In Trying to Find Chinatown, why did Hwang write the stage directions below, and what comment does it make about the discussion of the characters?
David Henry Hwang's Trying to Find Chinatown: Stage Direction:
The second-to-last stage direction (not counting "end of Play") ends: "As the music contunues, does it slowly begin to reflect the influence of Chinese music?"
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The charcters are discussing the significance of ethnicity in shaping one's identity. In the previous scenes of the play, Ronnie, the "biological" and "authentical" Asian between the two characters, has been continuously put to shame by Benjamin's knowledge of Asian American history and traditions. Benjamin is Caucasian in appearance and he's Asian American only because he was adopted by an Asian American family, the Wongs. In the speech that precedes the stage direction, Ronnie talks about the history of American music and the contribution of European immigrant artists to it. As he speaks, he plays examples of the genres he mentions. He feels more connected to these different ethnicities than he does to his Chinese heritage and history: "What can I say if the banging of a gong or the clinking of a pickax on the Transcontinental Railroad fails to move me (. . .)?" (292). Ronnie thus subscribes to the melting-pot belief that being American means being a combination of all the different ethnicities that compose the nation. Yet, as Ronnie's performance becomes influenced by Chinese music, we hear Benjamin's response to Ronnie's view of ethnicity. The fact that Ronnie becomes influenced by Chinese music points to his own cultural heritage that will always be with him, no matter he tries to distance himself from it.
Benjamin has finally found the Chinese ghetto, the place where his late father was born. Although he swore never to return to his birthplace, "he had, this day, in the thoughts and memories of his son" (293). In his last monologues, Benjamin invokes the different parts and dialects that make up Chinatown, in a symmetrical evocation to Ronnie's different musical styles. Benjamin concludes feeling the spirit of his father returning to "this place" which his ghost and the dutiful hearts of all his descendants would always call home" (293). Benjamin's monologue thus celebrate the importance of roots and his final lines are directed to "all those lost souls, denied this most important of revelations: to know who they truly are" (293). These obviously include Ronnie who had concluded his monologue about music saying: "Does it have to sound like Chinese Opera before people like you decide I know who I am?" (292). The play thus stresses the importance of ethnicity in shaping one's identity, reworking that potentially exclusive category in more inclusive cultural terms rather than simply biological ones.
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