Narrative Analysis on "Confessions of a Stupid Haole"
Yokanaan Kearns's short story "Confessions of a Stupid Haole" explores the broad and multifaceted issue of cultural integration in the United States. The plot scenario for the story involves a Harvard professor who loses her job and returns home so that she can bid her dying grandmother farewell. Additionally, the heroine, Yap, has lost her position as professor and will need to move in with her parents until she can find new employment. There are many ways in which the failure of cultural integration manifests, and the first is names. Another of the sources of conflict centers on the fact that she is unable to get along with her family, as they resent her for losing her job despite the fact that her termination was conducted through no fault of her own. The heroine also has difficulty interacting with others in her native Hawaiian culture, which treats her as a foreigner since she had lived in the mainland United States for the better part of the preceding decade. However, not only is she unable to get along with those in her native culture, but the protagonist has difficulty coexisting with the residents from the mainland United States as they perceive her to be a foreigner. Finally, the last example of the lack of cultural integration is reflected in the structure of the story itself, as Yap ultimately exists caught between two cultural groups, neither one of which will accept her.
Because Yap experiences prejudice at the hands of both the residents of the mainland United States and those of her native Hawaii, one of the main themes of the story involves cultural integration. For the purposes of this story, cultural integration refers to the ability to coexist with others within a cultural group without experiencing any form of prejudice or ostracizing. Cultural integration is an especially pertinent topic with regard to Hawaiians because they are often confused with being Asian and come from a geographic locale that is closer to the Asian Pacific than to the mainland United States.
One of the largest manifestations of cultural integration in "Confessions of a Stupid Haole" involves the use of names. Because Hawaiians constitute a minority group in the United States (even if they are not recognized as such) the story addresses the way in which they have been marginalized by mainstream American culture. However, the story also describes the ways in which the indigenous Hawaiians discriminate against the mainland Americans. Indeed, the story takes its title from a derogatory title that the native Hawaiians use when referring to the residents of the mainland United States. The story even begins with a description of Greg, a well-known acquaintance of the protagonist who stays with vacations in Hawaii and relies on the attention of Yap, who also serves as the narrator.
The story is narrated with a sense of deprecatory humor, which is humorous when directed at her and slightly vicious when directed towards others. The instances of humor are associated with cultural prejudice, and the story even begins with an instance of derogatory humor. Greg, who the narrator considers to be a haole, is referred to by Yap as such: "Polite discourse is a language as unintelligible to him as Pidgin is going to be the moment he leaves the linguistic safety of the airport and ventures onto the streets of Honolulu" (117). By describing Greg as hopelessly out of place in Hawaii, Yap reveals a cultural prejudice against mainland Americans, as though they are completely incapable of even attempting to integrate within her native culture.
The lack of cultural integration also stems from the mainland Americans when interacting with Yap, as they treat her as though she were Asian, despite the fact that she was born a United States citizen. In one sequence, the narrator applies for a mortgage loan and one of the questions involves her race and ethnicity (121). While filling out the form, there is no option for Chinese-Hawaiian-Irish, which is Yap's full racial profile. The form therefore does not even recognize Chinese-Hawaiians as a cultural group, considering them no different from the "Asians" who live in a separate continent. In another scene, Yap arrives to vote and is told that only United States citizens are allowed to vote, despite the fact that she is a citizen of the country. Yap states that "Being the only woman in town with slanted eyes and a funny name like Yap, no doubt I confirmed the townfolks' worst fears that Cambodians with drug money were moving out to the suburbs" (123). The story reflects the way in which names are a crucial aspect of cultural identity, as minorities are identified superficially on the basis of their appearance.
The cultural ignorance inflicted upon the narrator is not only due to the mainland Americans but also the native Hawaiians. Yap recalls an instance from elementary school where her cousin Kelvin bullied a Haole classmate; she states that Kelvin "liked to terrorize Timmy Franklin, the only Haole in the class" (127). The treatment of Franklin -- making him feel like a cultural outsider -- is no different from the way in which Yap herself is treated by both the mainland American and Hawaiian cultures. After arriving from the airport, the clerk at the rental desk states that clerk mentins that he assumed Yap came from mainland America, despite the fact that she was raised in Hawaii. No matter whether she is in mainland America or Hawaii, each culture assumes that she comes from a foreign region, reflecting an inability to openly embrace cultural diversity.
Another aspect of cultural integration that surfaces in "Confessions of a Stupid Haole" is that the acts of prejudice are all banal, everyday occurrences. There is no riveting climax or cultural showdown between the mainland American and Hawaiian ethnic groups. Instead, the acts of prejudice are better conceived of as micro-aggressions, small-scale events that nevertheless reflect cultural ignorance. For example, while driving her car on the freeway in Hawaii, a native Hawaiian speeds up beside the narrator and refers to her as a "Stupid Haole" (127). Although the instance is largely trivial, it aggravates the narrator and serves as part of the title of the story. Kearns thus shows how cultural prejudice manifests even in situations that appear inconsequential.
Yap's inability to get along with her family represents another form of cultural integration. When Yap returns home to Hawaii, no family member greets her, and her mother does not even take a break from putting away groceries. The only family member with whom Yap has a strong rapport is her grandmother, Popo, who is ready to die at the conclusion of the story. The fact that the grandmother is dying also suggests that the narrator will not have any familial support after the grandmother dies. In her last exchange with her grandmother (which serves as the final passage of the story), Yap refers to herself as a "stupid haole," the same phrase used by the driver in the car on the freeway. The fact that Yap identifies herself as a "stupid haole" suggests that she actually considers herself to be as much a member of mainland American culture as native Hawaiian culture, reflecting the way she has been marginalized by her family. Cultural integration often refers to one's attempt to integrate into a foreign culture, but in the case of the narrator, she is unable to assimilate within either her second culture (mainland America) or that of her native Hawaii.
Lack of cultural integration also manifests through the narrative structure of the story itself. Specifically, the narrator tells the story in a fragmented, vignette structure that shifts in location and time. The story begins in an airport in Hawaii in the present tense,…