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In the American Society

By Gish Jen



Gish Jen (b. 1955), a first-generation American and an award-winning author of short stories and novels, was born on Long Island to parents who had been educated in Shanghai (mother in educational psychology, father in engineering) and who had immigrated separately to the United States around the time of World War II. Influenced by her upbringing as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Jen funneled her childhood experiences and thoughts into her writing. This story, published in Southern Review in 1986, depicts the attempts of members of the Chang family to join American society.

What does joining American society mean to Ralph Chang? What does it mean to Mrs. Chang? To their daughters, Mona and Callie? How do the habits, attitudes, and beliefs that the Changs brought with them from China affect their ability to assimilate into American society? How do you explain Mrs. Chang’s interest in joining the country club, and what accounts for the outcome of her application? How is Mr. Chang affected by his relations with Booker and Cedric, his two illegal immigrant workers? What do you think of Mrs. Lardner’s inviting the Changs to her party? Can Mr. and Mrs. Chang ever become fully Americanized? Should they keep trying? What about their daughters? Will they fully assimilate? What cultural price, if any, would they have to pay to do so?

When my father took over the pancake house, it was to send my little sister Mona and me to college. We were only in junior high at the time, but my father believed in getting a jump on things. “Those Americans always saying it, “he told us. “Smart guys thinking in advance.” My mother elaborated, explaining that businesses took bringing up, like children. They could take years to get going, she said, years.

Read the story online at Google Books

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