Purdue University Graduate School

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Ethical Wondering in Contemporary African American and Asian American Women's Magical Realism

posted on 2023-07-07, 13:51 authored by Na Rim KimNa Rim Kim

The term magical realism traces back to the German art critic Franz Roh, who in the early twentieth century applied it to (visual) art expressing the wondrousness of life. However, this definition has been eclipsed over time. Reorienting critical attention back to magical realism as the art of portraying wonder and wondering, I explore the magical realist novels of contemporary African American and Asian American women writers. Specifically, I examine Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997), Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017), Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990), and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (2013). In wonder, all frames of reference at hand suddenly become inadequate. Simultaneously, the subject’s interest is heightened. As such, the act/experience of wondering may lead to humility and respect, the two attitudes at the base of any ethically flourishing life—a life that flourishes with others. For this reason, the Asian American woman writer and peace activist Maxine Hong Kingston espoused wondering. Affiliated with groups marginalized within the US, like Kingston my writers also promote wonder. I examine how these writers, through compelling use of both content and form, guide their readers toward a particular kind of wondering: wondering with an awareness of how the act/experience might lead to ethical flourishing.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Nancy J. Peterson

Additional Committee Member 2

Aparajita Sagar

Additional Committee Member 3

Marlo D. David

Additional Committee Member 4

Derek Pacheco