encourage rather than squash cultural

plurality. Chen's works, at least through the anxiety her female characters experience,

connotate the frustration of alienated peoples who want to improve their positions or

question their society, and yet find themselves unable to move in a desired direction.

In one way, Chen's unique position as a successful, immigrant, feminist writer

addresses problematic of globalization and the ballooning of North American culture at

the loss of "other" cultures. She wanted to leave China, like many of her peers. She has

been collecting and depositing her own creativity and culture shock, in the shape of

narratives that pass from China to Montreal, into Quebec's literary belly. With writing,

she imprints her narratives and cultural questions on Quebec culture. As the voice of an










outsider who has been accepted inside, her narratives are carefully explored by members

of Quebec culture, while she has been carefully exploring this same culture that quickly

accepted these narratives.

Chen confronts Chinese culture and history with a western perspective, but crucial

to understanding her work is the fact that she chose to revolve some of her novels around

themes she considers universal, so that whether a work is set in the East or the West, the

content and focus of the work are not particular to one nation but rather cross oceans,

borders, time periods, and doorways to transcend a specific culture or history. At the

same time, Chen's works fit into the questioning darkness particular to a prominent genre

of twentieth-century Quebcois novels. Many of her tropes are also common in what are

considered "classics" of Quebcois novels. A dusty atmosphere echoes Andre

Langevin' sPoussidre sur la ville (1953). The themes of suicide or violence resound in

Poussidre sur la ville, in Yves Theriault's Contes pour un homme seul (1944), and in

several works by Anne Hebert and Marie-Claire Blais. The popular (on best-seller lists

and in academia) themes of alienation, exile, and dehumanization can be traced back to

Ringuet' s Trente arpents (193 8), and since then have recurred as staple themes

throughout the modern Quebecois novel and the feminist novel of the 1970s, as with the

novels of Gabrielle Roy, Anne Hebert, Madeleine Gagnon, Marie-Claire Blais, Nicole

Brossard, and Regine Robin. As with Nicole Brossard's texts, Chen's novels include a

"clear distancing of the confused narrative voice from history, society, the outer world,

representation," particularly in the use of a female voice that questions patriarchy. (Shek

1991, 88). Narratives that focus on feminist identities and culture are considered "an

important site in which to study the personal, cultural, and political transformations that









are the legacy both of the colonial encounter and of the postcolonial 'arts of resistance' it

produces" (Lionnet 1995, 3).

Chen's work reflects modes of resistance already present in Quebcois literature

prior to her arrival in Montreal in 1989, yet she represents a shift in voice, having carved

out her own place as a newcomer to the corpus of francophone women writers. Written

twenty years after Quebec's active feminist movement, Chen's novels approach

perspectives that interpret a world still largely formulated and governed by patriarchal

maneuvers. Her novels, most written and published in swift succession in the final

decade of the twentieth century, mark the rise of the immigrant voice and the

continuation of questions centered around feminine identity, creating a point of

intersection in francophone literature that appeals to trends and movements in literature.

Further critical study is needed in the future to continue with Chen's most recent novels.

Because L 'Ingratitude won international acclaim, it received the most attention from

scholars and magazine publishers of any of her works. Fewer articles were published on

Immobile, yet the two texts mirror each other in their first-person narrative styles, brief

and dense chapters, poetic language, and themes discussed throughout this introduction.

The next step will be to examine her canon as a continuous body of work that changes as

this author resolves the memories and knowledge of her past with present Western life.

Born in 1961 in Shanghai during the Mao regime, Ying Chen took part in a youth

movement/diaspora that saw many young Chinese intellectuals decide to re-direct their

lives by turning toward Western countries. After earning a university diploma, she

worked for six years as a technical and commercial translator in Shanghai. Her self-

imposed exile at the age of 28 came moments before the violent clashes at Tiananmen










Square, which caused her a great deal of anxiety and nostalgia for a country and family

that she had just left and was already missing. Her voyage from China included a self-

imposed exile from her parents, family, culture, language, and familiar surroundings.

Though she already knew French, her bilingualism was not enough to balm the painful

recovery from displacement. She admits that given the chance, she is unsure whether she

would go through this exile experience a second time. Writing was a means of recovery

from her voyage, her memory, and of turning away from an old tradition toward a future.

The first novel considered in this thesis is L 'Ingratitude. In this work, Chen

created a Chinese narrative and situated it in a francophone context. The novel, set in

Shanghai, is written in French and published in Montreal for a readership in Quebec

(though it has since been translated into several languages) and is thus set in motion in a

continual international context. The names and places are Chinese, but Chen's

exploration of consciousness, tradition, love, death and family crosses political borders.

The result is a narrative that does not rely on nation or history, as is the case with many

Quebcois writers who center their texts on contemporary political movements. Chen's

female protagonist, Yan-Zi, tries to release herself from the confines of such borders.

Her problems are familial and cultural, but these problems are also explored by writers

whose textual settings are in Quebec. L ingratitudee, set in Shanghai, travels through its

francophone address to highlight Eastern and Western problems. The themes proposed in

this thesis constitute a dilemma Chen uses to address questions of origin and priority

through her characters' methods of denial or refusal. Through these two modes of revolt,

the female narrator succeeds in dismantling the connections that maintain an insensibility

and inhumanity of her relationship with her mother. The mother character begins the










cycle of denial and refusal in her family, positioning her daughter at its harsh epicenter

and fixing her there. The pattern of disconnection and exile in this novel reflects the

desire of Chen' s narrator to annihilate tradition and culture, to highlight the ways myths

fail, and to demonstrate the negative impact of this failure on the individual.

The last part of my thesis will focus on the significance of threshold spaces in

Immobile, the novel published in the wake of L 'Ingratitude's success. These spaces

reflect or recall moments of alienation and exile for the female narrator/protagoni st, who

does not name herself. She is repeatedly reincarnated and so transcends the ancient and

the modern, living several lives, both to punish herself for betraying her lover of ancient

times, S..., and to try to find him again. Because she is female and of low social class,

the narrator exists inside a culture and outside its privilege. She seldom arrives at

moments of privilege beyond her privileged position as "je," the storyteller. Through her

ability to tell her own story and appear at the center of the narrative, the reader discovers

crucial movements of regression or transgression on her part. These movements and the

crucial border spaces in which they appear are a reaction to her husband's oppressive

notions of forcing her to progress into modernity, despite her warnings that the modern

does not mesh with her identity or her memory. Within the narrative, Chen uses several

tropes and themes that recall L 'Ingratitude and effectively fuse the two narrators' voices

into central parts of a network of voices that question the origin and priority of

constructed ideologies.















CHAPTER 2
REFUSAL AND DENIAL INT YINTG CHEN' S L'INGRATITUDE

Men and women set themselves goals that they are never certain will not destroy
them, while they are precisely struggling against annihilation.
-Etienne Balibar

Ying Chen's 1995 novel L 'Ingratitude follows the postmortem narrative of a 25-

year-old female character who has apparently committed suicide as an act of revenge on

her oppressive and abusive mother. Her violent death marks the significance of the

question of potential and the individual consciousness. Can a family or a nation-a

history-recover from a loss of potential? The female protagonist, also the narrator,

addresses her own potential, as seen by her parents and by other representatives of her

culture, and puts into question the loss of rights in the name of preserving tradition in a

patriarchal culture. The protagonist wants to know about life and love, but her

upbringing in an oppressive, patriarchal household (though her mother exercises the most

power, she works to inscribe patriarchal laws on her daughter and is thus a representative

of male domination) provides a barrier to the exploration of this knowledge and to any

exploration of life. Her death challenges a culture that disseminates notions of family,

tradition, and the past as embedded with the highest values and priority. It also

challenges the view of woman as mater dolorosa. Consequently, she is resigned to

explore death as a viable alternative and a more inviting space. In this narrative where

self-possession is in conflict with being controlled by society and family, the mother

plays the role of the tyrant, and the daughter, the role of the revolutionary who must find

the courage to cross the border of death and escape the denial of her self.










