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Document Type

Article

Abstract

Drawing upon Judith Butler’s theory of performativity, this article offers an interpretation of “‘Its Wavering Image’” that explains the biracial main character, Pan’s, process of racialization. The argument is two fold: first, the paper contends that in this story, Sui Sin Far theorizes that race is performative rather than biological. Race does not come from characters’ bodies, but is rather an incorporated performance of codes. Pan’s race, then, depends not on her parentage or her biology, but on the “codes” she internalizes and embodies, codes that are fleshed out throughout the article through historical contextualization of San Francisco and Chinatown. Sui Sin Far roots “‘Its Wavering Image’” firmly in space and place to emphasize the connections between Chinatown – a space that was zoned “Chinese” by the city – and racial identity formation. The second part of the argument deals with racial hybridity; the characters of “‘Its Wavering Image’” cannot understand racial hybridity because their home spaces – and the boundaries between the spaces themselves – condition them to think of and recognize race in dualistic terms, in this case, Chinese or white. Ultimately, “‘Its Wavering Image’” allows Sui Sin Far to undermine the notion that race is either stable or essential and to critique a system in which people must fit at one end of the binary or the other.

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