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MA Thesis

MA Thesis Title: Judging a Book By/Buy Its Cover: (Re)Producing or (Re)Presenting the Orient in Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter

Supervisor: Peng Yi


On the landscape of Chinese American literature, many researches have been done on the discussions of textual reading, film analysis and identity politics. My research is based on these resources and extended to a little-explored area: the interrelation between the literary content and the book-cover image. Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001) is used to illustrate my arguments. This thesis starts with a brief introduction of Asian American literature and Amy Tan, followed by three main chapters ("Lost in Translation", "Uncover the Cover Images", and "Judging a Book By/But Its Cover"), and closes with a conclusion chapter.

In the first chapter, Walter Benjamin¡¦s famous essay, "The Task of a Translator", is used to illustrate the mother-daughter bond in The Bonesetter¡'s Daughter. The central argument is the mother-daughter relationship in this fiction is similar to the kinship between the original text and the translated text. Although there are indeed some historical considerations and cultural essence that cannot be translated, an ultimate negotiation will happen. Like Amy Tan's fiction, there is always a possible way to overcome the cultural differences and reach to a negotiation in the end.

In the second chapter, different editions of book-cover images are used to exemplify the stereotypical Chinese-associating icons on the covers of Chinese American writers' literary works. Amy Tan's works are used to support the argument that in American book market, Chinese-associating icons are still the most significant marks on the covers of Chinese-American writers' works. Traditional Western aesthetics of image-reading is introduced for the examination, in the hope to uncovering the implications behind these book-cover images. Readers will be more aware of the association of femininity in these Chinese-associating icons with the idea of "racial castration" in the image analysis, and realise how these images would form "American Orientalist Discourse".

In the third chapter, the ideas of consumption by Mike Featherstone and Robert Bocock are brought in to explore how an ethnic literary work is produced, promoted and more importantly, consumed in American book market. As the production process of book has long been neglected, the different standpoints of author, publisher and consumers will be discussed to enhance readers¡¦ comprehension of how manipulative the publisher is to cater to readers' interests. As a result of that, the representation of minority group is often erroneous and problematic.

The conclusion of this thesis is that by using Amy Tan¡¦s work as an example to demonstrate this phenomenon, readers will see how the Western audience will be more willing to receive a literary work from a minority ethnic group if the exotic elements are, literally, "inside and out". The future prospect for this thesis is to explore more about the cultural mechanism behind this phenomenon, and how it can be applied to different ethnic studies. All in all, it is, hopefully, bringing an innovative vision beyond traditional Chinese-American literary and cultural studies.



Above are seven different book-cover images of The Bonesetter's Daughter.