What is the significance of the title Birthmates?
The title of Lilian (Gish) Jen's short story Birthmates supports the themes of birth and death in the real sense but also in an abstract and symbolic way as Art must experience different forms of rebirth in his attempts to define himself in terms that are not reliant on the actions or non-action of others. He is a victim of discrimination, bullying and abuse, but does not take steps to resolve these issues. He would rather live with images in his head and accept his lot as if his passive defiance will make a difference; all it does is to allow him to avoid real issues or feelings. He is apt to misread situations and cannot manage his obsessions but only create situations in his head which lead him to live an isolated, misunderstood existence.
Art ironically shares a birthday with Billy Shore, a younger, highly sociable and more successful business rival. He is distanced from Billy's successes but measures his own failings against Billy, attributing a lack of opportunity on his part and privilege on Billy's part as responsible for the disparity, never quite making the connection between his own life and his own accountability. It is as if Art cannot connect with this world and images haunt him. However, opportunities do arise for his spectacular rebirth but he is unable to extend his momentary vision and make it into something real. It remains fleeting and he fails to escape from himself.