Frank Lloyd Wright and Charlie Chan
This chapter dissects the strategies of architectural racialization in popular American Orientalist narrative, which often collapses differences among Asian nations and ethnicities into a single category of “Oriental otherness.” The aim is to illustrate how a novel like Earl Derr Biggers' The House without a Key—the first of his Charlie Chan novels—attempts to destabilize that racialization. It argues that Biggers' text not only deliberately confronts the typical spaces of “Oriental” popular fiction, but also enlists a new set of structures and metaphors surprisingly compatible with the Asian-influenced aesthetics nurtured by the importers of Asian-themed furnishings. While focusing on the spaces and objects with which Biggers surrounds the character of Charlie Chan, the chapter claims that even as The House without a Key tries to revamp popular notions of “Oriental” spatial and decorative identity, it cannot entirely escape the strictures of Orientalist representation.
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