Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context

By Elaine H. Kim | Go to book overview

1
Images of Asians in Anglo-American Literature

Caricatures of Asians have been part of American popular culture for generations. The power-hungry despot, the helpless heathen, the sensuous dragon lady, the comical loyal servant, and the pudgy, desexed detective who talks about Confucius are all part of the standard American image of the Asian. Anglo-American writers of some literary merit have used these popular stereotypes, although usually not as a focus for their work: Chinese caricatures can be found in the pages of Bret Harte, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Frank Norris, and other writers about the American West, and even in such unlikely places as Louisa May Alcott's books for children. But, for the most part, the enormous body of Anglo-American literature containing these caricatures, particularly those dealing primarily with Asians as a theme, are of much lesser stuff -- pulp novels and dime romances of varying degrees of literary quality.

Many of these lesser works, though popularly read in their day, have by now been quite forgotten, but not before they contributed to national attitudes towards Asians. Collier's Weekly staff writer Wallace Irwin , creator of Hashimura Togo, the "Japanese" schoolboy whose "diaries" were serialized for the first twenty years in various magazines and syndicates of this century, was widely believed to be Japanese, or at least an authority on the Japanese; consequently, he was sent by the Saturday Evening Post to California in 1919 to investigate the "Japanese question." As a result of the investigation Irwin produced an antiJapanese novel, Seed of the Sun ( 1921), which was hailed by New York Times reviewers as a book that everyone concerned about "the Japanese question" should read. 1 Another popular pulp novel, Peter B. Kyne

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