Racism in Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie” Essay
Updated: Dec 2nd, 2020
Among other moral tragedies, racism occupies a prominent place since many people suffer from it both at external and internal levels. Prejudices based on ethnicity are particularly unfair and bitter because one’s race is not something one can choose. However, hearing scornful remarks from strangers is one thing, and enduring emotional contemptuousness from the closest people is another. In Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie,” the tragedy of racism is depicted within a multicultural family. Also, it is a tragedy of the society the influence of which can be too devastating to heal. “The Paper Menagerie” teaches the audience how ungrateful and cruel a child can become under the pressure of others and warns that frequently, people realize their mistakes too late, when they cannot change anything.
“The Paper Menagerie” is a story about the tragedy of racism because it depicts how unbearably difficult it is for someone to be different. People’s minds are constructed in such a way that the distinction in physical appearance inevitably leads to biased opinions, and frequently causes unfair treatment of others. However, the otherness is mostly ascribed to someone by individuals not belonging to their identity group rather than given by nature.
This is exactly the situation that occurred in the narrator’s family. His mother is the main victim of racism: it is not her fault that she is Chinese, but her son makes her feel terrible because of her ethnicity. The story is the embodiment of the racism tragedy because the closest people – a mother and her child – cannot get along.
The problem of racism is woven in “The Paper Menagerie” through the depiction of a multicultural family. It is not a common story of brutality where a gang of white youngsters beats up their African American peer. This tragedy is much deeper because it involves hatred of a child against his mother – the one who has given him life. And now, the boy seems to have forgotten all the sacrifices his mother made for him and all the good things she did for him.
He treats her only as someone whom his father “had picked <…>out of a catalogue” (Liu 27). The sad part about it all is that the son does not have any reasons to hate his mother except for the fact that she does not suit into the society in which he lives. Jack relishes his disgust and even admits that “contempt felt good” (Liu 27). However, the boy does not have any justification of his behavior and his cruel treatment of his mother.
The essence of the tragedy is that racism is not born in an outsider, but it grows in someone who is actually a part of the race he hates. At first sight, it seems that the story is a tragedy for the mother since she is the one who suffers from the mockery of her own child. The poor woman who had experienced many sad events in her life thought that she has finally found her happiness. Unfortunately, the source of that happiness grew up to become the most painful stab in her heart. When Jack asks his father, “Do I have a chink face?” it is obvious that he disgusts his mother and everything connected with her national identity (Liu 32). However, since the boy takes after his mother, it is also a tragedy for him. He wants to be similar to his peers, but the irony is that he cannot escape reality.
Racism denies the mother her son’s love, and it denies Jack the possibility to live the life he has always wanted. They are both unhappy, each in their own way and under different circumstances. The problem of a generation gap is a phenomenon known to many people, but the tragedy of multicultural relationships is known only to those who have such families. Jack is the reason why his mother has become deeply depressed, and he is also the main cause of his own uneasiness.
“The Paper Menagerie” tells a story of the tragedy of racism in the family where the child decides he does not want to be related to his mother. The problem is that he is already similar to her even though he refuses to admit it. Racism is represented by scornful remarks and bitter treatment, and it denies the participants of the argument some of the most cherished dreams. Therefore, the story serves as a warning sign to those who neglect sincere love while seeking acceptance from insignificant people.
Liu, Ken. The Paper Menagerie. N.d. Web.
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Updated: Dec 2nd, 2020 Among other moral tragedies, racism occupies a prominent place since many people suffer from it both at external and internal levels. Prejudices based on ethnicity are […]