The protagonist, Yan-Zi, takes advantage of her 'deathbed privilege', which can

work to grant the narrator potential authority through the final say (she is the last one to

"speak" to the reader), to recount the sequence of events leading up to her (un)timely

death. Also particular to this narrative is the unique and singular perspective of the

double registre, the observer of oneself as well as the observer of others, which works as

a tool because of the absence of other voices, only their traces found at moments while

reflecting on her past life, repeated as prior conversations. Yan-Zi's voice works to put

into relief the theme of silence, which works as a border, found in several sites

throughout the text. Her distance from the events she describes, in addition to her desires

and motivation, affect her representation of the past. This element of representation can

put into question Yan-Zi's memory or the exact events themselves, but it does not

compromise her need for rebellion and the circumstances under which she and other

female characters find themselves unable to act.

The continuity and direction of this narrative hint at the possibility that it will be

shown in retrospect, to grant the reader a sense of now and then, of a present coming to

terms with its past. Through the psychological complexities of denial and refusal, Chen's

character deprives the reader of this privilege, aborting the appeasement of retrospect and

of its literary functioning. There is a rejection of the sentimental, and with it, an attention

to the inhumanity of Yan-Zi's situation. One could argue that Yan-Zi is sentimental

about her suffering, and at times she romanticizes aspects of it, but finally she rej ects the

life she left behind, watches her mother take care of the pet bird that is her postmortem

replacement, and proclaims: "Elle continue a aimer a sa fagon. Elle se met a eduquer et a

discipliner son oiseau, pour se reconforter de son echec interieur, se preparer un avenir










quelconque, leguer son patrimoine et assurer une continuity a sa vie" (132). This may or

may not be her mother she watches; her sight is weakening with her memory, and any

resolution is unclear. That a bird replaces her daughter is both a revolution (she

conceives Yan-Zi only after she is no longer satisfied with the results of raising birds)

and an end to her control over bloodlines, tradition, and values.

In my estimation, the protagonist did not misrepresent her past situation, therefore a

reading of this character' s removal from her own life and the sources and elements that

led to it is viable. The alienation or marginalization Yan-Zi undergoes is a rupture-any

moment where a connection is absent that would have rerouted, in its presence, the

potential of the protagonist and caused her to have found a place in her familial and social

structures. Yan-Zi's location outside her family and society is represented by moments

of refusal and denial, to be examined below, the sources of which include the indelible

marks left behind from alienation, exile, imprisonment, violence, and the use of borders

to alienate.

The tension between mother and daughter is the primary source of disconnection

in this work; it frames the problematic of a changing female identity in the modern

societies of the East and the West. The underlying struggle here is Yan-Zi's desire for

self-possession at the same time that she is being controlled by society through her

mother' s adherence to its rules and her father' s inability to act. This society and its

consecrated traditions are alien to her consciousness, causing her to be alien to the

culture: "Qu'il serait done merveilleux de ne pas avoir de parents, de vivre loin des

obligations imposees par le lien du sang" (89).









Her death disrupts the order of priority, sending her where her grandparents should

go first. Her grandmother says, "J'aurais prefere la remplacer, m'en aller avant elle"

(10). This tragic tone is continued by the narrator to describe both the trauma of her

death and the trauma of her life. She describes her life in terms of functioning through

her mother' s commands and wishes, and she is trapped in a triumvirate that operates

through marital, filial, and cultural obligations.

Yan-Zi recounts her story, demonstrating the effects of this denial on her own

humanity. The patriarchal culture and this culture's representatives fail to recognize the

potential of a female to move beyond the roles of wife and mother. Yan-Zi is alienated

from her family and culture because she does not want to be married, have children, or

adhere to the codes of virtue imposed on women. She desires to be old, a desire

contradictory to others in the community who fear age and dying, thus avoid signs of it.

She describes the world in which she lived as 'their' world and her mother' s world,

focusing on those who are in control of the rules and codes. She understands that these

codes silence women and force them into inferior positions. Reflecting on her

relationship with her mother, Yan-Zi notes, "Quelquefois, dans les bains publics, nous

nous epiions en silence" (20). This silence, also framing her relationship with her father,

suffocates her. Her father's silence, she complains, empowers her mother to control

every aspect of her life and fostered the spiteful environment in which she grew up.

She describes how her mother practices espionage to control her daughter's actions.

To lend credibility to her complaints, she also gives the example of the humiliation of her

woman friend, Hua, in attempting to express herself: "Son pere decachetait ses lettres.

Son frere lisait a haute voix son journal intime a table. Lorsqu' elle avait eu son premier










rendez-vous avec Bi, sa mere les avait suivis jusqu'au parc pour voir si ce dernier etait

assez beau pour sa fille" (89).

Within this patriarchal culture, Yan-Zi's most valuable characteristic is her intact

virginity, and the peddler of this virginity is her mother. The father, an impotent and

ineffective perpetuator of patriarchal culture (he is an intellectual, and Yan-Zi recounts

that during the Mao regime, this profession was not so much shameful as it was useless),

is removed from the process of choosing a husband for his daughter. His character is

only half-alive, always sleeping or sitting restlessly at his desk, producing no words.

When Yan-Zi has sex for the first time, she comes home late, setting off aggression in

both her parents. Her mother scolds her absence from the house, and Yan-Zi reveals the

fait accompli. Upon hearing this news, the father delivers a punishment but is unable to

assemble a complete, unruptured sentence-"C'est une i...idiote!i (85)-and never touches

his daughter; he throws his glass of water at her head and misses, hitting the wall behind

her and only splashing drops of water on her.

The mother, on the other hand, delivers the judgement: "Aucun homme digne ne

t'e~pousera, tu vas voir. Ton bonheur a chute avec ta morale. Tu passeras le reste de ta vie

sans mari, sans enfant, sans famille, done sans destinee... Ta mort est faite, ma pauvre.

Tu vivras comme une morte" (88). This is the fate Yan-Zi would have chosen for herself

anyway to rej ect life and exist without a community. The operations of this community

as is bring her only silence and suffering. She explains that, through witnessing the silent

relationship of her parents, she sees no advantage in being married. Furthermore,

marriage will create an additional connection to her mother that she wants to avoid.

Also, she understands her own useless role in marriage while her future husband, Chun,










and her mother are chatting after dinner. "Mais ils n'avaient plus besoin de moi;" she

was not instrumental in selecting a husband because her mother was not pleased if she

herself was pleased (if she desired the man). The mother' s main criteria are race, blood

and honor. Later she reveals the reason for working in an office: to accumulate a dowry

that her mother collects in a bank account. "Cette dot m'avait enchainee a maman d'une

maniere presque humiliante" (114). It marks her inability to control her life and

highlights the aspect of neglect she feels her mother is guilty of when it comes to food

and clothing. She is unable to control her own money, which she would like to spend on

the delicacy of meat.

