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  • Marilyn Chin's Revenge:Rewriting the Racial Shadow
  • Alison Graham-Bertolini (bio)

In Reading Asian American Literature (1993), Sauling Cynthia Wong identifies the trope of the Asian American racial shadow, explaining that a shadow character is frequently included in Asian American fiction as a way for "host characters" to project unwanted racialized aspects of themselves onto a character who is secondary to them (78). Wong explains, "By projecting undesirable 'Asianness' outward onto a double—what I term a racial shadow—one renders alien what is, in fact, literally inalienable, thereby disowning and distancing it" (78). Wong observes, "[T]here are a convincing number of episodes or stories in Asian American literature that embody this recurrent pattern of the double: a highly assimilated American-born Asian is troubled by a version of himself/herself that serves as a reminder of disowned Asian descent. The racial shadow draws out mixed feelings of revulsion and sympathy from the protagonist, usually compelling a painful reassessment of the behavioral code that has thus far appeared to augur full acceptance into American society" (92).

As a result, the racial shadow (also known in its many other manifestations as the double, Doppelganger, second-self, anti-self, or alter ego), while initially the recipient of protagonists' unwanted traits, as well as their disdain, eventually helps protagonists accept [End Page 17] the "ethnic" aspects of themselves during a process of assimilation, leaving them somehow "better" or more evolved than at the beginning of the story.1 This outcome is problematic because it can imply that the unassimilated Asian American is partial, fractional, or incomplete, waiting to be bettered by the process of assimilation.

Marilyn Chin, in her 2009 novel Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen: A Manifesto in 41 Tales, introduces a vastly different conversation about ethnic assimilation. The text upsets the trope of the Asian American racial shadow with its strident wit, irony, and unique architecture. In doing so, it conveys the importance of contemporary interethnicity, defined herein as the close interaction of multiple racial groups. Just as the twin protagonists reject binaries of racial categorization, the content, tone, and structure of Chin's novel also challenge typical narrative formulae. The continual halts and ruptures of the storyline not only break up predictable sequencing but also demonstrate how the open-ended tales can foster multiple avenues of connection and alliance for the characters themselves. In addition, numerous incarnations of the twins, subversive wit, and the inclusion of a variety of written genres tangibly demonstrate how gender and ethnicity are constantly created and recreated, just as narrative form produces ever-evolving combinations and rerenderings of knowledge.

Chin is knowledgeable of the vast history and scope of the archetype of the racial shadow, as is evident in a 2012 interview in which she confirms the double consciousness of her twin characters:

Twins are part of the double consciousness expressed by [W. E. B.] Du Bois. The dominant world can never understand them. Goodness, they have their own languages and inscapes. They're the unity of opposites: the yin-yang, parity-duality—Chinese fearful symmetry: double the happiness, double the fun; double the hated mouths to feed in a poor family. They are two sides of the integral self.

("Interview with Marilyn Chin" 217)

Chin describes her twins as a "unity of opposites." Thus, unlike predecessor texts featuring the Asian American racial shadow in conflict with itself, Chin commandeers and rewrites the form to situate her protagonists as complementary subjects, celebrating the twins' individual plurality and thus [End Page 18] contesting constrictive binary identities such as "traditional"– "modern" or "model minority"–"bad subject."

Dorothy J. Wang makes a similar argument about the "multivoiced irony" in Chin's poetry. She writes, "The female speakers of Chin's poems often occupy more than one ideological position and tonal register; their ironic voices, thus, cannot be analyzed … as a binary between a stated 'false' meaning and an unstated 'true message' (116). Wang continues, "Chin's use of irony does not set up simple either-or formulations or oppositions—of 'Chinese' or 'American,' of Chinese American female victim versus Chinese male oppressor, of Chinese American female victim versus white male oppressor, and so on" (116–17...


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