The notion of ``self'' in Korean-American literature: A sociohistorical perspective

Date of Completion

January 1990


Literature, American




The purpose of this study is to outline the development of Korean American literature from the early twentieth century to the present, using the notion of "self" as a focal point for examination.^ Korean American literature, at least within the boundary of this study, denotes "works written in English by American writers of Korean descent." The main focus of this study will be on first generation Korean American writers because works produced by second or third generation Korean American writers has been relatively scarce and concentrated almost exclusively in the last decade or so. For our purposes the term first generation Korean Americans will be used to refer to "Korean immigrants who have come to the States relatively early on in their adult lives."^ In Korean American literature the notion of self undergoes a continuous process of modification and refinement as each group of writers strives to understand and redefine the inseparable relationship between their role as writers and the shifting social and historical realities to which they are compelled to respond. Based on that understanding, I have grouped the Korean American writers under three chronological categories: "The First Korean American Writers and the 'Collective' Self (1920 to 1950)"; "The Postwar Korean American Writers and the 'Universal' Self (1950-Present)"; and finally, "The Next Generation Writers and the 'Marginal' Self (New Directions)." The basic premise behind this organization is that in order to understand Korean American literature, or any ethnic literature for that matter, one must go beyond the level of descriptive interpretation and study the historical and social realities that account for the genesis of the works themselves. ^