I just can’t stop thinking about Astaire’s role in this novel.

I think the idea of Astaire actually plays a really significant role in Donald Duk’s initial understanding of American stereotypes vs. Chinese stereotypes in regards to masculinity and feminity.

I think in some regards Donald feels as though he can look up to Fred Astaire because he is doing something feminine and not getting teased and actually being very well-revered for what he does. And I think that Donald thinks, probably unconsciously, that this is because Astaire is a white American. This goes along with Donald’s desire to sort of ignore his Chinese heritage. When he rejects his Chinese culture it is in part because of the stereotypes that he has been exposed to in school, such as the feminizing of Asian cultures.

So if we following along with stereotypes here, if Donald embraced his Chinese heritage and danced, he would in a sense be doubly feminized. (I think this idea accounts for his treatment and thoughts about his dance instructor, “The Chinese Fred Astaire”). But if Donald sort of rejects his Chinese heritage he is just an American and then if he dances like Fred Astaire those stereotypes are all gone.

On top of this, throughout this novel we see a focus on being masculine and countering the idea that Asian cultures are feminized and how important that is to Dad in particular. I feel as though Fred Astaire compared with Donald’s dance instructor is just another way of Frank Chin putting emphasis on the feminizing stereotypes that Donald has been exposed to and believes to be true and are then causing him to resist his Chinese heritage.

More thoughts about Fred Astaire

One thought on “More thoughts about Fred Astaire

  • September 13, 2019 at 11:57 am

    I think what you said about ‘levels’ of femininity/feminization is super insightful and relevant. An aspect of minority status is that it restricts or makes more difficult an individual’s opportunity to defy social norms. To throw in a comparison, similar issues are a big point of conversation in critiques of the mainstream feminist movement – acts of rebellion against social norms such as makeup or shaving are often (at least in some circles!) praised when it comes to cisgender and white women, whereas trans women and/or women of color are scrutinized to an extra degree when it comes to presentation.

    In other words, I think you’ve hit upon the fact that deviation from the norm is easier to get away with when you have societal power – particularly when your identity is perceived to fit in somehow with a stereotype about your group.

    Of course, what complicates this question further is that based on what we know about Frank Chin, these questions weren’t really present on the radar of what he wanted to talk about. So… what *is* Fred Astaire’s role in this story? The railroad workers and the 104 heroes, all of this makes sense with what we know his interests and intentions are. Are they meant to replace Astaire in his status as a role model?

    And here’s what I keep thinking in response to all of these blog posts: isn’t it interesting how our awareness of an author’s lifestyle, and his participation in the wider discourse surrounding Asian-American literature, can (and in a way must) persistently hang over the way we read a text!?

Leave a Reply