This essay explores the proccess of assimilating into the American society after a famiy moves to the USA from China in “In The American Society”, by Gish Jen. It also explores the irony in the title of the piece.
“In The American Society”, by Gish Jen, is a lurid portrayal of an Asian-American family who immigrated to the United States–addressing both the struggles and fortunes that America’s opportunities have offered the family as they leave their old life in China.
Now, the father must make something of himself and his family, in a time when America meant vast possibilities, but also being labeled as a foreigner. The mother in the story smugly declares, ” ‘But this is the U-S-of-A!’ “(542), proclaiming her pride in the opportunities accessible in her new home. Though, as the family begins to assimilate into the “American society”, they find that while success brings them respect and affluence, it may not automatically make them fit into the new culture.
The title itself is a direct inference to the transformation the family is forced to undergo.
The first half of the story is suitably entitled “His Own Society”, describing the family’s journey towards coming to terms with the American society. When the mother is thinking of joining the country club she states, ” ‘Your father doesn’t believe in joining the American Society. He wants to have his own society’ “(542). This line echoes the ever-present theme in the story of assimilation, and the father’s hesitation with adjustment.
For people who come from cultures that are significantly different from the freethinking America, the process of acculturation can be awkward and even caustic. In the story, the father opens his own pancake house, and the family begins to encounter success. They then attempt to fit into their new society by buying a station wagon and recliner: typical American items. Throughout the rest of this first section of the story you see the actual internal core of “His own society”: His work relations, friends, and family in both America and China. His Society works well for him–he’s successful and happy.
The second half of the story’s title is fitting as well: dubbed “The American Society”(548). This section is where you really see the heart wrenching depiction of the family’s attempt to fit into their new society. A symbolic image found in the account, that most directly represents the family’s integration into society is seen in the father’s clothing. It explains that the father, “has no use for nice cloths, and would wear only ten-year-old shirts, with grease-spotted pants, to show how little he cared about what anyone thought”(542). Yet, later in the story, he finds himself wearing an expensive suit to a country club affair. This sudden change shows the father’s eventual willingness to modify when left with no choice. Although at first he seems to blends in, one predicament sets off his insecurities and he launches his expensive jacket into the pool (550).
With this gesture, he seems to give up on The American Society and resort back to his own familiar one with his family–it was good enough for him. In actuality, I think that is truly the best thing about America: There isn’t really an “American Society”. We have so many diverse people and we are therefore free to choose our own society; the title of the story almost falsely suggests that there can be just one culture, while also satirizing the fact that some believe there to be one. The most interesting part of this story was that along the journey towards assimilation he finds that “His Own Society” was essentially the best one for him and his family to be members of, and that our country permits this because we have freedom, liberty, and justice for all!
Through this story, you follow the Asian-American family as they encounter struggles as well as luck, as they assimilate into the “American Society”. You meet the same turmoil that the family stumbles upon as they enter a completely new world. The title suggests that there is an exact way to act while living in the American society, but as Jen depicts the father’s own society, readers come to realize that this unique society works just as well.