Some Call Me “The Gangster of Love”

During last week’s class, we discussed the common literary theme of cultural encounters with identity.  These coming of age tales are often centered around a character’s life as an immigrant in the United States and their struggle to assimilate to American culture.  One of my favorite books in this vain is Jessica Hagedorn’s The Gangster of Love.  The novel details the life of a young Filipino girl coming of age in the United States.  It is a classic American tale detailing the struggles of assimilating into the American cultural way of life.  The popular questions of “What is American?” or “What is the deal with the English language?” are constantly raised by Rocky and her fellow characters.

As Rocky journeys through a myriad of complex questions, an apparent presentation of Orientalism is detected.  Edward Said’s theory on Orientalism is described as “a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient” (Sered 1).  This theory represents the idea of the Orient as created in opposition to the West.  It is seen as something to be dominated by the West, appearing inferior and complex.  Men are represented as weak, effeminate, and sensual.  Women are displayed as hyper-sexual, exotic, and mysterious. It is important to take these ideas into mind when reading through Hagedorn’s novel.

Elvis Chang is a complex character representing the ideas of Orientalism.  He is tall and slender, appealing to many women.  A level of relaxation and defiance is detected through his character.  His name adds an interesting element, as it represents the influence of American culture on “the Orient”.  This is an interesting point to consider, revealing a hybrid of both “the Orient” and America.

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