The distance between a mother and a daughter can be as far as the distance between cultures. Where is the fine line between guidance and control? How far can you go as a mother, and do you always know what’s best for your child? In the short story “Where the Gods Fly” written by Jean Kwok, we meet a concerned Chinese mother dealing with a serious culture clash which affects both her and her daughter Pearl.
The narrator is a Chinese woman who has immigrated to America with her husband and her daughter, Pearl. It seems clear that the family haven’t chosen to move to America by their own interest, but because it has been necessary to get a job at the fabric. The little family lives under very poor conditions and the parents are not integrated neither with the language nor the American culture. The inability to speak English makes it even harder to adapt to the western culture and Pearl has to translate for her mother. The story is told with stream of consciousness. This gives us a great insight in her worries and thoughts but this also means that we only know the other persons from the mother’s impression and point of view.
Through her many worries and thoughts we quickly get an impression of the woman. She is very religious and as we first meet her she is kneeling before her gods seeking for forgiveness. The narrator and her husband are very hardworking, and spend all their waking hours at the fabric. She feels very guilty for not having the means and the time to give Pearl a decent childhood. As mentioned before, they spend all their time working at the fabric even though it leaves them with no time for themselves or their daughter but they do it all for Pearl’s sake. The narrator wants to provide Pearl with a good future and the last thing she wants her daughter to end up like, is the life she is living herself right now – a life on a fabric. _”…I saw her entire life pulled taut before her like thread – her thin fingers worn callused and red by years of sewing in the factory…”_ (P.1-2 l. 30-31)
The structure and the storyline of the short story are created around the narrator’s thoughts and flashbacks. It begins in a temple in present time where she is kneeling. Right after that her thoughts and conversation with herself takes us to another setting. These flashbacks give us a great foundation to understanding why she wants to stop Pearl from dancing. She often jumps from the present to the past, which can seem a little messy but also very realistic because thoughts don’t come chronological and it is as if we are inside her head. The breaks from the flashbacks are short but they are giving us a good insight of the atmosphere she is in during her thoughts: _”As I circle the room led by the drumming of the monks…” (P.4 l. 118)_
The biggest contrast we see in the story is the contrast between Chinese culture and Western culture. Each of them contains different social norms, ethical values, religion, traditions, etc. It is clear that she doesn’t fit into the society they live under “_I understood nothing of these people who did not bow to our gods and ate with sharp knives at the table.” (P.2 l. 37-39)_ Her religious visions are enlarging the gap between the two cultures and are also the overall reason why she will force her daughter to stop dancing.
She believes that it’s too much of a risk for her to let Pearl dance and to accept the scholarship. It’s not sustainable enough and not something she can grasp. She has grown up in another culture with different standards of society; therefore she has a hard time seeing Pearl in this foreign nature. Suddenly she can’t even recognize her own daughter and it terrifies her: “_…and I no longer recognized my daughter… I felt suddenly dizzy…” (P.4 l. 139 + 142-143)_
It is very clear throughout the whole story that she loves her daughter deeply, and that she only acts like she does to protect her and to help her grow. She knows what she is doing and have done to Pearl is hard, but she is fully convinced that it is the right thing to do: _”Help her to understand that all I have done, I have done because it was the only choice I had.” (P.1 l.24-25)_
A critical point in the relationship between her and Pearl is that she is not trying to adjust into the new culture. She is trying to force a totally different culture on Pearl and it is not realistic that she could live like she grew up in China. If Pearl grows up under the same conditions as in China and right after her mother’s head she will have an incredible hard time socialising with her friends and classmates. She will also have difficulties with growing up and creating her own life and raising her own children. Both the Americans and the narrator need to compromise. The Americans need to understand her situation and her values but she also needs to adapt by e.g. learning their language, which could end up being the bridge between the big culture gap.