115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Shrinking Body on the Boundaries Between Life and Death

Sunmin Lee, Ewha Womans University (Republic of Korea)

In this paper, I will argue that the definition of posthuman identity is a problem of how people position themselves in nature by comparing Han Kang’s Vegetarian and Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child.


This paper aims at researching the definition of posthuman identity in relation to nature, by comparing Han Kang’s Vegetarian and Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child. Starting by observing how two protagonists in those two novels are related to nature provides us with an important key for defining posthuman identity. Interestingly, while these two protagonists portray a definition of identity supported by E.H Erikson’s and linked to the realization that human-beings have a sense of unity with the other or the world, their ways to claim their identity are totally different. For example, while communicating with nature, Bride experiences a healing process and claims her identity in this world by positioning herself as a part of nature, namely to continue living further. But Young Hye, for her part, experiences a kind of life force by painting her body with flowers, trees and decides to die by positioning herself as nature, itself and erasing the boundaries between the human-being and nature or between self and the other. As a result, we can fine that posthuman identity is a problem of where we position ourselves in relation to nature symbolizing the others.

In order to show the process whereby identity is being claimed, the two writers, Toni Morrison and Han Kang, use the metaphor of a shrinking body. The more their bodies become shrinking, the more they are close to nature. For example, Young Hye decides to be a vegetarian and ends up refusing to eat any food. As a consequence, she becomes nothing but skin and bones. The more she became skinny, the more she wants to be a tree, itself. Interestingly, this image of a shrinking body appears in God Help the Child. After breaking up with Booker, the body of Lula Ann Bride starts shrinking and becoming like that of a little girl. As a little girl, she communicates with nature and gets insight to live with others harmoniously. Through the process of their bodies becoming a childish body, Young Hye and Bride find their identities and decide whether to go on living or to die. Young Hye chooses to die but Bride chooses to live. While Young Hye chooses to be nature by herself and extends her identity into death by erasing the boundaries the self and the other, Bride chooses to be a human being as a part of nature and gets her identity into life.

Thus, in this paper, I will analyze two characters by comparing their trauma and the healing process while arguing that posthuman identity building is confronted with challenging variations in-between life and death and with time to deal with such matters. Even though these two novels do not suggest any solution, they show how posthumans claim their identities, on the boundaries between life and death, by erasing the boundaries the self and the other.

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