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Sites UnseenArchitecture, Race, and American Literature$
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William A. Gleason

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780814732465

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814732465.001.0001

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Keyless Rooms

Keyless Rooms

Frank Lloyd Wright and Charlie Chan

(p.149) 4 Keyless Rooms
Sites Unseen

William A. Gleason

NYU Press

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.

Keywords:   architectural racialization, American Orientalist Narrative, Charlie Chan, Earl Derr Biggers, Orientalist representation

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