Karen Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange¬†can be read in light of many literary approaches we have discussed in class; one that highlights important characteristics of her novel is postmodernism. The Theory Toolbox¬†explains that postmodernism writing tends to emphasize a style of deliberate confusion and a suspicion concerning neat conclusion (140). The layout of her novel fits this description in the way she intertwines the lives of each characters into a complex plot. By separating everyone into their own sub-chapters she consistently calls into questions the significance of relationship between characters and broader themes. Another way this text functions as a postmodernist one is by confusing space and creating a sense of unreliability. For example, Gabriel teeters between Mexico and LA. Manzanar relies on highways for reliability, but even they are not reliable as a whole because unexpected crashes can create sudden change. Even the entire geographical landscape is changing. These elements are key ingredients for how postmodern texts use the signifier to instruct and critique.

2 Responses to Postmodernism

  1. garruzzoae February 16, 2016 at 11:54 pm #

    I’d agree that the lack of conclusion in Tropic of Orange is something that definitely had me linking it with postmodernism. My expectation was, I’m realizing, that by the end of the novel all of the main characters would have joined together into a single climactic scene that allegorized the battle between America and Mexico, between the virtual world of media and the magical world of traditional Mexico (as embodied in Rafaela and Arcangel). This scene would merge Manzanar’s conducting with Arcangel’s “performance art,” it would involve the infusing of Buzzworm’s street perspective into the cold detachment of Gabriel and Emi’s contributions to media, and it would show Bobby, Rafaela, and Sol united to epitomize the family unit that would be the foundation for all of the change that the novel was heralding.
    Such an ending would have been obscenely didactic, saccharinely hopeful. It would have tied a bow on the novel as if to say: dear reader, this is what I meant to tell you all along. So, obviously, it was better that this ending was avoided, but still with such a complicated plot I couldn’t help but feel letdown by the unfulfilled ending. Only Bobby, Rafaela, and Sol, it seemed, had an ending worth the name. The rest are up in the air, with Emi perhaps dying and Gabe having not even scratched the surface of the bizarre drug-orange and baby organ conspiracy.
    I suppose what I mean to say is I think that the “perfect” ending was rightly avoided, as if to suggest, with a nod to postmodernism, that no mess this great could all be resolved, but yet, at least for me, the structure of the story demanded more resolution, insofar as it developed tensions that seemed to be left without comment in the end. And, as opposed to writing perfect endings, leaving things without comment must be in contradiction to the dictates of the novel form, since the novel really is, by its nature, a prolonged comment in narrative form.

  2. Prof VZ February 22, 2016 at 12:34 am #

    “No mess this great could be resolved” indeed! I like how Yamashita worked against the grain of epic-scale endings (Manzanar is removed from the perch, chastened by death in the family; Arcangel simply, somehow dies; Gabe is lost in hypertext just as Emi is immortalized into a news clip showing her death on repeat). Each ending made the big-gesture didacticism that also accompanies the novel a bit more reasonable to me. Though thoroughly postmodern, the novel does tempt us with moments of utopian ideals–that’s it’s real strength, I think.

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