With reference to The Jade Peony, discuss the type of relationship that Sek-Lung and his grandmother have with each other.
In The Jade Peony, Sek-Lung and his grandmother have an extremely close relationship. They are each other’s confidante, ally, and soulmate. Through ostracism from the rest of the family, Sek-Ling and Grandmama develop a strong bond. She confides in him, he helps her as a “partner in crime” as they collect castoff items to build her beloved wind chimes, and a treasured jade peony ties them together across the boundary between life and death.
In Wayson Choy’s “The Jade Peony,” the young narrator Sek-Lung shares an especially strong bond with Grandmama. The 83-year-old grandmother lives like an outsider with her son’s Chinese-Canadian family. Although they love her, Sek-Lung’s older siblings and stepmother find Grandmama “inconvenient, unsettling.” They do not understand and engage with Grandmama. On the other hand, Sek-Lung has very close relationship with his grandmother; he is her confidante, partner in crime, and soulmate.
As the youngest of four grandchildren, Sek-Lung states that he spends “nearly all [his] time with her and could not imagine that [they] would ever be parted.” Having been kept out of school due to poor health, the boy receives tutoring from family members who begrudgingly take turns to teach him on Sundays.
But it was the countless hours I spent with Grandmama that were my real education.
From her, Sek-Lung learns about her life many years ago in Southern Canton. Most importantly, she confides in Sek-Lung about her first love, an itinerant actor. After promising to return, the actor disappears but remains on her mind for decades. Even though Sek-Lung and Grandmama are close,
in her last years his image came back like a third being in our two lives. He had been magician, acrobat, juggler, and some of the things he taught her she had absorbed and passed on to me through her stories and games. But above all, without realizing it then, her hands conveyed to me the quality of their love.
Sek-Lung understands the profound effect this person had and still has on his grandmother. She not only loves this actor deeply, but also keeps him alive through her recounting of stories and teaching of skills and games to Sek-Lung. Before leaving her, the actor gifts her with a wind chime containing a jade peony. Sek-Lung helps his grandmother construct more wind chimes.
In order to build them, Grandmama collects castoff glass fragments and costume jewelry in alleys and from garbage. This act, however, creates “dissension in our family, and some shame.” Sek-Lung’s embarrassed siblings ridicule and physically harass Sek-Lung for helping his grandmother “poke through those awful things as if...they were beggars!” Eventually, Sek-Lung and Grandmama become secret collaborators or partners in crime.
By their cutting remarks, the family did exert enough pressure so that Grandmama and I no longer openly announced our expeditions. Instead, she took me with her on “shopping trips,” ostensibly for clothes or groceries, while in fact we spent most of our time exploring stranger and more distant neighborhoods, searching for splendid junk.
Unbeknowst to the other family members, Sek-Lung and Grandmama smuggle scavenged items home to wash and save them. Significantly, they become outsiders to the rest of the family. Sek-Lung's siblings treat him poorly, but he finds solace in his grandmother.
In fact, right before tempers erupt among the siblings and Sek-Lung’s father during an already tense evening at home, Grandmama signals to Sek-Lung with “her secret nod: a slight wink of her eye and a flaring of her nostrils” that no one else notices.
Sek-Lung allies with Grandmama because unlike others, he respects her beliefs and ties to the past, her longing for her lost love, and her desire to make wind chimes. He supports this desire by painstakingly steaming and bending bamboos sticks as well as measuring, cutting, and braiding silk threads.
Finally, Sek-Lung and his grandmother are soulmates. During their joyful scavenger hunts, he feels that she become his “spiritual playmate.” In fact, after the two gleefully store their treasured finds—bits of stained glass from a burned-down church—they spontaneously celebrate.
In her joy, she embraced me. Both of our hearts were racing, as if we were two dreamers. I buried my face in her blue quilt, and for a moment, the whole world seemed silent.
After they complete the wind chime to be hung after her death, Sek-Lung realizes her impending mortality and cries. Grandmama comforts him with, “I will always be with you, Little Sek-Lung, but in a different way...you’ll see.” Just before she leaves to die in a hospital, she tells him,
“You know, Little Son, whatever happens I will never leave you.”...So magically strong was her grip that I could not imagine how she could ever part from me. Ever.
After Grandmama passes away and Sek-Lung's father hangs up the last wind chime they made together, Sek-Lung finds the treasured jade peony, the gift from her lost love. Sek-Lung and his grandmother are forever connected like soulmates. In a way, the grandson becomes connected to his grandmother as well as her lost love via the jade peony. At the end, Sek-Lung misses his grandmother but continues to feel her spirit and love.
In my mind’s eye I saw Grandmama smile and heard, softly, the pink centre [of the jade peony] beat like a beautiful, cramped heart.
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