What challenges does Henry face as an immigrant in Native Speaker?

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1. In Native Speaker, what are Henry's challenges living an immigrant life? 2. What is the role of identity in Native Speaker? 3. What is the role of racism in Native Speaker? 4. How does Henry experience American culture? 5.

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In Chang-Rae Lee's Native Speaker revolves around the life of Henry Park, the son of immigrant parents. Henry is also a spy and considers himself an observant outsider in American society. He struggles to decide what kind of person he is, and he says spying is a perfect job for him because it essentially allows him to exist as more than one person.

Henry faces the challenges many immigrants have experienced: the clash between the culture of where his parents came from and the culture of their new home. Henry's parents cling to their Korean customs, but Henry finds himself exposed to white middle-class culture, and he has adopted it. He married a woman named Lelia, though we learn that the two have separated. Henry is taken by Lelia's ability to speak perfect English, one of the main reasons why he was attracted to her.

Henry and Lelia's son, we learn, tragically and accidentally died, which contributed to the disintegration of their relationship. Lelia accuses Henry of being unemotional and silent about their child's death, forcing Henry to realize that he was acting much like his stoic, short-tempered father.

Henry mainly grapples with the struggle to assimilate into American culture as the child of immigrants. He seems to have anxiety about the English language, which is likely part of the reason why Lelia's ability to speak it (and her job helping others learn to speak it) draws him to her.

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In Native Speaker, what are Henry's challenges living an immigrant life?

Native Speaker is, in many ways, a Korean-American reimagination of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. -A. Magazine

Native Speaker is the debut novel by Chang-Rae Lee, published in 1995. It is the story of Henry Park, the book's narrator. The major theme of the book is Henry's struggle to fit into American society. Like Lee, Henry is Korean-American. When the novel starts, Park's wife, a white American woman who works as a speech therapist, has left him: "The day my wife left she gave me a list of who I was" (1). Identity is a key part of the book.

While the book is about many things, I would argue that the main conflict is Park, a Korean immigrant living in American, and his attempt to assimilate. He seems to embrace America; he learns the language, he marries an American, he has an American son. Yet he works in industrial espionage and so, in some sense, is a double outsider. As he says "We pledge allegiance to no government" (17).

Perhaps the most apt symbol for his inability to fully integrate into American culture is his accent, which he is unable to shed. So the title is ironic, as is his wife's occupation as a speech therapist. He recalls schoolmates making fun of him for the way he talks. Like most immigrants, he experiences racism both casual (Where are you from?) and virulent. Towards the end of the novel, the Korean-American politician, whose campaign he has infiltrated, is the victim of a racist protest. In statements that are an unsettling echo of rhetoric we've heard in recent years, Park quotes them yelling "We want our fucking future back" (332). They also carry signs reading "AMERICA FOR AMERICANS" (333). It's an unsettling reminder for Park and other immigrants that some Americans will never fully accept them.

*I'm using the Riverhead paperback edition of the novel.

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