Child of the Owl

by Laurence Yep
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How does the imagery reveal the theme of the following excerpt from Child of the Owl? How word choice create meaning?

It was like we’d gone through an invisible wall into another world. There was a different kind of air here, lighter and brighter. I mean, on the north side there were the American bars and topless joints; on the west, the mansions and hotels of Nob Hill; and on the other two sides were the tall skyscrapers where insurance men or lawyers spent the day. And they were pushing all the sunshine and all the buildings.

In the given excerpt from Laurence Yep's novel Child of the Owl, the author's word choices and imagery help to convey the themes of exploration and discovery.

Expert Answers

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The given excerpt is taken from the part of the novel where Casey, a twelve year old girl and the main character of the story, is sent to live with her grandmother in Chinatown. For Casey, Chinatown represents a journey of exploration and discovery, at once daunting and exciting, and the author's word choices and use of imagery reflect these mixed emotions.

The metaphorical image of breaking through "an invisible wall into another world" emphasizes how completely different Chinatown is from what Casey is used to. The image of breaking through a solid "wall" emphasizes just how entirely separate this place is from what Casey has known previously. The idea that Chinatown is "another world" suggests that, to Casey, it is as unusual and alien as a different planet might be. This difference is also emphasized by the author's use of comparative adjectives such as "brighter" and "lighter," used to describe the air of Chinatown relative to the air that Casey has been used to breathing elsewhere.

The author also conveys the impression that there is much for Casey to discover in Chinatown. He uses prepositional phrases such as "on the north side," "on the west," and "on the other two sides" to suggest that Casey is completely surrounded by new places. The fact that she is completely surrounded also suggests that this journey of exploration and discovery is, at this point, somewhat overwhelming. This impression is also suggested by words which connote the huge scale of the buildings, such as "mansions" and "tall skyscrapers." This impression of an overwhelming somewhat daunting experience is emphasized further when we remember that Casey is just twelve years old.

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