Pacific Islander Identity in Literature Analysis

Historical Background

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

A web of themes, shaped by the angst of acculturation or assimilation, or by intergenerational conflict, or by a legacy of colonialism, or by continuing resistance to economic and cultural oppression, threads its way through the tapestry of much English-language literature written by Pacific Islanders.

Creative writing in English by Pacific Island writers, immigrants, and children of immigrants has been around since the islands had substantial contact with English-speaking people of the West. Evolution of themes over time in English-language Pacific Island writing points to significant development of attitudes and perspectives; fundamental themes, however, are remarkably similar.

Assimilation into Western ways and intergenerational conflict, for example, are old themes in literature of the Pacific Islands. James Chun’s short story “In the Camp” (1920) is one of the few accounts available concerning plantation life for early Chinese immigrants. Bessie Lai’s Ah Ya, I Still Remember (1976), recounts the experiences of Chinese immigrants after their arrival in Hawaii in 1859.

Much literature about Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia was written by outsiders. Among the seminal literary works published by Pacific Islanders, however, is Florence Frisbe’s Miss Ulysses of Puka (1948), an autobiographical story of a girl and her life with her grandfather on the island of Pukapuka. The first novel may be...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Braxton, Joanne, and Andree Nicola McLauglin. Wild Women in the Whirlwind: Afra-American Culture and the Contemporary Literary Renaissance. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989. A landmark work, concentrating on the writing of black-identified women engaged in the process of transforming their societies.

Lum, Darrell H. Y. Pake: Writing by Chinese in Hawaii. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bamboo Ridge Press, 1989. Double issue of Bamboo Ridge, the Hawaii writers’ quarterly. An introduction to Chinese American writing in the Pacific Islands.

Sharrad, Paul. Readings in Pacific Literature. Wollongong, Australia: New Literature Research Centre, University of Wollongong, 1993. A history and criticism of Pacific Island English literature. Includes bibliographical references.

Wendt, Alfred. Nuanua: Pacific Writing in English Since 1980. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995. “Nuanua” means rainbow, and so is an appropriate description for the diversity of cultures contained in this volume.