Monday, February 5, 2007

On The Interpreter

The friction that Kim illustrates with Suzy is twofold. On the one hand is her love life and how her status as a Korean-American woman influences the way she is perceived and, more importantly, treated with respect to her romantic endeavors. The second part is obviously Suzy's job as an interpreter, which helps Kim explicate the problem of racial identification through language.
Suzy is presented as a sexually inexperienced woman, in contrast to her sister Grace who has, at least in Suzy's mind, a much more developed sexuality. Suzy, under the Korean upbringing that her parents enforced, was not allowed to date or even go to school-sponsored dances, as evidenced by pg 53 in The Interpreter ("...In Korea, he said again, girls stayed clean, as girls should. Under Dad's 'Korean girl' rules, nothing was allowed: no lipstick, no eye shadow, no hair dye, no perm, no perfume, no miniskirts, no cigarettes, and absolutely no boys, especially American boys..."). The fact that Suzy's father maintains his strict rules with respect to his daughters may be a testament to their Korean ancestry, but also has to do with his personal beliefs; not every Korean father holds their offspring to such restrictive standards, and while there are certain traditions and habits inherent in Korean upbringing, the retardation of Suzy's sexual experience may well speak more to Suzy's father than Suzy herself. However, her sister Grace was able to maintain a social life and, unlike Suzy, was able to maintain relationships (some sexual) with boys throughout high school. The text mentions that Grace was more attractive than Suzy, which could also explain the discrepancy. Regardless, Suzy was very naive entering her first true relationship: the affair with Damian, a married man much older than Suzy herself. The fact that her relationship with Damian is brought up so frequently illustrates two things: that Damian had a some kind of impact on Suzy's life (which is evident) and also how Suzy's Korean upbringing and heritage played into her interactions with Damian. He was married to her professor, a Japanese woman named Yuki Tamiko, at the time when he and Suzy became involved romantically. As both Damian's wife and Suzy are both Oriental, we are able to see a parallel in the way Damian views women. Obviously he has a penchant for Oriental women, but also sees them as interchangeable, as shown by the way he simply interposes Suzy onto the image of his wife and vice versa. In return Suzy, who sexually is very sheltered, finds herself exploited and used as a sexual object by a man much older, and experienced, than herself.
Suzy's job as an interpreter is a very intelligent way for Kim to shed light on the issue of association with differing cultures when raised against the societal norm. When in trial, Suzy contemplates the problem of feeling beholden to her fellow Koreans whom she translates for while upholding her position with respect to the laws of the courtroom ("...But the interpreter, as much as her heart might commiserate with her fellow native speaker, is always working for the other side. It is this idiosyncrasy Suzy likes. Both sides need her desperately, but she, in fact, belongs to neither. One of the job requirements was no involvement: Shut up and get the work done. That's fine with her. Except it doesn't go as smoothly as that. Suzy often finds herself cheating..." pg 15). I appreciated the deftness with which Kim brings together the opposing ideas of cultural fidelity and loyalty to the law and her job; when the time comes for her to translate for Mr. Lee, she asks him questions that pertain to her own interests and does not uphold her position of interpreter. Although Suzy justifies her transgression by saying that she has kept her line of questioning to things that truly "matter" in the case, it is a clear violation of her job. What is more interesting, however, is the idea that she is the liaison between two opposing cultures and that her word is all that holds together the relationship between the two parties. Through the foil of Suzy's job, Kim is able to depict the conflict that Suzy feels within; being held as representative of the Korean race while still submitting to the laws and rules of the ruling (see: white) culture. Pretty interesting stuff.


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