Study Guide

In the American Society

by Lillian Jen

In the American Society Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The Changs are a Chinese American family on track in the pursuit of the American Dream, which is also, in Ralph Chang’s case, the immigrant dream. They are newly prosperous because the pancake house in which Ralph and his wife have invested to secure their daughters’ college educations in the future is doing handsomely. Ralph has never felt so secure and expansive. He revels in his new role as benevolent dictator over his staff, not quite grasping the fact that his style of management is too much to take for many of his workers.

Mrs. Chang and their two daughters, Callie and Mona, have plans of their own. To them, one measure of their success in their new American society would be membership in the local country club. Although Mrs. Chang is pragmatic enough to realize that joining the club is not totally practical, she cannot help but aspire to membership. The biggest drawback, she and the girls realize, would be that Ralph would be forced to wear a jacket to dinner there.

Ralph’s overbearing management style soon leaves the restaurant drastically understaffed. When the only applicant for a job is an undocumented Taiwanese student named Booker, Ralph hires him. There are petty jealousies among the staff, and when a disenchanted former worker divulges to the immigration authorities that Ralph is hiring illegal aliens, Ralph has to answer to the immigration agency. Fortunately, it turns out that it was not illegal to have hired aliens, and Ralph, in his well-meaning meddlesomeness, posts bail for his illegal help, Booker and Cedric. Ralph glows with self-righteous satisfaction until a note is discovered from Booker...

(The entire section is 672 words.)