Publication Date

Spring 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English and Comparative Literature


Noelle Brada-Williams


Asian North American bildungsroman, dreams, ethnic female bildungsroman, genre studies, myth, trauma

Subject Areas

Literature; Asian American studies


This thesis examines the use of myth, dreams, and historical trauma within the genre of the Asian North American female bildungsroman. In an attempt to redefine the contested genre of the ethnic bildungsroman, this study analyzes three novels by Asian American and Asian Canadian female authors: Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's When the Rainbow Goddess Wept (1991), Joy Kogawa's Obasan (1981), and Lan Cao's Monkey Bridge (1997). Each of these novels is an ethnic bildungsroman that highlights the identity formation of a female protagonist in the midst of historical trauma. This study focuses on the ways in which these texts resist the conventions of the European bildungsroman through the factors of myth, dreams, and historical trauma.

While Philippine folklore is the vehicle through which protagonist Yvonne matures in Brainard's When the Rainbow Goddess Wept, dreams and childhood tales in Kogawa's Obasan enable protagonist Naomi to develop and reconnect with her lost mother. Similarly, in Cao's Monkey Bridge, protagonist Mai uses the Vietnamese legend of the Trung sisters to develop a transnational identity and reconnect with her mother and motherland. In all three of these novels, myths and dreams function as alternative spaces of development that interrupt the immediate trauma of the texts. Myth, dreams, and trauma are thus integral to the project of redefining the Asian North American female bildungsroman.