In the American Society by Gish Jen

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Quotes

After the Changs achieve financial success with their pancake house, Ralph decides that he wants to join the local country club. His wife, however, realizes that there are many barriers to achieving this aspiration. Gish Jen writes, "My mother enumerated the problems as she sliced up a quarter round of watermelon: there was the cost. There was the waiting list. There was the fact that no one in our family played either tennis or golf."

One of the requirements of the country club is twice-monthly dinners, to which the men have to wear nice suit jackets. Ralph's family is amused at the idea of him doing such a thing. Jen writes,

We all laughed: my father had no use for nice clothes, and would wear only ten-year-old shirts, with grease-spotted pants, to show how little he cared what anyone thought.

"Your father doesn’t believe in joining the American society," said my
mother. "He wants to have his own society."

"So go to dinner without him." Mona shot her seeds out in long arcs over the lawn. "Who cares what he thinks?"

But of course we all did care, and knew my mother could not simply up and do as she pleased. For in my father’s mind, a family owed its head a degree of loyalty that left no room for dissent. To embrace what he embraced was to love; and to embrace something else was to betray him.

This attitude of respect and solidarity leads to the climax of the story, when Ralph is bullied into trying on a partygoer's shirt and his family leaves the party with him in protest. Despite the fact that his reaction, and insistence on wearing a suit that isn't fitted and still has the price tag on it, is embarrassing for them and was a bad decision, the family sticks by him. Jen writes,

My...

(The entire section is 483 words.)