Yan-Zi's mother (who, like her father, is not named) always gives advice,

indicating her level of attachment to her daughter as well as her inability to live her own

life, an attachment and inability reflected in Yan-Zi's perception of her mother. The

characters' situations face and reflect each other. The mother is aware of her own

hardness, but refuses submission or softening. If she is laughing and catches sight of her

daughter, she stops laughing and repositions her face to appear severe and serious. She

does not trust Yan-Zi to make good decisions and thus feels she must make the decisions

herself, leaving Yan-Zi to remain, throughout her life, a shell of a human-body only and

no spirit, no liberty, no choice (except death). The mother refuses Yan-Zi's humanity

and most of all, her sexuality, which she perceives as dangerous to the family honor and

to Yan-Zi's collateral for marriage proposals. Her perception ignores her daughter' s

humanity and is thus a source of her alienation. In return, Yan-Zi wishes to refuse her

mother a sense of legacy and permanency, a rebellion that would abort the cycles of

culture, tradition, and genealogy.










The title Chen chose for this novel refers to estrangement between family and

child. It locates the rupture in tradition and Eilial piety as Yan-Zi is disconnected from

feelings of responsibility or gratitude for the life her parents "give" her. "J'e~tais ingrate

envers eux, car j e l'etais envers la vie qu'ils m'avaient donnee" (24). She questions the

attention a mother and a father gain for their role in the outcome of their children' s lives

at the same time that she wants her mother to take responsibility for her unhappiness and

even her death. Yan-Zi describes her participation in a family as ill-fated, like a prison

sentence or an exile: "Je me savais condamnee a avoir une mere et un pere... Quand

j'allais a l'ecole, j'enviais les orphelins, leur liberty" (15). This refusal of priority and

origin complicates the notions of family and culture; it puts into question the origin of

role-making and role-playing, while also questioning the origin and dissemination of

culture. Will a culture's priority be work or family? Slavery or liberty? Chen

demonstrates through Yan-Zi's distress that these are decisive movements generated by

individuals in communities who follow their beliefs, with or against the flow.

Yan-Zi's heart is a crucial component of her tragic universe and a site of her

inability to become a part of her surroundings. The heart guards sentiments that language

cannot convey: fear, desperation, suffering, longing, etc. She cannot understand the

sentiments of others because she is trapped between her own complex story and her

mother' s version of the same story, which offers a one-word description of her daughter' s

behavior: ingratitude. She cannot understand herself because she is trapped within and

between her own stories of her mother' s selfishness and her father' s impotence. Her

heart, a central part of her body, signifies the void, fear, denial, and pain of her character,

because through guilt, her mother refuses her to feel any emotions.










Yan-Zi's body is perhaps the most important site of alienation between woman and

family. The violence with which she has been treated culminates in an ultimate

marginalization-her violent death-with some self-created confusion around its causes.

She only reveals the action leading up to her death near the end of the narrative, having

promoted the notion of suicide up until the moment when she reveals that she was not

actually in control of her body, the arrangement of her own termination, when she was hit

by a truck.

Yan-Zi plans to kill herself in a specific manner, in a predetermined location and

with designed results. At a crucial scene in the narrative, her will is usurped by the

presence of Chun, the man she is supposed to marry and a character who represents and

reflects her mother. Chun appears on the outside of the restaurant window, looking in on

Yan-Zi (a repetition of the espionage leitmotiv). He is neither with her nor without her,

but touches and indicates the window that is the border between her chosen location to

finally act, the Bonheur restaurant, and the traffic in the urban landscape that will

ultimately kill her. His presence on the border resembles Yan-Zi's mother, in his gaze or

look, as well as in his role of preserving cultural tradition and the interests of the state,

which promoted the priority of marriage. He is unable to protect Yan-Zi's body in two

ways: he was unaware and consequently unable to stop her from having sex (preserving

her virginity), and his action of chasing her causes her to move into the street, destroying

her body.

Yan-Zi relates traces of violence on her body to her mother' s influence: "Elle se

souvient sans doute encore de mes regards craintifs et de mon dos courbe en sa presence"

(13). Her mother will not claim this violence, but will relocate it into signs of ingratitude









in order to be absolved from responsibility. Nor will her mother allow the possibility of

suicide to enter into her family's story. Yan-Zi declares the event of death "un accident

peut-6tre volontaire" (13). The circumstances of the violent moment perpetuate the

dynamic of refusal and denial. Yan-Zi refuses the value of life, and her mother denies the

reasons for her refusal. The fait accompli Yan-Zi so desires becomes the reckless

violence of the urban landscape, and a prior accident in the family (when the father was

hit by a truck; the mother theorized conspiracy against intellectuals) allows the mother an

alternative to reality, the reinvention of conspiracy, and a consequent escape from both

guilt and from satisfying Yan-Zi's desire that she suffer. Her mother refuses to be

devastated by the death of an "ungrateful" daughter.

Yan-Zi's death is complicated because of the unexpected collision that replaces her

own will and desire. She deliberately organizes a method of collecting sleeping pills, and

at a determined moment, when she feels she can, she will swallow the pills and change

herself (a trope used also with the mother to want to swallow her and change her

personality), perhaps at the restaurant Bonheur. She is unable to abort herself in the

womb, as she reflects that she would have liked. She is intent on the necessity of a

decision on her part about living: "On ne m'avait pas demanded mon avis avant de me

jeter au monde. Alors j'esperais qu' au moins on me laisserait choisir le moment de mon

depart" (23). Her death is contrary to her plan; it is the final moment of dissolution of her

control in this life. She becomes frightened by Chun's interactions with the owner at

Bonheur, and nervous at the prospect of being caught in the act of committing suicide and

ending in a mental hospital where her mother could have total control over her life. She

frantically tries to register the purpose of Chun' s visit, then dashes into the crowd on the









sidewalks. Chun chases her and in this pursuit, she moves in front of a truck that crushes

her. Chun's presence transforms Yan-Zi's action. She plans to annihilate her mother' s

control and instead, she is prematurely annihilated, affording her mother an easy path to

denial. In a previous scene, when Yan-Zi is at the restaurant with friends, she becomes

part of a listening audience for a spectacle in the street: a man on a bicycle is run over

and killed. The event of her death, with this prolepsis, serves merely as an effect for the

society in which she lives and is alienated. It is a spectacle, the visual impact of which is

more valuable than the event itself. Chen dramatizes the time and events swirling around

Yan-Zi's death, weaving a graphic narrative to support her character' s perspective,

credibility and humanity.

Another important aspect of Yan-Zi's desire to annihilate her own life is the desire

to destroy the two-part focus on genes and genealogy. This desire approaches questions

of both origin and priority. "The gene is fetishized when it seems to be itself the source

of value, and those kinds of fetish-obj ects are the stuff of complex mistakes, denials, and

disavowals" (Haraway 1997, 144). The science of genes and the study of genealogy, as

well as the parents' attention to bloodlines, focus on imprints from the past-marks from

ancestors and relatives that situate the female protagonist in her uncomfortable position

of daughter and woman. Her violent suicide will not only kill her body, it will effectively

terminate her mother' s and father' s genes, "une douleur inconsolable" (18), as they are

both too old to reproduce or continue their name, heritage, traditions, and bloodline

without Yan-Zi. The fact that Yan-Zi will not be able to carry the family name past the

wedding day does not problematize the relevance of these elements for the mother' s

character. Yan-Zi wants to kill the traditions, wants to refuse filial responsibility and










marriage, while inscribing these points of conflict in a narrative that continues to explore

and be explored. Her body, which previously reveals traces of violence, now is the

means by which Yan-Zi refuses the circulation of life and her mother' s genetic legacy.

