Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“In the American Society” is about finding one’s place in society and trying to fit in. It also hints strongly at racism. Ralph and his wife are immigrants who have found some measure of success in life. They own a thriving business, they live in the suburbs in their own house, they own a car—outwardly they have all the trappings of being comfortably ensconced in their adopted society. Being accepted for who they are in the society is another thing.

The story is cleverly separated by the subheadings, “His Own Society” and “In the American Society.” The first half shows Ralph in his own restaurant, the milieu in which he is comfortable. In the setting of his thriving business, Ralph feels he has come into his own in the United States. His daughter Callie, the narrator, notes that now that he is a success, he is finally able to talk about his past in China. Because Ralph has taken care of the necessities, he is able to allow himself extravagance. In his restaurant and with his employees, he even likens himself to “that Godfather in the movie.”

The test of whether the Changs are fully accepted in their adopted society, however, comes when they leave the milieus of home and family business for environments that are beyond their control, environments that seem to have different sets of rules. At Mrs. Lardner’s, the Changs are strange, exotic specimens, present through the generosity of their patron-hostess. Callie is...

(The entire section is 562 words.)