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Who's Irish? by Gish Jen

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Linda Dixon

on 27 January 2016

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Transcript of Who's Irish? by Gish Jen

"Who's Irish?" by Gish Jen
The Life of Gish Jen
Gish Jen was born as Lillian Jen in Long Island, New York on August 12, 1955
Was given the nickname "Gish" after the actress Lillian Gish
Grew up in Queens, moved to Yonkers, and then moved to Scarsdale all before she was a teenager
Her parents emigrated from China in the 1940s
Background Continued
Gish Jen graduated from Harvard University in 1977 with a Bachelor's Degree in English
She completed her Master's Degree at the University of Iowa in 1983
She has written four novels, a collection of short stories, and a volume of lectures
Historical Background of the work
Who's Irish?
was published in 1999, and as the time period was not specified, the reader can assume that the story is set in the 90s. The story demonstrates the struggle between the traditional Chinese values of those who immigrated to the United States, and the contrasting beliefs of those who were raised in American culture.
The short story follows the story of an elderly Chinese woman who lives with her daughter, Natalie, her Irish son-in-law, John, and the couple's wild daughter, Sophie. The narrator insists that in order to discipline the child, spanking would be permitted, but the woman's daughter and her husband do not condone that kind of discipline as they embrace the modern style of hands-off parenting. During one afternoon, the narrator takes Sophie to play in the park, where Sophie kicks her friend, Sinbad's mother. The elderly woman spanks her granddaughter, and the young girl hides in a fox hole. John and Natalie find the two at the park and are furious to see that the narrator had spanked their daughter. The couple convinces the narrator to move out of their house. Bess, John's mother, offers to let the narrator come stay with her. Natalie and John come and visit but they do not bring Sophie, and Bess says that they will bring her after some time. The story ends with the narrator reflecting on how she has become an honorary Irishwoman.
Major Characters and their roles
- the narrator of the story is Natalie's mother and Sophie's grandmother. She represents the values and customs of the old country.
- Sophie is the narrator's granddaughter, and John and Natalie's daughter. By being biracial, she represents the blend between the old country and the United States. She functions as a foil for the grandmother as she is very similar to her grandmother in intelligence, stubborness, and wit, but her rebellious nature contrasts the narrator's conservativeness.
Literary Device #2
Literary Device #1
Characters continued
- Natalie is the narrator's daughter and the mother of Sophie. Her parenting style is more liberal than that of her mother, and she represents the new country and its unique modern culture.
- John is Natalie's husband and Sophie's father. His character functions as the anchor tying Natalie to her American culture, while fulfilling the American stereotype.
- Bess is John's mother, and Sophie's paternal grandmother. She is a symbol of her heritage, and her acceptance of the narrator into her Irish culture conveys the idea that America is truly a melting pot of people, customs, and values.
Cultural Diction- Diction is an author's specific word choice when writing a story. Gish Jen uses a specific type of diction, cultural diction, in "Who's Irish?" She specifically employs the use of broken English to further characterize the narrator who is a Chinese immigrant.
- the narrator of the story is an elderly Chinese woman living in America with her daughter.
- the prominent occasion in the piece is the narrator's trip to the park with Sophie, and the spanking incident.
- the audience for this piece is the general public, but more specifically culturally blended families like the one in the story.
- the purpose of the piece is to convey the idea that although you can leave your homeland, you can never get rid of your roots.
- the subject of the short story is the differing methods of discipline executed by the narrator and her daughter.
- the tone of this piece is informative, as it enlightens the audience to the cultural differences between the narrator and her family.
Characterization and Point of View
"I say, You people too picky about what you sell" (Jen 1251).
When she say no one to turn to, she mean me" (Jen 1257).

These quotes are just two examples of the cultural diction that Gish Jen uses in her short story. Immediately upon reading the first few lines the reader can identify that the story is narrated with an immmigrant perspective. The diction characterizes both the overall story as well as the characters in the story. The diction gives more detail about the narrator than anything else, and it allows for the story to make sense with her specific background.
Characterization and point of view are important in any story, especially when developing characters.
Point of view determines the perception and execution of a story, whereas characterization is simply how an author describes characters. Gish Jen specifically uses these devices in her story "Who's Irish?" to convey her characters' story and background through the narrow views of the narrator.
"Even his name is plain boiled: John" (Jen 1252).
"In China, we talk about whether we have difficulty or no difficulty" (Jen 1253).
Characterization and point of view work hand in hand in order to convey the story's meaning. The very traditional Chinese grandmother, who is the narrator, is extremely judgemental and harsh when observing her daughter's life choices. The way she describes both John and her granddaughter, Sophie, further adds to this judgement. The choice of diction, point of view, and characterization all work together to develop the work as a whole. There is a lot of culture in this story and these literary devices are what convey that thematic idea of cultural differences in mutiple generations.
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