"Mon corps commengant a pourrir par ces journees chaudes, ses genes cesseraient de

circuler dans mes veines, se perdraient au fond de la terre uniform" (18). The genes, the

name, and the traditions all represent each other, inscribe each other, and rely on each

other.

The actions Yan-Zi takes to commit suicide link her desires in life to a desire to

annihilate myths of the power of life, the importance of life, and the relevance of tradition

in holding a culture together. For this character, life is not a necessity. This suicide is a

woman's refusal to assume a role; it is a reaction to her society's refusal to allow her a

choice. It is directly linked to abandoning essentialist notions that certain biological or

traditional stages presuppose a necessity to act out certain "impulses" such as getting

married, giving birth, or nurturing a baby. This narrative problematizes the notion of

impulse and replaces the "natural" impulse to be one of two, part of a couple, part of a

love-marriage-parent narrative, with the impulse to be removed from such a movement.

The movement is perpetuated by invested members of a culture that respond to the

direction of the movement and punish or reward other members according to their

participation in it.

Yan-Zi uses her mother' s tone to simulate a reaction to suicide, reciting what the

mother would say, which is like several other recitals Yan-Zi rej ects in the narrative:

"Les gens ordinaires ne s'achevent pas. Ils s'accrochent a la vie, a n'importe quelle vie"

(13). Her grandmother had conveyed this attachment to Yan-Zi, who recounts: "Ils [les










gens] collent a la vie comme les plumes a l'oiseau sans se rendre compete de

l'insignifiance de leur poids. Ils hai'ssent ceux qui preferent debarquer, abandonner une

vie qu'ils ne possedent pas...Ils les accusent de lichete afin de prouver leur propre

bravoure" (16). The attachment to life is therefore a tradition. The struggle to live has

been called natural by Enlightenment science, which narrates the imperative to survive.

Considering "to live" as a tradition, and a nation's potential investment in this tradition,

reveals why suicide would be considered taboo. Suicide is the ultimate, irreversible act

of protest to attempt to throw light on the malfunctioning of a societal structure. Yan-Zi

reveals the fabrication of taboo in explaining that for people in general, who like to judge

the difference in others, "la mort est devenue une chose comme les autres auquelles ils

attribuent un prix qui varie selon leur humeur" (17).

Is her death a success? Yan-Zi tries to erase the essential states noted above and

moves directly into a state of death where she reevaluates her life and actions, seeming to

hesitate on the most important moments. From the limbo of death, she is approached by

a state of rebirth-against her will or not. While in the state of death, she finds herself

blinded and more encumbered by her release than empowered by it. She cannot

influence the world she left behind, and her sole source of power over her mother' s grief,

the suicide note, is misread and reinterpreted by the mother.

The character' s marginalized position places the character within life, bordered by

its body and spirit, at the same time that the character is moving beyond it, as this life is a

space of discomfort and violence. In addition to finding herself inside and outside

herself, Yan-Zi is placed inside and outside of a family. There exist no alternate parents

and no alternate family space. Her sole supporter is a grandmother who is not










empowered to act on her behalf while she is still alive. After she is dead, her

grandmother prompts her to tell her story, to blame her mother if necessary, to blame

even the world if it will help her on her j ourney in death.

Yan-Zi removes herself from the family map but remains preserved in writing.

Her reasons for wanting to leave the tradition, the country, and the life will not be

recognized by those who knew her because the mother' s alienation from her daughter' s

consciousness, coupled with her fear of shame, will not allow her to accept a suicide,

which is culturally taboo, to become a part of their family's story and tradition. This

moment of denial brings to the surface a prominent issue in Quebec women's writing. In

the introduction to Doing Gender, Paula Gilbert and Roseanna Dufault explain how

"women are still very much concerned with recording their contributions that were

formerly omitted from historical accounts and/or perceived through a misogynist lens,

and with re-presenting cultural mythology in ways that validate the female experience

instead of suppressing it" (20).

The small, condensed chapters open and close like the shutter on a lens, focusing

only for a brief time before closing again, moving between past and present, and leaving

the impression of snapshots scattered across the floor, disconnected, just as Yan-Zi's

body is disconnected, fragmented, and confined to solitude. The chapters recollect the

temporal restraint that the protagonist momentarily escapes. There is little talk of future,

until the last line of the novel, when Yan-Zi's spirit is approached by the wailing of a

child, crying "Mother!" and turning the ending of the story into a revolution that reaches

forward.









The cycle of killing the parent to define oneself plays out in this work. Yan-Zi

considers her body and its potential as mother the source of her parents' own

continuation. Yan-Zi must destroy the culture, tradition, and history to move beyond it

and find a location in which she can be connected to her environment. Her role in the

culture of this narrative is stifling; it does not allow her to breathe or move freely, so she

must destroy that which was the cause of her alienation. Her death annihilates these

traditions, rules, and values, as well as her parent' s genes, and reduces her mother' s role

to that of caretaker to a bird-an animal that will resist its cage.

l understand the social and moral dilemmas of Chen' s characters to be speaking to

a national priority of resolving cultural shifts in a colonialist legacy. A resolution in this

narrative proves problematic because the cycles of violence, rejection, denial, and refusal

are not broken. Yan-Zi will not relieve her parents with a note that explains her true

feelings. She is resigned to lie, as her mother previously hides the "truths" of life; she

wants her parents to suffer from grief. She desires that her mother be imprisoned by her

daughter' s death (not legally but emotionally) so that she will be destroyed by her

daughter' s rej section as her daughter is previously (and presently if one reads that a

narrative is continuous) destroyed by her mother' s. At the end of the narrative, the reader

Einds that the mother and uncle had also been severely punished for table manners,

revealing the imprints of the cycle of domestic violence. Is Yan-Zi's death a success?

Does she Eind what she needed and recover from her past?

Yan-Zi is an outsider placed at the center of this text, making the outsider the most

important character. The male characters are ineffective and weak, causing problems for

Yan-Zi, as seen in her father' s inability to protect her from her mother, in Bi's inability to










convince her to marry him after sex, and in Chun' s clumsy pursuit of her, trying to keep

her body intact for marriage. But she has found her voice, spoken to her mother with the

determination of a person who has made up her mind and shifting all focus on herself, at

the center: "je suis libre."

















CHAPTER 3
ON THE THRESHOLD OF MODERNITY: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE IN-
BETWEEN INT YING CHEN' S IMMOBILE

Following her award-winning novel L 'Ingratitude (1995), Ying Chen published an

unconventional romance that continues several intertextual tropes and themes present in

her work. Her 1998 novel, Inanobile, follows a female protagonist's struggle to reconcile

her present with her past from an previous life and its memories. The narrative begins

with her estrangement from the mother's body and, like the character Yan-Zi in

L 'Ingratitude, the female protagonist in Inanobile is cognizant of her displacement in the

world and she protests through voice and action. She is an unwanted child, but her

circumstances are different from Yan-Zi's. The narrator in Inanobile is an orphan in both

her past life and her present life, and from this initial estrangement the narrative follows

her strained relationship with her present husband, A..., who is trying to make her fit in a

modern world. She is clinging to the past and to memories in an effort to exonerate

herself from the guilt of having betrayed her lover and slave, S..., in what the reader

understands to be her first life, vaguely set at a hundred or a thousand years ago. Both

characters are preoccupied with the past; Yan-Zi's memories are from her current life,

whereas the narrator in Inanobile is obsessed with her ancient past, for she has lived

many lives and is reborn with her oldest memories. Chen uses tropes such as ashes, dust,

shame, and regret to darken the characters' emotions. These characters' life










circumstances may not seem unconventional, but their attitudes and actions are outside of

what is considered normal or acceptable behavior for the culture within these narratives.

