Found Identity: A Study of Ocean Vuong's "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous"

Summer 2020

Anthony Principe-Contreras : English

Donor: Anselm A&H Fund
Mentor: Professor Dorothy Hale

My research focuses on Ocean Vuong's 2019 novel "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous." Vuong incorporates the epistolary form--narrated by his protagonist, Little Dog, to his mother--to elucidate how Little Dog explores his identity in 21st-century New England as the son of a Vietnamese immigrant. My research will consider how Vuong's novel integrates scholarship from post-colonial studies, queer and gender studies, and most notably, studies of the novel form. By examining the novel through this diversified lens, I will argue that its contents mimics the social conditions we see in America today and how its ethics creates an affective location for future readers to judge its success. Because the novel involves experiences of Little Dog's exploration of his sexuality, masculinity, hereditary trauma, and the American-immigrant experience, the novel carries political weight and allows for a reexamination of what we expect from "The Great American novel." This process will develop into how the novel can be utilized as a form of ethical inquiry and how it becomes a product of the culture.

To the Anselm A&H Fund, the amount of thanks and appreciations are endless in helping me to fund my research over the summer. If someone were to ask me two years ago where I would be and what progress I would make, I would not have answered that I would be at UC Berkeley doing research in the study of my interest. As a way of introducing myself, I'll begin by sharing that I am a low-income transfer student from Sacramento, CA. I am also the first in my family to go to college. What SURF provided for me was a space to truly hone what I'm passionate about and something, I believe, I cannot live without: which are literature and literary criticism. Niche, perhaps. A devotion, certainly. My hope in taking the research I did over the summer for SURF and the thesis I plan to write in Fall 2020 will allow me to hone and prioritize my interests and to further this energy into graduate school. With due diligence and a little luck, I plan to make this hope a reality. Thank you again and hope you're doing well and staying safe wherever you are.