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Jean Know – „Where the Gods Fly“ Essay

“Being the new one”, haven’t we all tried that before? Being the new kid in school, or being the new employee at work. Then, imagine being new in a completely different country, where you have to start from zero. Making new friends, creating a network, learning a new language and also a whole new culture, is all very challenging and overwhelming factors, when moving to a new place.

This is actually the situation in Jean Know’s short story “Where the Gods Fly”, where a little family of three people emigrates from China to the USA, to create a new life by working and raising their daughter in school. In this short story, we hear about a mothers concern about, seeing her daughter being encapsulated in the Western culture. Whilst her husband, and father to their daughter Peal, is suffering from cancer. The parents of Pearl are working at a factory, and to avoid that Pearl would have to be home alone or stick around at the factory, they allow her to start dancing ballet. This gives their daughter a lot of unexpected success, and because they want Pearls to have a proper education and not live of dancing, they encourage her to quite dancing ballet.

Parts of this paper will focus on the structure of the short story, and the contrast between the two “worlds” that are represented in the story. The story does not have an introduction, which means that is starts in medias res “I kneel here before the gods and the thought of what I am about to do stings my eyes like incense.” This is actually the end of the story, so the rest of the story will be leading us to how everything has come to this point. The story is not told chronologically, I would rather say that it was written with flashbacks or some kind of memory, because we first hear of the mother’s childhood and religious background, and then we hear of their life in America. As mentioned, we first hear about Pearls mother’s roots, and then we hear about how their life in America are progressing.

The parents are working at the factory, and they do not have a lot time to spend with their daughter, we can see that in this sentence ”… her father and I spent our waking hours at the factory in Chinatown…” This means that Pearl stays home alone every day after school, and at some point her mother start to feel guilty not to raise her child properly. This is resulting in a scholarship for Pearl, so she doesn’t have to stay home alone all day, but is this really what Pearls mom want her daughter to do? Actually not, the only reason she does this is to avoid, that her daughter will visit her American friends, because her mom doesn’t understand the Americans. This is a huge problem for her, because on the one side she wants to raise her daughter well and create a good life for her, but on the other side she is not willing to adapt the American culture, and this is what creates her problem.

A huge contrast in this story is the contrast between the two cultures of China and America, where Pearl is trying to adapt the Western culture to make a new life and get accepted by her American friends, her mother tries to maintain her roots from growing up in China, and she is not willing to adapt the Western culture. In the story she talks about Pearls audition to the ballet school or scholarship, and here appears an obvious contrast of the two cultures, when Pearls mom says “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?”.

Another contrast in the story is between the old and new world. The mother says, “When I was a girl in China, I was not permitted to go to classes. Much of the learning I possess, I picked up through lingering at the table, pretending to dust or sweep, as my brothers studied.” This is a way of telling her daughter that one day, she one only has herself to rely on, so it is very important to Pearl to get a proper education and not only focus on dancing. But it is also a way of getting her daughter to something, that she never got the opportunity to do herself. As the story progresses Pearl is actually becoming what her mother doesn’t want her to become, and as her mother is busy taking care of her ill husband, they are slowly drifting apart.

In the end the mother says, “Buddhas, allow my daughter to understand some day why I take her greatest love away; I know this will be the blow that finally severs the already tenuous bounds between us.” Here she has come to the conclusion that it is the best thing for both Pearl and her to take her greatest love away, so that she can be just a normal girl. Because, the mother states that Chinese people like them doesn’t have to be something special, they just have to fit in. And by this we are back to the beginning where the big decision has been made, but wants her daughter to resist the winds of fate and get to the place where the gods fly.

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