For both characters, their moments of isolation, solitude and silence reflect the

powerlessness of their female status in a patriarchal culture. Chen emphasizes the themes

of rank, placement, and genealogy in these novels, using her female characters to

demonstrate the limitations of womanhood in a society constructed around male power.

Their individual actions toward this solitude differ greatly, in that while Yan-Zi moves

toward suicide to punish her mother, the narrator in Immobile moves toward death to

punish herself. Their voices are related but unique. The female narrator of Immobile,

who does not reveal her name in the novel (or is nameless), is abandoned as an infant and

found on the edge of a road by an opera troupe in the first life, and brought up in an

orphanage in the second. She refers to herself as continually abandoned, an orphan in

each of the lives she has lived.

Both female protagonists in these novels are in search of a reprieve from their

alienation. The displacement of the protagonist in Immobile is not located within a home,

whereas Yan-Zi struggles between and against her parents, within the walls where she

grew up. The narrator in Immobile is wandering, searching throughout time and space for

a home [foyer], for a resolution to her past, where she acquired the burden of guilt and of

being born continuously. She is traveling the span of time in search of the possibility of

ending and restarting. The word she uses is "recommencer." It translates into "new

beginning," but her story is repetitive and ends with a gesture toward recycling rather

than renewal. She will return to a point of origin, the mother' s birth canal, but does not

appear to be able to exit the cycle. When she lives, she is only half-alive as a result of










weariness from her unresolved guilt. "J'essaye de regarder sans voir, d'ecouter sans

comprendre, de toucher sans rien sentir, de dormir sans river" (14). Chen uses tropes

that work against each other to create a tension in language that reflects the tension

between the characters, which results in their lack of resolution. Chen combines death

and want, isolation and desire, darkness and happiness, silence and voice. She uses walls

and water, ocean and tide to lend the impression that the narrator is of all time, without

nation, and without placement by nature, all of which contribute to her location in-

between. Her difficult position as an in-between is a transitional space between

"traditional values and rhythms" and "the relatively new way of life associated with

industry and large urban centers" (Purdy 1990, 49).

In this section of my thesis, I will examine the effects that living in a state of in-

between produces on the direction of movement of the female narrator in Immobile. Her

archaeologist husband, who represents the voice of science, tries to move her in a

direction he calls progress, while she limits herself to movements of regression or

transgression. I will argue that she is immobilized because she is between states, on the

cusp of different identities and eras, and is unable to reconcile her past with her present or

her femininity with a culture of masculine domination. Chen creates this on-the-cusp

position with images of doorways, thresholds, border spaces, and also through differences

in language. Her state of in-between is unacceptable to the other characters in the

narrative, and they reject her, reinforcing her social marginalization and alienation. Her

position in the text is central because the novel is written from her perspective, in the first

person. She focuses, however, somewhere between her reflection as it is mirrored in the

other characters' perception of her, and her confidence in her own story. They represent










the cultural ideals of familial unity, rank, progress, and modernity that she, in turn,

questions, rejects, and revolts against.

Chen opens the novel with the narrator explaining her nameless and continuous

origin and her abandonment by her mother, but there is no mention of a father, as if she is

of half a biological origin. Later she explains, "j'avais acquis un penchant pour tout ce

qui etait demi, imparfait, irreparable," (8) which is an identity that she experiences in

both lives. Her identity is complicated because it is split between her own will and the

prescribed roles of females in the society that surrounds her. Because she can never

reconcile the two, she does not become a part of any society. Even after becoming the

wife of a prince, she is alienated within his palace walls as a result of expressing her own

wants. Furthermore, she is the wife of an exiled prince, whose brother, the king, removed

him from court and disallowed his traveling. This circumstance places her in the interior

of the interior, exiled in exile. Her historical significance could be considered divided

with each new circumstance. For instance, she is half as important as a man in the

culture, then half as important as this because her prince is exiled, then further halved

because he rej ects her.

Her marginalized existence is reflected in the trope of doorways and thresholds in

the palace. In a doorway, one is neither coming nor going, but remains undecidedly in-

between two spaces. Just after their marriage, she is walked through the palace to be

greeted by all, and the two other wives remain "sur le seuil de leurs appartements" (29),

never crossing through their doorways, demonstrating to this new bride the distance they

will always assume when she is around. For a while after the wedding, the prince is so

pleased with her that he never crosses her doorway because he desires to remain on its










interior. Just after she uses her voice to express her own desire, he is dissatisfied and

punishes her by choosing to not pass through her doorway. Her voice, when used

unrehearsed (as opposed to during her performances in the opera where the prince saw

her sing), becomes a barrier to the prince' s attention. This rejection on the part of the

prince underlines her feminine condition to please or to be abandoned.

She understands her situation: "Je ne m'appartiens pas" (23). In this setting, as

well as with her present husband, A..., she is only allowed to speak and behave in a way

that is appropriate to the social status she has been assigned as a woman. She complains

of restrictions imposed on her body by an unnamed society. "Il me faut surtout manger

moderement, parler avec retenue, porter des jupes courts, faire attention a ma coiffure,

en un mot, vivre avec elegance" (11). Her ability to make a distinction between her

world and the world men occupy causes her distress. She tells her husband, A..., about

her "envie de devenir moins femme, de m'elever un peu sur cette echelle infiniment

longue qui mene au paradise des hommes" (1 1). This plea falls on deaf ears because A...

is a scientist and follows the ideology that constructs rank, marriage, history, and

distinction. She, on the other hand, is unable to cross over into his beliefs and remains

stuck in-between her obligations and desires as his wife and her obligations to herself and

her consciousness.

The notions of progress and the modern context are also problematic for the

narrator. Her memory begins in an ancient context and the reader finds her in a

present/modern context, yet both are timeless, as that which is ancient will find ways to

continue, and that which is modern will later become ancient. The narrator has trouble

separating her memory from her present day life. This weak border between past and










present signals her not moving fully into one story or another. This becomes the source

of strife between her and her husband. At times, she cannot distinguish between her

husband and the three men who dominated her ancient life: the prince, the general, and

her slave/lover, S....

The narrator exists on the cusp of a past world and a modern world. Through her,

the reader finds the intersection of science and mysticism, of what is antiquated and what

is modern. She wears pants for comfort, chooses outdated styles, and communicates in a

way that her husband finds slow retarded] He wants to educate her, because he is a

professor, to live in the present and she makes an effort to learn. Because her identity

brings the narrative to this intersection of ancient and modern, it is through her memory

that the intersection can be revealed. She is at a state of in-between, not fully in the past

or present, and not fully in the present or future. "On ne me trouve j amais dans un

endroit precis" (96). Her in-between state is indicated both by her movement, with "un

pas en avant et un autre en arriere," and her immobility (88). Any movement is cyclical

and repetitive, but not in the direction of time that is perceived as progressive, or forward.

This repetition, this un-budging, culminates in her regression or transgression, and

disallows her progression in each life she lives, including the particular life that unfolds

in the narrative.

Her in-between state collides with the progressive desires of her modern husband.

