Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“In the American Society” is a lively and humorous story. The narrator seems to be chuckling to herself when she tells it. There are many comic turns and hilarious situations, and it is filled with an assortment of zany individuals. Although it is primarily about the Changs, the side attractions are just as integral. One such subplot is that concerning Ralph’s experiences with Booker and Cedric. Booker and Cedric’s joint farewell letter is sheer comedy, from its appearance after they have availed themselves of Ralph’s largess to its many misspellings and overall naïveté. The cast of pancake-house characters is similar to the cast of a situation comedy—one can easily picture Ralph being godfatherly and tyrannical in turn, as his staff members add color to the scene.

Although the party carries negative undercurrents, there is a parallel hilarity to it. The narrator’s tone of voice seems to be matter-of-fact, but it is always edged with irony. The narrator does not need to name the negative, but she conveys her meaning through description and dialogue. The well-placed phrase then speaks volumes. For example, at the end of the story, when the Chang family decides to wait out Mrs. Lardner’s party at the pancake house, Mona moans that they will have to “dive for them.” She is probably rolling her eyes when she says this, but it captures the Changs’s debut in the American society—as performing seals.

In the American Society Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Huang, Betsy. “The Redefinition of the ’Typical Chinese’ in Gish Jen’s Typical American.” Hitting Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian-American Cultural Criticism 4, no. 2 (1997): 61-77.

Huang, Susan Sucher. “Gish Jen.” In Asian/American Short Story Writers: An A to Z Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Jen, Gish. “Racial Profiling.” Time, August 18-25, 2003.