Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Ghost” appears in The Land of Bliss as a critical reflection on the issue of racial difference in the multiethnic context of Hawaiian society, where, in 2000, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and native Hawaiians made up about 51 percent of the population and white people were a 24 percent minority. To understand this poem, it is useful to consider the fact that, historically, “ghost” (gwai) was a term often used among the Chinese to refer to people of other races (typically white Caucasians) perceived to be oppressive or repulsive. Although an epithet suggesting repugnance and contempt, “ghost” also signifies a sense of helpless subjugation, as racism against Asians had been rampant historically. Typical of the younger generation, the poet does not endorse the sentiments underlying the epithet.
In the first part of the poem, the speaker, a schoolteacher of Asian descent, refers to herself as a “yellow ghost” who flutters “like a moth/ invisible to these/ children of soldiers.” Despite this invisibility and potential lack of authority and recognition, the speaker acknowledges that she occupies a position of power. However, rather than perpetuating the pattern of domination, the speaker attempts to restructure the interracial self-other relationship in nonconfrontational terms, offering to share with her pupils “a jeweled seeded fruit,/ a poem I pare and peel/ that has no flesh,” a poem that “tastes like nothing/ they...
(The entire section is 535 words.)
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