Gish Jen's "Who's Irish " This Research Proposal
Excerpt from Research Proposal :
This shows up most poignantly in her relationship with her granddaughter, the "mixed" child who causes the comment at the start of the story and who basically drives the plot of the story forward. The narrator has difficulty understanding her granddaughter Sophie's behavior, but only partially blames this on the way she is raised. Instead, the grandmother sees this mainly as a function of Sophie's mixed ethnic identity, saying that by the age of three "already I see her nice Chinese side swallowed up by her wild Shea side." The narrator tends to associate everything negative about her daughter and granddaughter with the Irish and American influences, while claiming that if they acted more Chinese things would get better. This shows that racism is not an issue related solely to this country, but that -- ironically -- it is actually a universal aspect of all cultures; a commonality that all peoples share.
One specific instance of this phenomenon is given when the Irish grandmother is speaking to the Chinese narrator. After she feels that her family's talk might have offended the narrator, the Irish grandmother attempts to reassure her by saying "I was never against the marriage, you know...I never thought John was marrying down. I always thought Nattie was just as good as white." The fact that she feels a need to tell the narrator this reflects
that the Irish woman has her own ethnocentric and racist thoughts; if Nattie (the daughter) were automatically as good as white, it wouldn't need to be said. Even the term "good as white" reflects the belief that white skin is the mark of higher class and/or a better race. Thus, in the moment when she is attempting to dispel any feelings of racism in the narrator, the Irish grandmother actually reveals her prejudices, again marking the strange way that the thoughts associated with prejudice that are normally considered divisive work in this story to bridge gaps and find commonalities.
In the end, the Chinese grandmother narrating the story finds that she has more in common with the Irish grandmother than she does with her own daughter and granddaughter. This suggests that there are in fact a lot more similarities between people of different cultures than differences. This is a fairly common theme in thought and literature, but the way it is illustrated in this story is especially interesting. Rather than simply pointing out the ways in which people are the same, the author creates memorable characters that reveal the similarities of their prejudices. The effect is to produce not only a more interesting and less preachy story than might be expected, but also to cause introspection and realization about secret prejudices in the mind of the reader.
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