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The theme in this poem is practicing injustice for a just cause.
Become a willing participant in injustice, can be seen in Jane Mirikitani's "Suicide Note." We come to understand that the speaker's parents have—knowingly or not—given their daughter to believe that she is, as national columnist and writer Dave Barry says, "not good enough," perhaps the result of placing her in a position of inferiority within a their social norms, which drove their daughter to take her life.
As an introduction to Mirikitani's poem, she wrote:
An Asian American college student was reported to have jumped to her death from her dormitory window...Her suicide note contained an apology to her parents for having received less than a perfect 4.0 GPA.
One may understand how the Asian (or Asian-American) parents of this woman expected her to excel: it is not unusual for Asian families to expect more than a casual effort in a child's scholastic endeavors. In wanting their child to achieve excellence, her failure to be perfect (receiving" less than a perfect 4.0 GPA") compels drives her to suicide. The "justice" the parents might have been wanting was a child whose academics would lead to greater success in life. The "injustice" is in their insistence that she be perfect. They are unjust in refusing to acknowledge her accomplishments—as she worked so very hard to please them:
I've worked very hard,
not good enough
harder, perhaps to please you.
It would seem than in pushing their daughter to do well, they forgot to actively convey to her a sense of value beyond her grades. The girl imagines that their first disappointment may have been that she was not a son—another value of Asian cultures (such as China) that places an ages-old need to have a male heir (based on socio-economic and religious norms). This is the young woman's perception:
If only I were a son...
I would see the light in my mother's
eyes, or the golden pride reflected
in my father's dream...
I would swagger through life...
drawing praises to me...
However, the speaker notes that she struggles a great deal. We can infer that her parents have, more often than not, offered only criticism:
Tasks do not come easily.
Each failure, a glacier.
Each disapproval, a bootprint.
ice above my river.
So I have worked hard.
not good enough.
Each time she has missed the mark of excellence expected by her parents, she has been met with their displeasure. When she failed, they were cold toward her; when she earned their disapproval, she felt as if they had stomped on her with their feet. And each time they conveyed disappointment in something she had done or not done, it froze her heart like ice on the river of her life. No matter what she did, it was not enough. Her desperation can be seen in her repeated apologies.
In trying to push their daughter to achieve, whether for success or for their own sense of pride (or both), they were unjust in failing to celebrate her for who she was and what she was able to accomplish. Whether done with conscious intent or unknowingly, the message Mirikitani sends is that a person is more than what they can do: they are valuable beyond the areas in which society finds acceptance. We must be wise in our sense of what is truly just—making sure we celebrate the entire person, rather than becoming advocates of injustice in our blind ambition to have others be what we want.
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