"Sa conversation deborde de sa region. II commence a vanter le monde moderne. Un

monde qui a miraculeusement evolue depuis quelques siecles, et tolere done mal l'esprit

primitif" (12). A... is focused on the future and attempts to impress on his wife the

importance of concentrating on his time, instead of on the past. "Il s'empresse d'abord










de me moderniser" (55). The narrator notes the fervor with which her husband is

approaching the task: "Stir de son pouvoir, il ne me liche pas. II veut une femme

moderne et il l'aura" (13). Their differences compel her to regress to a more comfortable

scene, located in the past, where she was sure of the story because she had repeated it to

herself and because it seemed to be the origin of her nature. "Il m'oblige en quelque

sorte a reculer sur la piste qui m'a amenee jusqu'ici, presque a regretter le chemin

parcouru" (13). She experiences difficulty releasing the past and moving in A...'s

progressive direction. "Le passe continue a me posseder, a me tirer du haut de la

precieuse certitude a laquelle j'ai cru atteindre le jour de ma renaissance" (14). At times,

she longs for the simplicity of being an insect or an unevolved animal. At other times,

she follows behind A... and assumes the mannerisms or footsteps of a child. A...

perpetuates this behavior by addressing her in a pej orative tone. To find her situated

behind himself gives A... the satisfaction that he is both progressing and that she is

assuming a subordinate role.

In remarkable ways, the narrator moves beyond regression into transgression.

When she is desperately unable to resolve official ideologies in marriage, history, rank

and the injustice of the master-slave condition, she refuses to abide by the rules for her

feminine role and she revolts. In her life with A..., she begins by erasing his name from

her memory and calling him A.... This defies his tireless efforts to maintain his family's

genealogy book to prove his "ascendance immaculee" (129). "Il se sert de son livret

genealogique comme d'un solide obj et de reference, d'un point de repere indispensable,

sur lequel semblent reposer tout son orgueil et sa raison d'8tre" (10). The narrator will

not appear in this family tree because, by custom, only the men's names are recorded,










"pour simplifier les choses" (9). By renaming him A... (Archaeologist?) in her own

story, she retaliates against a history without women's names, calling into question such a

history's accuracy. She laments that an entire drawer in his apartment is reserved for this

family tree and that there is no room in the apartment for her things. She argues with A...

that origin is the product of chance and not of respectable bloodlines. This argument,

which forces A... to consider his own obsession with the past, eventually makes him

weary and causes him to spend less time with his peers and in his work for science, a

change that is disapproved of by his colleagues.

The narrator also erases the name of her slave and lover, S.... Her decision to have

sex with him is a transgression against the laws of the monarchy in which she lives. "Le

mal etait fait, si vite et si facilement. Contre le prince, contre toutes ses spouses, les

precedents comes les suivantes" (67). She is liberated by her action, "delivree du

respect, de la vertu et de la crainte. Je m'etais rachetee de la main du prince et revenue

a la joie" (67). In this transgression, she reclaims herself and annihilates herself

concurrently, causing instability in the ideal of the monarchy.

Her most impressive transgression occurs when she-the wife of a prince-escapes

from the palace, disguised in her servant's clothing, and returns to the opera to sing the

part of the princess. She is an unconventional princess, rej ected by the members of the

palace. As is the case with her other transgressions, she does not improve her condition,

but she reveals the construction of the ideologies of rank and priority. The reason she

wants to escape from the palace is crucial to the scene: the prince has become more

human than godly. He has smelly feet, is lazy, and his control is limited to dominating

his wives and servants. "Mon maitre me paraissait ordinaire, trop ordinaire. Je ne










daignais plus flatter son orgueil... Je savais comment devait se comporter un prince. Un

prince se devait d' 8tre le tonnerre" (45). In a brilliant scene of masquerade and theater,

the narrator returns to her "origins", mounts the stage and sings the rehearsed songs that

please the public; the princess plays the part of the princess, dressed in servant' s clothes.

The public reacts badly, hissing and throwing pebbles at her. "A cause des v~tements

que je portals ce jour-li, le r81e de la princess ne me convenait plus...Je hurlai...On

tendit le poing vers moi" (48). She possesses a raised consciousness that allows her to

understand their behavior. "Ils n' aimaient pas me voir j ouer la princess en tenue de

domestique. Mon apparition gichait leur reverie et leur respect envers les nobles" (48).

She is unable to play the role that she lives, either on the stage or in the palace. This

scene shows the limits of consciousness in adopting a constructed culture. The public is

willing to see an orphan sing the part of a princess, but is unwilling to allow a princess to

lower herself to the stage. The first is an ideal and the latter destroys their ideal. The

scene also demonstrates the illusory material of dress and voice manipulated in theater

and in life. The narrator's trouble with appearances in this scene contributes to her ability

to see beyond ideologies of rank, truth, and reason. "Malgre ses apparences parfois

solides et fermes, la verite etait une chose fugitive et inconstante, tel un courant a la

surface duquel tournoyaient a la fois des lumieres et des ombres, qui d'un moment a

l'autre echappaient A l'observation" (77).

Her own ancient observations put her in opposition with her husband's traditional

scientific observations. A... tries to anchor her, to establish her in the modern moment

where he finds himself. His way of looking back, through the lens of genealogy and

science, underscores patrilineal progression. He equates science with progress and










progress with modernity. "Non seulement le monde tourne, dit-on, mais il advance" (123).

His epistemology includes precise language and order that makes no room for his wife's

story or its ancient connotations. She explains that A... "a besoin de donnees precises

pour comprendre mon histoire et pour y croire" (8), and believes in order: "chaque chose

a sa place, les 6tres sont ceci ou cela" (9). His observation is founded on the

"impersonnel" and on a "detachement exquis" (23). For A..., "la vie est concrete, et

bonne, il suffit de la prendre en mains, de savoir la gouverner" (13).

A... secures his identity and knowledge on the blood of his ancestors, on their

names permanently inked into his genealogy booklet. The booklet traces his perception

of origin, inside which is located "I'histoire de la famille et la purete de son sang" (9)-a

tool for his qualification of priority. He uses the presence/absence of his ancestors as a

jumping board to "progress" in the modern state, leaving them behind yet taking their

rank with him. It is through rank and control that A... is afforded potential placement in

the annals of his personal and national histories. The narrator complains that scientists

are perceived as the "maitres de l'histoire" (127). She puts into question their

unscrutinized prestige and rank, unable to connect their motivations for work to a helpful

impact on humanity. For scientists, "les prix les attendent, les collogues les surveillent,

I'humanite entire est a leur remorque, ils ne doivent pas hesiter" (117). A...'s

determination to hurry his wife's progress into modernity disengages him from her

life/story and causes a rupture between them. He refers to her past life as a "fantasme

malsain" (57), illusory, unclean and absurd. When she first arrives at his apartment, after

she gets off the train to live in his world, he scrubs her clean in the bath to the point of

hurting her. He also wants to scrub her mind [cerveau] and her memory clean. Later, he










takes her to several "specialists" trained in the language of science who demonstrate that

she is sick and that he is not to blame. He Einally takes her to the sea, to the site of her

"original" story and the ruins of the palace. Here, the two characters approach

understanding and unity, but her near-drowning experience causes her to remain silent.

The silence will not allow A... to observe any progress or regression-it is the ultimate

language barrier-and he loses patience with her.

The narrator, however, cannot be modernized, and perhaps A... understands this,

which may explain why he leaves. "Or, sur la voie de la modernisation, j'ai en vain

progress. Inutiles ces efforts pour m'adoucir, m'abaisser... m'embellir le visage" (121).

