Being a descendant of an American immigrant culture allows for the ability to easily recognize the struggle of changing one’s lifestyle to that of a new society but not forgetting one’s roots from which one comes from. Gish Jen’s portrayal of this conflict in “Who’s Irish?” is revealed by a grandmother who tells the story as a first person narrator. With the story’s premise being the struggle of transition from one culture to another, the grandmother being the first person narrator can be used to facilitate and describe the struggle involving misunderstanding, compassion, and conflicts that occur in the process of adapting ones culture to a new society.
Using the grandmother’s point of view, Jen is able to easily communicate the grandmother’s ideas and outlook on the transition from her culture to the new society, the American society. Misunderstandings between the grandmother and her daughter, who have already adapted to the new American society, occur because of her contradicting way of thinking due to the ways of her culture.
Because of these misunderstandings revealed throughout the story, the reader is able to judge for themselves when the grandmother is being, in some respect, naï¿½ve. Also, due to her apparent misunderstanding, the tone seems to show that the grandmother views herself as being right all the time. Because of this tone, the grandmother may not be portrayed to the reader as the innocent immigrant that she is initially revealed as to the reader.
The trials and tribulations put in front of the grandmother throughout the story reinforce the reader’s compassion for the grandmother.
Her constant struggle with her daughter and her unemployed husband become embarrassing for her. Her struggle to comprehend the fact of unemployment is displayed when she says, “I especially cannot understand my daughter’s husband John, who has no job but cannot take care of Sophie either. Because he is a man, he say, and that’s the end of the sentence.” (Meyer, 162) Also, her granddaughter’s display of awful, disrespectful conduct seems to consume her ability to resist physical punishment. For instance, when she says, “Still Sophie take off her clothes, until one day I spank her.” (Meyer, 165) Her natural instinct to display her Chinese culture tends to consume her ability to display her American side creating a conflict that makes it hard for the reader not to be compassionate with the grandmother’s situation.
The conflict that is attempting to be portrayed is established early in the story, and continues to be quite apparent as the story continues. The grandmother’s accent becomes an obvious clue to the reader that she will have a difficult time making the transition to the American society. The grandmother’s accent is just one example of how the diction in the story is used to portray the struggle of understanding the grandmother. The lack of the traditional Chinese mother-daughter relationship that she is familiar with becomes evident of the conflict the grandmother is experiencing. For example, she mentions, “In China, daughter take care of mother. Here it is the other way around. Mother help daughter, mother ask, Anything else I can do?” (Meyer, 162) Also, the inability to understand the idea of unemployment is new to her and she is put right into that situation with her daughter’s husband. The climax and falling action ends the story with a split between her and her family leading to her expulsion from her daughter’s life.
This struggle of transition can be felt by many in the American society because the American society was built upon and continues to be built upon new immigrant cultures. This story displays this struggle through the viewpoint of a conflicted immigrant including the misunderstanding, the compassion, and the conflicts that occur. The reader’s ability to feel and experience the narrator throughout the story was essential in Jen’s portrayal of the struggle of transition to a new society that is unlike the culture the narrator is already accustom to.