The Meaning of Identity in Stop Kiss

Though homosexuality functions as a vehicle for developing Stop Kiss’s central conflict, it is the relationship between the two main characters, rather than their sexual orientations which builds the play’s theme of identity.  Sarah and Callie’s nervous and unspoken interest in one another creates tension as the play develops and the anti-gay hate crime committed against Sara becomes a pivot point for the plot, yet it is Sarah and Callie’s commitment to one another despite these difficulties—their relationship—which allows the two characters to develop both individual and common identities.

Identity in Stop Kiss: Independent to Mutually Supporting

Importantly, the work depicts two characters with independent struggles, struggles which are at least partially resolved when the two are drawn together into a relationship.  Callie grapples with the lack of fulfillment she finds in both her job and her relationship with George, and Sara similarly finds herself confronting the daunting task of finding her footing in a new and foreign setting.  In this sense, Callie becomes just the welcoming arms Sara needs in a new city while Sara simultaneously opens Callie’s eyes to what it means to have passion for a career.  Each woman offers something the other is missing, and it is from this moment that the characters’ quests for identity become intertwined and mutually supporting.

What Role Does Sexual Orientation Play in Stop Kiss?

However, the same relationship which quiets the characters independent internal conflicts simultaneously breeds new difficulties for the women as a couple.  Though their relationship itself becomes mutually fulfilling, their sexual orientation stimulates the work’s central conflicts:  the difficulty both characters have in expressing their feelings for the other and the work’s climactic hate-crime.

Yet despite this setup, Son’s ultimate message seems hopeful.  She seems to be separating the idea of finding a personal identity from the idea of being identified by others via characteristics such as sexual orientation.  Importantly, the work’s hate-crime is the product of identity being imposed upon the two women.  In that sense, Son’s work confronts the reality of the pain caused by the imposition of identity, but also optimistically suggests that true identity stems from something within, and something found in mutually supportive relationships, not something a label can even begin to capture.

Stop Kiss’s Resonating Message

Diana Son commented on her play in an interview with AsianWeek.com:  “There was a time in history when everybody, because of their ethnicity or sexuality, wanted to say, “I’m gay and I’m different” or “I’m Asian American and my experience is different.” Previous generations, seeing plays like Raisin in the Sun, might first have realized that black people have their own culture. People our age understand that we all have different cultures, but most importantly we’re all included in American culture and human culture. The most important idea in Stop Kiss is about commitment, not race or sexuality.”

In that sense, though Stop Kiss is in many ways a play about identity, the work is fundamentally a love story.  Son’s play thus ultimately develops the resonating message that finding ourselves alongside other people may be more meaningful than finding ourselves through socially imposed labels.

Works Cited

“Stop Kiss.” AsianWeek. 9 Feb. 2001. Web. <http://asianweek.com/2001_02_09/ae1_stopkiss.html>.

 

Cultural Imperialism in David Henry Hwang’s “Flower Drum Song”

In 2002, David Henry Hwang published a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, Flower Drum Song.

Flower Drum Song takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the 1960’s, a setting that David Henry Hwang uses to expose different conflicts that Chinese immigrants and Asian Americans, specifically, faced when trying to assimilate to American culture. Throughout the musical, we are introduced to a variety of characters that show different degrees of assimilation and we can see how this affects their experience in the United States. In his revision, Hwang clearly focuses on studying these identity issues through the romantic relationships between the characters (interestingly, he also manages to present most of these Asian American issues utilizing minimal interaction of his characters with “whites”). Thus, studying these relationships and each character, individually, portray the different strata of assimilation that Hwang carefully composed; along with clearly diverging personalities that characterize the decisions and situations each character experiences.

My hypothesis is that with this play, Hwang deliberately displays how the cultural assimilation process causes the characters to subconsciously simulate a typical colonial situation, even between each other (both male and female are Asian), where a trace of “dependency theory” is apparent by just studying the simple romantic relationships Hwang presents in the play.

If you briefly describe and list the main characters involved within the main romance, you can then notice that who each character likes follows a hierarchical order in which a less assimilated character loves a greater assimilated character.

Linda is liked by Ta who is liked by Mei Li who is liked by Chao. (In order of most assimilated to not assimilated)

In the play, Linda represents the most Americanized character exhibiting an assertive and independent personality. Ta thinks he is in love with Linda, but I suspect that his feelings are more of an admiration for how well Linda has adapted to the American culture. Similarly, Mei Li arrives to San Francisco and is rapidly infatuated by Ta’s demeanor and his ability to juggle between a Chinese and American identity. Last, Chao, who has clearly been unable to assimilate to the new ways of America, falls for Mei Li, who is trying to assimilate, yet still contains most of her Chinese identity.

These cases of unrequited love throughout the play solidify the claim that an adapted representation of “dependency theory” and colonization are being hinted at by Hwang. Moreover, I highly suspect these themes to be presented, even if slightly, because the play portrays a minority within a predominantly white, American society generating the perfect situation for these themes to appear.

The open-source Wikipedia defines “dependency theory” as a process where resources dominantly flow in one direction: from an underdeveloped state to a wealthier state, benefitting the wealthier state at the expense of the poorer one. I believe Hwang adapts this notion into Flower Drum Song, exchanging resources for emotions and states for persons. Here, Hwang presents a one-directional flow of emotions in which the main characters are trapped. Just as “dependency theory” conveys, these become parasitic love relationships, where the lower person in the hierarchy suffers emotionally from loving the other and gets nothing in return (excluding the happy endings). Even if this hypothesis seems far-fetched, I believe this pattern in the love stories of Flower Drum Song are just a clue that Hwang provides for the reader to view the play as a critical observation of colonialism and its overwhelming effect on a culture.

How is colonialism related to Asian identity issues in Flower Drum Song?

Even if this musical is not concerned with conquest or territorial possessions; an important, related theme of Asian American history clearly resonates. I believe Hwang’s most important objective with Flower Drum Song was to portray the struggles with cultural imperialism that Asian Americans faced at the time. A period where Chinese immigrants felt enormous pressure to assimilate and suppress their true cultural identity, so they would not be as harshly discriminated against or to even have a chance of prospering in this new land. Clear examples in Flower Drum Song could be seen in Wang’s transformation and his identity struggles throughout the play, as well as observing how the theater prospers when they steer away from Chinese traditions and perform plays that are more accessible to the American audience. The dominant culture in this instance would have clearly been the American culture, as Americans refused to completely accept Chinese culture and as a consequence, forced Chinese immigrants to neglect their cultural identity in order to find happiness. Essentially, cultural imperialism obligates the characters in the play to adapt, causing all the identity issues each character faces. Furthermore, cultural imperialism (cultural colonialism) is also responsible for implementing a social hierarchy (usually whites on the top, followed by minorities). This imposed social hierarchy fabricated the perception that white Americans were superior to other cultures and races. Consequentially, discrimination and racism emerged and these powerful pressures misled minorities into believing that they would become better as they assimilated more to the new culture. This being exactly the issue Hwang exposes through the romantic relationships between the characters and their individual identity struggles. With Flower Drum Song, David Henry Hwang revisits this Asian American struggle and provokes awareness to preserve and defend our culture/traditions from the underlying forces of cultural imperialism that might still exist in today’s society.