The modern landscape to her is unrecognizable and filled with the inorganic:

Les frustes villages que j'avais l'habitude de traverser du temps de la troupe
d'opera ont fait place a des villes prosperes. Le triomphe du metal est irrevocable,
de mime que la defaite de la terre. Je vois les traces de destruction et l'evidence de
la prosperite. (123)

The narrator problematizes A...'s belief in the positive influence of prosperity,

progress, and a scientific structure as universal truths. She forces him to question the

nature of origin, of roots, of the validity of observation and of turning up the earth to

reveal ruins, of turning fossils over onto themselves to discover the past. She is from the

past but he is unable to recognize her value because she hesitates to give him proof. Her

husband is in need of proof to satisfy the requirements of his scientific education. Her

memory is her own proof, but as it is untransferrable and cannot be observed, A...

considers it the source of his own distress and fatigue, and of rupture in their relationship.

"Les disaccords entire mon mari et moi sont surtout dus a ses tentatives pour me

normaliser et pour remodeler ma memoire" (83). After he leaves her, she replaces the

modern story with the memory of the ancient story, making them inseparable and










conserving their trace in her mind. "Maintenant qu'il ne sera plus li, sa voix et son corps

commenceront a me hanter, si bien que le souvenir de ce mari moderne se superposera

peu a peu a celui de l'amant ancien" (153).

The narrator is on the threshold, often finding herself on the border of two rooms or

spaces. Her double positioning in the past and present indicates the nature of several

moments of hesitation about progressing into the present or future with her husband. Her

hesitation is caused less by the instability of marriage itself or the nature of her husband,

but more so by her own instability from dislocation in her marriage and in her society,

which is evidenced in her indecisiveness and her physically teetering [chanceler] on the

edge.

Her position between spaces is the representation of a female's inability to move

forward successfully in a culture that is still dominated by notions of patriarchy and a

"masculine" science. She does not possess the voice or language to communicate her

wants or needs to her husband. This void causes a rupture between them that results in

several moments of approach and repulsion, a repetition that ensures the rupture is never

resolved. The narrator admits that her husband's work to bring her into his location and

beliefs are futile. "Ses efforts, helas, ne font que m'eloigner davantage de lui. Ses

exigences me rendent malgre moi nostalgique de mon ancienne vie" (13).

Her husband approaches the rupture, but he does not speak her language. His

final approach is a movement toward her past in which he finds himself at the location of

her ancient life, in a town by the sea, in a dusty, salty air that gives him headaches and

nauseates him. The couple experience brief moments of happiness here, but another

rupture occurs. After visiting with a fortune-teller, the narrator is convinced that her fate









is to continue to j ourney and to be recycled, but not into the future. While swimming in

the ocean with A..., she experiences a crucial moment of physical loss of control to the

water that surrounds her. She is able to see A... but cannot hear him or call for help. She

is drowning in her own decision, in the possibility of progress, and unable to save herself,

she remains fixed in the water in an immobile state.

The narrator' s difficulty in communicating, and her inability to leave her past

behind is not only a reflection of women' s difficulty in placing themselves in a

patriarchal society but also reflects the difficulties of language appropriation, either by an

individual or by a region. The narrator is bilingual, speaking the ancient language,

stories, and songs, and is also able to communicate to a certain extent (the couple

somehow moved into a relationship and marriage together), but her husband speaks only

the language of the present and future. He is the voice of science while hers remains the

voice of mysticism that the science has worked to replace. This relationship echoes the

difficulty Quebec has experienced in trying to maintain its "native" French during periods

of war and crisis with the English and English-speaking Canada. Quebec has been

embroiled in a long and bitter battle with English-Canadians over questions of language,

culture, and nation. Even within the province itself, Quebec writers have struggled, since

the birth of Quebcois literature, with the prescribed language of the church and its

prescriptive focus on religion, family, and land. For modern novelists, disengaging the

church prerogative meant fighting a battle about language and culture, which in turn

signified a personal battle about one's identity and its reflection or absence in a larger

regional or national identity.









At the end of her story in Immobile, the narrator' s language and her structures will

be lost to the modem. She is the embodiment of a time continuum rather than a precise

moment in the past or present. Her ancient codes (dress, actions, knowledge, stories,

spirituality, desires) and particular metaphors are sources of discontent between her and

A..., rendering her incomprehensible and unrecognizable. In scenes where the narrator

collides with scientists, Chen demonstrates the chasm that is created in social ranks to

deliberately exclude members of society perceived as of lower standing. A... takes her to

breathing meditation treatment, and she cannot understand the language of these

scientists because they put themselves in a rank above her. "Nous ne sommes pas du

mime rang, nous ne parlons pas le mime language" (118). By slowing down his pace,

helping her with chores in the house, and listening to her memories, her husband attempts

to leamn her language-a movement toward bilingualism-but he regresses and fails. The

consequences of this attempt and failure result in a rupture in which he reverts back to the

language of science and the masters, and, worse, he is confounded by and grows

increasingly impatient with her--a movement that culminates in his final act of

separation from her person and her story.

The tug-of-war between them, represented in the language of the narrative, is set

in motion by her teetering position on the threshold of modernity. This imbalance is

coupled with her indecision to enter the present era completely and leave her memory

behind. Her location is central in the text and the husband moves toward her, speaking

freely of present and future, pulling her toward both and destabilizing her story. Similar

to the long history of war between bordering nations and its subsequent divisions of

territory, the couple moves in spatial undulation, attaching and losing each other, re-










attaching and re-losing each other. They swap roles of master and servant, each trying to

approach the other' s ideal, but they fail to meet as equals. Their struggle changes the

landscape, indicated in part by the way the narrator modifies her clothes, behavior, and

language to appear more modern and subsequently to gain approval from the man who

appropriated her. The landscape of the apartment is also changed during their own quiet

revolutions; sometimes there is a husband moving through the scene, cleaning, cooking,

arranging, and sometimes a wife. Also, the noise and bustle of intellectuals gathering for

dinner in the apartment turned into the domestic confinement and isolation of both

characters.

In the end, they lose each other. Her husband leaves her in solitude in the town by

the sea. She sits on a rock, the smoothness of which mirrors the effects of time and the

circulation of the tide, and decides to remain in the ruins of this ancient place rather than

follow her husband (which she claims would have be a simple effort) to his academic and

modern life. He turns again to his life of science, the life he led before her with the

language he spoke comfortably, and leaves.

His departure from the scene, his turning his back on her, reveals a lack of strong

male characters in this novel (a theme pursued by Chen in L 'Ingratitude as well, the

father being a professor who is unable to write). The male characters in Immobile are

peripheral characters, moving toward or away from the central female protagonist in

ways that cause her an undulation of happiness, pain, and regret. Their actions and

dialogue appear in the narrative for the purpose of presenting the narrator' s perspective,

revealing the marginalization of these male characters within the narrative. They speak

for a traditionally patriarchal culture-of masters, fathers, bloodlines, marriage, and










monarchy-but they are ineffective in bringing the female character to understand her role

within that culture. In fact, the points of conflict between the male characters and the

female narrator occur at moments when she is questioning or expressing her

individuality. Furthermore, these male characters are unable to reconcile their own

positions in society. A... cannot reconcile his loathing of his wife' s past life and his own

fascination with roots, fossils, and ruins-markers of the past. S... (for servant?) cannot

fully submit to authority and fulfill his obligations to his masters; he secretly hopes to

change his destiny. They are also located in-between the ideals and myths taught to them

and the realities they encounter. Their position in-between amplifies the narrator' s since

they surround and work to define her.

