In Who's Irish by Gish Jen, the story is told by an elderly woman born in China.  Her daughter Natalie was also born in China but came to the United States when she was very young.  She is now...

In Who's Irish by Gish Jen, the story is told by an elderly woman born in China.  Her daughter Natalie was also born in China but came to the United States when she was very young.  She is now Americanized.  

How would the theme of cultural differences not be told properly if told from Natalie's point of view instead of her mother's?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Natalie's mother has to represent the point of view of the story in order for readers to fully understand some of the painful elements of cultural differences. If Natalie were telling the story and it was from her point of view, there would be less depth to the narrative of cultural differences.  For all practical purposes, Natalie has forsaken her cultural differences in the "melting pot" of America. She rejects much of her past in the name of being an American wife and American woman.  If the story was told from Natalie's point of view, the intricate nature of the cultural differences theme would be absent.

It is only through Natalie's mother that the theme of cultural differences is told with a richness and complexity that is accurate.  This theme reflects how part of cultural difference is not necessarily being "at home" anywhere.  Being culturally different means living at a hyphen, at a point where one has a foot in different worlds.  This is evident in the story's opening: 

In China, people say mixed children are supposed to be smart, and definitely my granddaughter Sophie is smart. But Sophie is wild, Sophie is not like my daughter Natalie, or like me. I am work hard my whole life, and fierce besides. My husband always used to say he is afraid of me, and in our restaurant, busboys and cooks all afraid of me too. Even the gang members come for protection money, they try to talk to my husband. 

The opening of the story reflects the intrinsic difficulty in being culturally different.  Natalie's mother opens the story with her own narrative of cultural difference. She lives in America, but still has a mindset that sees herself as Chinese, a stranger in this new world.  Even though she has been here for quite some time, it's still a stranger's country to her.  This theme is lost if Natalie holds the point of view in the story.

Another reason why Natalie's mother must possess the point of view is because of its ending.  Consider one of the last reflective points that Natalie's mother makes; it speaks to the theme of cultural differences that is essential to the story:

A daughter I have, a beautiful daughter. I took care of her when she could not hold her head up. I took care of her before she could argue with me, when she was a little girl with two pigtails, one of them always crooked. I took care of her when we have to escape from China, I took care of her when suddenly we live in a country with cars everywhere, if you are not careful your little girl get run over. When my husband die, I promise him I will keep the family together, even though it was just two of us, hardly a family at all. 

When Natalie's mother follows this with, "But now my daughter take me to look for apartments," the intricacy of the cultural difference theme reveals itself.  The mother has straddled two worlds and continues to do so.  Natalie does not have this duality.  The gulf that exists between mother and daughter exists because of cultural difference, seen when Natalie's mother remarks on the nature of her granddaughter: "I am not exaggerate: millions of children in China, not one act like this."  This theme of cultural difference is absent if Natalie represents the primary point of view, as she does not see the Chinese frame of reference in her being.  The ending of the story is one where Natalie's mother is reminded of the pain of being a "permanent resident," one who is "not going anywhere."  In this condition, cultural difference acquires a depth and emotional intensity that would be lost if Natalie represented the story's primary point of view.

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Who's Irish?

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