A theme statement in a single correlative line defines; simultaneously the central concept of the poem as well the readers own individual interpretation. The racial embarrassment of the protagonist as a result of living in the midst of the dominant culture and her subsequent acceptance of her own culture after reaching maturity. The social issue related to the story is one of culture. The American society is forked into many culture most of which are immigrant cultures. With the native culture assuming the dominant role the other culture are subjectified in their mutual power relations.
The occasion is Christmas Eve dinner – a classic American tradition. This is juxtaposed with Chinese cooking. In the protagonist’s opinion they are absolutely immiscible causing her embarrassment. Instead of roast turkey and potatoes there is steamed fish with tofu and prawns. And accompanying the food are manners that are an equal embarrassment. Ironically all the food prepared was the character’s favorite. The survival of the minor culture in the presence of the principal becomes very difficult especially if flavored with sense of shame.
That is the crux of the exposition that the narrator seeks to make. The need for acceptance especially in the land of displacement might be strong especially to bolster one’s identity but the nostalgic remembrance of that core identity that defines oneself keeps one grounded and the narrator finally achieves that in her journey through the short story. The imagery of the beige skirt and the steamed fish defines many of the characters and becomes central to the plot of the story.
The skirt symbolizes the narrator’s need to blend in with the new American identity while the steamed fish is her conflict in balancing her identity that she cannot escape from. Her family is comfortable in their cultural identity embracing the other with their own customs and idiosyncrasies. But the narrator on the pangs of teenage crush cannot help but be mortified. Her parents understand the need for the cover but they equally stress the urgency of accepting their own culture. The cover might be good enough but in the long run one is only as good as the substance inside.
The minister and his son Robert represent the dominant culture that create unease in the narrator’s life. They also present the reality that the narrator had to face sooner or later. And though at the moment she didn’t realize the significance of that evening with its varied symbols, the evening festered in her unconscious until it finally caught up with her in her adulthood. With the lenses tinged with maturity Amy realizes and accepts. She looks from outside-in accepting the cultural baggage and its implications and strikes a balance with the two sides of her social life. ?