The narrator in Immobile implies a departure similar to that of A..., her husband.

"Le patron de l'auberge me dit que, demain, un camion viendra enlever les ordures du

temps meconnaissable" (156). Turning toward the familiar past by situating herself near

the ruins of the palace, the site of origin for her guilt and memory, she sits in the dust

kicked up by the pace of hurried pedestrians and awaits the arrival of a truck that will

carry her away (the truck recalls the death and modern dilemma of Yan-Zi in

L ingratitudee, whose planned suicide-and life-are wiped out by a truck that crushes her).

As the narrator in Immobile faces the arrival of a truck-vehicle of modernity-she is

located in-between the impossibility of escaping the modern condition completely and

her desire to return to her ancient memories. She will become part of the ruins that have

been singled out as irreconcilable with the modern landscape and mode of life.

The placement of the narrator on the threshold of space and time may refer back

to the author's present placement in Quebec with roots in China. I would not suggest that









Chen regrets her decision to leave China, but the culture shock involved in transferring

her life from east to west was difficult for her to endure and compelled her to write. I

would argue for the simple connection between the author's life and the character' s

written experiences, and then for a movement beyond this connection, beyond the

psychological analysis of the author to explain her work, to a greater one of language and

culture in general, two social spheres that Chen has studied and experienced in depth,

both in her native China and in her adopted Quebec.

The narrator' s double registre (the observer of herself as well as the observer of

others) marks the unique vantage point of an immigrant in a new culture: suddenly hyper-

conscious of the difference of oneself and the simultaneous difference of others, while

recognizing the rej section of the one and the acceptance of the other socially,

linguistically, legally, etc. Immigrants try to reconcile the differences between their

native and still-foreign cultures into aspects of belonging to one or both, and at least

being able to function in the new environment without being rej ected. Chen's device of

the self-conscious narrator lends a certain credibility to her story. Although she erases

her own name, as well as those of her male characters, the narrator is literally placed at

the center. Her story, in a way, replaces her name, the story being less simple and based

on a personal narrative that counterbalances the authoritative voice of science.

The narrator has perhaps lost the battle to impose her antiquity on her modern

husband, but she embodies a revolution, a cycle of life. In response to her powerlessness,

she will revolt continuously as she lives continuously. "Tout sera alors fini. Tout

recommencera" (156). She is perpetually located between ending and restarting. Her

location in-between causes her to depart and return with no ties to life or death except for










that which she carries in her memory. Through this character and her cyclical act of

dying, Chen forces an examination of notions and fears of death. Her character moves

against the "eternal life" myth of Christianity to recreate it under new circumstances.

This is a significant literary aspect for the Quebec canon, which has problematized the

Catholic narrative and the modern condition since the 1930s. The narrator in Immobile

lives without end, but it is not the eternal life of Western dreams; she wanders in exile,

unable to locate a reprieve from her ancient guilt of betraying her lover. "Que l'eternel

devienne deja un vulgaire reel, et que le commencement et la fin ne soient que de

charmantes illusions?" (52). Regardless of past or present, she will continue to exist and

to be herself. "J'existe, tout simplement. J'existe avant ma naissance et apres ma mort"

(51).

Ying Chen's novels, like the very act of immigration, lead to questions about origin

and priority. The two novels examined in this thesis reveal an anger and darkness in

Chen's oeuvre that was not yet present, or not as dark, in her first two novels, La

Memoire de l 'eau (1992), and Les Lettres chinoises (1993). Some critics write that

L 'Ingratitude and Immobile are not immigrant novels, but I disagree. Chen's experience

in exile, albeit voluntary, shaped these narratives. She is now settled in Quebec but

continues to explore the path that led her here. The anger of her female narrators comes

from Chen's effort to retrace the history of social domination in China and in Quebec that

leads to violence and oppression against women. Through these novels, Chen explores

revolt against male domination and the possibility or impossibility of escape. In an

interview with L 'Actualite, Chen reveals a strong connection to her female protagonists:

"Moi, je me revolte. Je ne respect pas beaucoup les regles" (LaChance 1995, 90).
















LIST OF REFERENCES

Balibar, Etienne. Politics and the Other Scene. London: Verso, 2002.

Canada. Government of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Learning. Racial Overtones:
Inanigration and Asians. A component of the Evergreen Curriculum. 2002. Last
accessed March 2004 .

Chen, Ying. Inanobile. Montreal/Arles: Boreal/Actes Sud, 1998.

-.L 'hIgratitude. Montreal/Arles: Lemeac/Actes Sud, 1995.

Dubois, Christian, and Christian Hommel. "Vers une definition du texte migrant:
l'exemple de Ying Chen." Tangence (Rintouski) 59 (janvier 1999): 38-48.

Gilbert, Paula, and Roseanna Dufault, ed. Introduction. Doing Gender: Franco-Canadian
Women Writers of the 1990s. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 200 1.
15-20.

Haraway, Donna.
Modest Witness@Second M\~illeniunt.Fenale2\a~nO _Meets Onco2~ouseTM:
Fentinisn; and Technoscience. New York: Routledge, 1997.

LaChance, Micheline. "Des vies a l'encre de Chine." L 'Actualitd 20.18 (15 novembre
1995): 89-90.

Lequin, Lucie. "Talking about Values: Quebec Women's Writing and Cultural Plurality,"
Bulletin of the Simone de Beauvoir hIstitute 18/19 (2000): 75-84.

Lionnet, Frangoise. Postcolonial Representations: Women, Literature, Identity. New
York: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Purdy, Anthony. A Certain Difficulty ofBeing: Essays on the Quebec Novel. Montreal:
McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990.

Robitaille, Louis-Bernard. "Les Ecrivains migrateurs," L 'Actualitd 22.8 (15 mai 1997):
78-83.

Roy, Monique. "Ying Chen: Retour en Chine," Chcitelaine 39.4 (avril 1998): 26-28.

Saint-Martin, Lori. "Infanticide, Suicide, Matricide, and Mother-Daughter Love: Suzanne
Jacob's L'Obdissance and Ying Chen'sL 'hIgratitude," Canadian Literature 169
(Summer 2001): 60-83.










Shek, Ben-Z. French-Canadian and Quebcois Novels. Toronto: Oxford University
Press, 1991.

Wang, Shuguang, and Lucia Lo. "Chinese Immigrants in Canada: Their Changing
Composition and Economic Performance." Research paper presented to the
Conference on Sub-Ethnicity in the Chinese Diaspora. September 12-13, 2003, U
of Toronto. Last accessed March 2004
ada-Wang-and-Lo.pdf.>
















BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Jaime Elizabeth O'Dell was born in Winter Park, Florida, in 1971. She graduated

from high school in Orlando, Florida, in 1989 and moved to Gainesville for

undergraduate coursework in French and j ournalism at the University of Florida. She

started a career in newspaper in 1995 at the Gainesville Sun and in 1999 decided to shift

her focus to education. In 2000, she earned an M.Ed. in foreign language education at

UJF. In 2001, she was offered an assistantship in the Romance Languages and Literatures

Department at UF, where she taught French and worked as a research assistant while

pursuing the M.A. in French literature. Her participation and work in this program was

met with several scholarships, grants, awards, and a nomination for the UF Graduate

Teaching Award. After graduation, her goals are to join the "UF in Provence" study-

abroad program in France as an assistant for the summer, and to return to France in the

fall to teach English. Upon returning to the states, she plans to teach French to high-

school and community college students.