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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The decline of the Chinese matriarch : the struggle to reconcile "old" with "new" Lee, Tara

Abstract

The thesis examines representations of the matriarch in three Chinese Canadian texts: SKY Lee's Disappearing Moon Cafe, Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony, and Denise Chong's The Concubine's Children. The matriarch is the female head of the Chinese household who is able to gain substantial power by manipulating the assets granted to her in a patriarchal system. Dislocated from her home in China, she serves in these texts as the focal point for the collision between the New World, Canada, and the Old World, China. Confronted by a new environment, the matriarch must decide whether she will choose conformity or identity experimentation. The thesis is concerned with the way Chinese Canadian writers negotiate multiple identities through narrators who must come to terms with the divided loyalties of the women of the past. The analysis of the matriarch's identity shifts is informed by the work of the feminist theorists, Elspeth Probyn and Moira Gatens, who explore the productive potentials of rebelling against binary codes. The thesis is divided into three chapters that discuss how the texts come close to embracing identity fluidity, but cannot overcome the need to reach a coherent representation of the matriarch. The first chapter is devoted to Disappearing Moon Cafe, and argues that Lee's narrator sacrifices her female characters, albeit reluctantly, in order to privilege feminism over her Chinese heritage. The second chapter turns to The Jade Peony and discusses how Choy's child narrators give in to binary thinking by relegating Poh-Poh, the Old One, to the realm of memories to make room for the New Ways. The final chapter on The Concubine's Children explores Chong's desire to redeem a grandmother who wreaked havoc on the family when she defied traditional gender roles. The thesis concludes by determining that Lee, Choy, and Chong are reaching for a multi-voiced reading of the past, but cannot yet articulate a way out. The uncertainty of their representations of the matriarch signals their efforts to move beyond binaries to a state of coexisting identity categories.

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