Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The introduction of the two American teachers soon after China scans the grammatically tangled travel slogans draws attention to the slightly warped forms of English around her. Cinch’s nonstandard spoken grammar (for example, “Angel and me are teachers here”) would be insignificant were it not for the unstated assumption that American teachers overseas are hired, at least partly, to serve as models of standard American English as well as to promote good will. All of Cinch’s initial dialogue (printed in run-on form, with comma splices), together with the couple’s actions and frequently expressed lack of good will, reinforces two apparent aims of the author: to show that the couple’s ideas are often wrong and to make China Browne shine by comparison. Angel, for example, is anything but an angel: In addition to unloading her heaviest piece of baggage on China, she crassly belittles China’s Native American ancestry. The woman’s “mock blonde” hair color intensifies the contrast between her and the millions of dark-haired Chinese around her. Finally, when they are not complaining, Angel and Cinch display the smugly superior condescending attitudes of the stereotypically ugly American cultural imperialist abroad. Unlike them, China speaks softly, looks more like the Chinese, and works at fitting in—even though she also is distinctively American, for both the abrasive American couple and the old Chinese woman immediately see that she is not Chinese....

(The entire section is 584 words.)