Essay: Where the Gods Fly by Jean Kwok

‘We don’t belong here, I wanted to say, what do we simple Chinese know of these inhuman people with their impassive faces and elegant shoulders’? (p. 5 ll.137-138).
How can a person make such statement, when changing your final destination may gain something better in the end? As human beings, we have a constant need to hold on to what we define as safe, but in order to pursue happiness, some people must let go of these fundamental basics. Travelling to another country should be seen as a challenge, mostly because of the new language and culture, and especially the lack of family and friends.
The short story ‘Where the Gods fly’, written by Chinese American author Jean Kwok, is about a Chinese mother’s struggle to give her daughter, Pearl, the best life she can afford.
The mother and father have emigrated from Asia, and now work at a factory to provide for their only child. Their daughter attends school and has been offered a scholarship from a ballet school. As the story proceeds, ballet becomes an increasingly bigger part of Pearl’s life, and she becomes more and more disjointed from her parents.

In the beginning, it was the mother’s aim to allow her daughter to join the ballet, because they were not able to look after her when she was a small child. She was often left alone in the dark apartment: ‘I count the headlights passing until you come home’ (P. 2 ll. 19).
Throughout the story the reader gets an insight into the mother’s concerns and thoughts about her child’s future. She reminisces on her own childhood in China and somehow refuses to integrate into American society: ‘I understood nothing of these people who did not bow to our gods and ate with sharp knives at the table’ (P. 3 ll. 37-38).
The mother realises how much she misses her relationship with her daughter, and she wants her to have a proper education instead of wasting her time with her fellow students and dancing around. In the end, the mother decides to tell Pearl that she has to give up dancing.
The short story begins in medias res ‘I kneel here before the gods and the thought of what I am about to do stings in my eyes like incense’.
The story is structured in some sort of circle composition, because of the first sentences, which basically sums up the ending of the story. The rest of the following story focuses on how everything got to this point and the reasoning behind it.
The story is told by a first-person no omniscient narrator, who takes the reader through her memoir, which makes it difficult to track an exact and chronological timeline of the story, because the reader gets dragged into different memories all the time.

In the beginning of the story, the reader gets introduced to the mother, who seems to be a Buddhist and a firm practitioner of traditional Chinese culture. Her life seems to be based on religious values and Chinese culture: ‘[…] I think, and then, ashamed, immediately touch my forehead to the ground before the triple Buddhas’ (p. 2 ll.4-6).
She indicates her frustration and mistrust about the Americans by saying:’ But how could I trust people such as this? Perhaps they place the tall hat of flattery on your head while they are actually laughing when you turn your face away’, which is also the reason why she does not allow Pearl to visit anyone from her school.
In the story it seems like the mother dislikes the idea of becoming integrated into American society; her only duty is to raise a successful daughter and to put food on the table.

Another memoir is when the mother recalls her own childhood in China: ‘When I was a girl in China, I was not permitted to go to classes …the learning I possess, I picked through lingering at the table…as my brother studied’. She is desperately insistent on Pearl getting a proper education, because when her parents are no longer there, she will have no one but herself to rely on.
Another very clear contrast between the mother and the daughter are the new possibilities and the old locked childhood. The story indicates that in some way the mother seems to envy Pearl, because of all the opportunities and possibilities she has been offered by moving to another country.
The contrast of letting go and holding on is also portrayed in the story. The mother has to deal with a paradox, because she wants to give her daughter the best education, but in the end she refuses to let go of her perceptions of what is right and wrong. The mother has to adapt to the new surroundings if she wants to maintain her relationship with her daughter. The contrast between the Chinese and the American way of living and their interpretation of life becomes the biggest contrast described in the text.
Another contrast mentioned in the story is the difference between the good wind and the evil wind.
By referring to the ‘bad and evil wind,’ the mother tries to explain different types of influence. The good wind will come to those, who believe and worship their kind of Gods, such as Buddha. The evil wind belongs to those who don not, namely the Americans, according to the mother in the story.

By writing this short story, the author might have been trying to draw attention to the problem of integration. The mother intentionally accuses ‘the evil wind’ for the way her daughter is developing in America, instead of facing the fact that she is the real problem. The story points out the importance of letting go in order to improve your own life as a result of many new opportunities, such as learning a new language and to understand a different culture, even without giving up on your own religion.

Source: Essay UK -

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