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Title: Performing American identity : the plays of David Henry Hwang
Author: Johnson, Martha
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2017
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What does it mean to perform an American identity? From the time of his breakout play, FOB, in 1980, playwright David Henry Hwang has grappled with this question. Over the 35 years of his career, he has consistently been described as a Chinese American, or Asian American, playwright and his work does indeed reflect aspects of the Asian American drama movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s, as it does also aspects of US multiculturalism in general. He has staged stories of the Chinese American experience and explored questions of race, culture, and identity. The term Asian American is itself, however, contested and complex. Meanwhile, Hwang’s privileged and Christian upbringing has bred suspicion of his right to interpret and stage the experience of the broader Asian American community. In his plays, Hwang reinforces stereotypes, while simultaneously undermining them. The result is a view of identity defined by, but resistant to, definitions based on race, culture, and gender. Few playwrights from marginalized ethnic groups have enjoyed mainstream success in the US. Hwang has. In contrast to previous Asian American playwrights, who have struggled to find an audience beyond their identity-based theatre companies, Hwang’s plays seem to transcend specific personal, racial, or cultural experience, and as a consequence have been widely produced, published, studied, and anthologized. Most of Hwang’s plays are inspired by works in the American dramatic canon, suggesting his desire to situate the Asian American experience in the broader American narrative. In this study, I will analyze selected plays by David Henry Hwang. I will consider Hwang’s role as a voice for Asian Americans and the implications of that role. I will place his work in the context of the broader discourse on American identity and argue that is it insufficient to overly privilege his Asian identity in reading his work. Finally, I will explore some of the reasons his work transcends the confines of racial or cultural identity, and has found a place in the American dramatic canon.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available