The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity
Winnifred Eaton, better known under her Japanese pseudonym, Onoto Watanna, was of English and Chinese heritage, but born and raised in Canada. She published over a dozen novels and hundreds of short stories, magazine articles, and screenplays during the first half of the twentieth century. Her romances featuring Japanese and Eurasian heroines sold widely. However, by the time of her death in 1954, most of her books were out of print. Winnifred (unlike her sister, the better-known writer Edith Eaton) has been a troubling figure for Asian Americanists. She attempted to disguise her ethnic heritage, writing under a Japanese pen name, and in legal documents, she usually claimed a white racial identity. Scholars have noted her use of Orientalist stereotypes in her novels, and even though she depicted a broad range of non-Asian characters - such as Irish maids and cowboys - her pottrayals often relied on the accepted stereotypes of the day. Rather than dismiss her characterizations as evasions of the topics that readers today wish she had explored, Jean Lee Cole asks why Winnifred Eaton may have chosen the subjects she did. Cole shows that the many voices Eaton adopted reveal her deep preoccupations with American identity as a whole. The author attempts to reconcile all of these voices, examining how Winnifred survived in a climate hostile to minority writers in the early twentieth century, and how her seemingly anomalous works conjoin Asian American and American literary history.