In the American Society by Gish Jen

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Summary

In the American Society by Gish Jen is a story that focuses on a Chinese American family trying to improve their living standards. The Changs have two children, Mona and Callie. They do not face financial hardships, because they have a pancake business that has been performing well. Ralph Chang is pleased and proud of his investment. He takes pride in delegating duties to his staff, not realizing that his leadership method is not yielding any positive results. His authoritative style of management results in his business having a high rate of employee turnover. Therefore, he ends up employing undocumented workers.

Conversely, Mrs. Chang and the children are eager to become members in a country club, as they consider it a sign of success. Mrs. Chang knows that achieving such status is not as easy as it sounds, but she delights at the thought of being a member. Mona really wants to be a part of the club and constantly talks about her desire. Mrs. Lardner answers Mona’s prayers by paying for her family’s membership. Unfortunately, they are informed that no slots are left. Therefore, Mrs. Lardner, as a show of kindness and goodwill, invites Mona’s family to an event, which ends terribly.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The Changs are a Chinese American family on track in the pursuit of the American Dream, which is also, in Ralph Chang’s case, the immigrant dream. They are newly prosperous because the pancake house in which Ralph and his wife have invested to secure their daughters’ college educations in the future is doing handsomely. Ralph has never felt so secure and expansive. He revels in his new role as benevolent dictator over his staff, not quite grasping the fact that his style of management is too much to take for many of his workers.

Mrs. Chang and their two daughters, Callie and Mona, have plans of their own. To them, one measure of their success in their new American society would be membership in the local country club. Although Mrs. Chang is pragmatic enough to realize that joining the club is not totally practical, she cannot help but aspire to membership. The biggest drawback, she and the girls realize, would be that Ralph would be forced to wear a jacket to dinner there.

Ralph’s overbearing management style soon leaves the restaurant drastically understaffed. When the only applicant for a job is an undocumented Taiwanese student named Booker, Ralph hires him. There are petty jealousies among the staff, and when a disenchanted former worker divulges to the immigration authorities that Ralph is hiring illegal aliens, Ralph has to answer to the immigration agency. Fortunately, it turns out that it was not illegal to have hired aliens, and Ralph, in his well-meaning meddlesomeness, posts bail for his illegal help, Booker and Cedric. Ralph glows with self-righteous satisfaction until a note is discovered from Booker and Cedric: They promise to repay Ralph, but they have decided to flee before their trial.

On the home front, Mona has inadvertently mentioned that her mother is keen to join the country club, which leads to an effusive offer from Mona’s friend’s mother, Mrs. Lardner, to sponsor the Changs for membership. Mrs. Chang has little chance either to accept or to decline. Now it has become a matter of waiting to hear from the club. As it...

(The entire section is 878 words.)