Donald Duk presents characters in positions similar to the ones they occupy in Chin’s earlier works, but the novel reverses the characteristics of those that hold the positions. Specifically, his short stories and plays show a young Chinese American man who is constructing a viable tradition to put in place of the soul-destroying one given him by America; this construction is interfered with by a father figure, who may be a media image, such as Charlie Chan, who perpetuates the hurtful culture. In Donald Duk, however, it is the father who has located the viable, laudable tradition and the son who fights against it.
This change in who plays what role can be seen as accounting for the changed tone and even changed writing style of the novel. Chin’s earlier works, which showed protagonists battling tenaciously but mostly unsuccessfully for an acceptable heritage while being dragged down by their American cultural baggage, moved spasmodically and ended inconclusively. Donald Duk, in which a workable Chinese American identity has already been established by the father and his peers, has a more linear, progressive plot, with the leading character following a clear trajectory.
The hero of the book, Donald, has been turned against Chinese traditions by the influence of the nearly all-white special school that he attends. He is so indifferent to his ethnic culture that he wantonly destroys one of the model planes his...
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