Academic journal article Journal of Ethnic American Literature

Reading Shirley Geok-Lin Lim's Memoir as Travel Narrative in Search of Self, Home, and Community

Academic journal article Journal of Ethnic American Literature

Reading Shirley Geok-Lin Lim's Memoir as Travel Narrative in Search of Self, Home, and Community

Article excerpt

Journeys are a human condition necessitated by voluntary or involuntary movements and relocations often accompanied by figurative quests to discover the traveler's self- worth and identity associated with home and community. Well-known examples of journey narratives include Homer's The Odyssey and Bunyan's Pilgrim 's Progress. Shirley Geok-lin Lim' s Among the White Moon Faces, a late twentieth-century autobiography, fits in this category of narratives that "function simultaneously as accounts of journeys and as self-conscious explorations of the ways language constructs the world through which one travels" (Russell 11). This paper analyzes Lim' s portrayal of the various journeys of a south Asian woman in search of self, home, and community that enable personal and professional transformations, maintaining that self- identity is inseparable from one's quest of home and choice of a community, and that the purpose of the journeys is to find a home in a bona fide community in a homeland that sustains both personal and professional goals of the journey maker.

The Odyssey was mentioned because Homer's work classically depicts journeys and voyages traveled for the ultimate goal of returning to one's native land, proffering us an opportunity to examine and compare the idea of home as both a departure and arrival point of journeys. Homer's epic effectively illustrates home as traditionally associated with the self, parents, property, community, and country. Odysseus' s departure from home accentuates the importance and necessity of an eventual return to the start point which is also the destination. Lim' s work, in contrast, subverts the idea of a return to home as a birthplace or native land, to make the point about building a new home of her own, away from the native land, in order to accommodate the new personal identity and professional possibilities.

At the outset of chapter one under the contrastive title of "Splendor and Squalor," Lim writes, "Moving myself from Malacca, a small town two degrees north of the equator, to New England, then to Brooklyn and to the rich New York suburb of Westchester County, and now to Southern California, I have attempted to move myself as far away from destitution as an ordinary human creature can. In the move from hunger to plenty, poverty to comfort, I have become transformed, and yet have remained a renegade" (9). The claimed transformation takes place on multiple levels as it implies different types of changes ranging from the personal and psychological to the social, economic, geographic, and intellectual. Without the relocations from place to place and job to job, transformations of such magnitude would not have been achieved.

Concerning the effects of travels, Mary Suzanne Schriber remarks, "Whenever women wrote of travels, they effected ... the transformations of what had been largely a male generic practice into a vehicle for versions of the world according to women; and the transformation and revision ... of accepted understandings of home and the social order" (7). Lim uses her memoir to demonstrate her transformations from a hunger-stricken Malaysian girl to a critically acclaimed poet and writer, as a way to make political statements on individual autonomy as implied in home ownership and on intellectual freedom in career advancement for immigrant women like herself. Schriber also notes the connections between women's travels and their end products. "As travel carried women into the byways and cities of the world, so their transformations of travel into prose carried their voices and opinions into the public square, furthering the transformation of women from receptacles into creators of politics and culture, and women's writing from accounts of travel into agents of cultural work" (7-8). In Lim's case transformations happen as a result of overcoming economic challenges and social barriers.

Odysseus overcomes ten years of ordeals and temptations attendant on his journeys of return to his home in Ithaca. …

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