Asian American Literature Themes

Common Themes

(Representations of Race in American Literature)

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, various demographic trends, such as increased immigration from Asia and Mexico, helped the United States become much more multicultural, and more Asian American writers felt encouraged to explore Asian themes. Although Asia is a large continent with many languages, cultures, and religions, certain themes and elements appear to be common in Asian American literature. These include the balance between dark and light and between masculine and feminine; conflicts between ancient heritage, familial obligations, and contemporary (often Western) lifestyles; and the effects of immigration. After Kingston’s work became popular, there was widespread appreciation for novelists, poets, dramatists, and essayists of Asian ancestry.

Many Asian American women have written of the cultural conflicts that women experience when they move from traditional Asian cultures to the more liberal American culture. Velina Hasu Houston explored this theme in a 1985 trilogy, Asa ga Kimashita, American Dream, and Tea, whose main characters are Japanese war brides who have to cross traditional boundaries in order to survive in their new environment. In Arranged Marriages (1995), Indian-born poet Divakaruni presents images of the adjustment problems that many women from traditional Indian backgrounds have in American society.

Asian American writers also have explored familial obligations and tensions. In...

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