Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Since Donald Duk deals with themes of initiation, coming-of-age, and search for identity, it can be viewed as a Bildungsroman, a novel of growth and education. Chin focuses on the physical, emotional, and psychological development of the protagonist. At the beginning of the novel, Donald is wallowing in self-contempt. He hates his name and his Chinese looks. He even walks through Chinatown waddling like his cartoon namesake. His father instructs him to straighten his slouching shoulders to improve his physical posture. When gang members laugh at his name and try to take his pants off, he quacks in his Donald Duck voice to make them laugh to save himself from the humiliating situation. After this incident, he makes a resolve to end this childish stuff of quacking and laughing at his name to get out of trouble. The incident marks his first decisive step toward self-growth.

The next stage in Donald’s road to self-discovery comes after the incident of his theft of the model airplane. His encounter with Uncle Donald Duk opens the doorway to his proud ethnic past. Donald now begins to reclaim his Chinese heritage by identifying with the Chinese immigrants in his dreams about working on the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869. Infuriated at history’s neglect of Chinese achievement, he stands up to his history teacher to set the record straight. The act shows his moral courage, intellectual development, and assertion of autonomy.


(The entire section is 500 words.)