Uses of Ghosts in Comfort Woman

Keller used ghosts and spirits, in this novel, in a very peculiar way. One way that Keller uses the paranormal world is to show the reader how separate the body and soul truly are from each other, although they are related to a certain point. Induk (the Birth Grandmother) was a comfort woman that Akiko used to take care of before she herself became enslaved in the world of vulgarity and pain. In the book, Keller describes Induk's death in great detail; "They brought her back skewered from her vagina to her mouth, like a pig ready for roasting. A lesson, they told the rest of us, warning us into silence.". Induk's death leads us to Akiko's enslavement. Her ghost continues to be a motif throughout the novel, coming to Akiko in dreams, premonitions and her trances. Akiko seems to think of the Birth Grandmother as her connection to her own spirit that she lost when she was twelve years old, the year the soldiers ruined her, and in a sense, stole her spirit. "My body moved on. That is why, twenty years after it left my spirit behind at the recreation camp, my body was able to have this baby."

In the story it is very obvious to the reader that Beccah is genuinely embarrassed by her mother and her strange premonitions. It seems as if throughout the story, Beccah i convinced that these spirits are cannibalistic, and only there to cause evil and pain in her and her mother's world. " It's not a matter of leaving you, but of retrieving something that i lost.", this quote was right after an attempted suicide by Akiko. Although to Beccah these ghosts are trying to thwart her and the only family she knows, the way Akiko, and i believe Keller, sees the ghosts, is to take Akiko over to another world, in an endeavor to ease the pain of her earlier life stuck in the camps, under the sweating soldiers.

One big issue that i could not shake from my mind, was the question of insanity. Granted sanity is often questioned in many ghost stories written, the presence of "trances" and surreal situations that the mother-daughter pair go through, make this novel a little more interesting in this sense. There is a part in the story where Beccah's mother believes Beccah to be the target of an evil spirit, and in reaction to this, puts a bloody chicken in a nightgown of Beccah's and throws it out the window in attempt to trick the ghost following her only offspring. This could, to many, seem like a psychological event, instead of a ghostly/spiritual one. I believe that the ghosts in Comfort Woman very well could have represented the negative impact of a traumatized childhood that Akiko was put through. Bringing us to the eventual psychological breakdown of both the mother and the daughter.

Another way that Keller uses ghosts is to relate their Korean heritage to the American world that Akiko and her daughter must now try to fit into. In Comfort Woman, Akiko mentions that America is like a dream, but then continues on to say that the dream she sees is empty, false and sterile. This is how out of place the family felt when they came to America. When Akiko and her husband are waiting in the lobby of the retirement home is, I think, the best description of the cultural difference that they must have felt; "...ancestors without descendants. It smelled like abandonment, and business and ghosts. It smelled like home." Akiko must have felt so abandoned by her own heritage that she would not commit to americanization, which is shown through her encounters with ghosts, and her spirituality. Which is not a normalcy in America today.

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