The character of Donald Duk is central to Chin’s vision of the Chinese American experience. Donald personifies the anguish and the disconcerting experience of a self-conscious young boy growing up straddling two cultures. His given name reflects Chin’s ambivalent attitude toward Chinese American identity. On the one hand, the name suggests the derisive view many Americans have of Chinese men; on the other hand, it scoffs at the Chinese attempt to assimilate to mainstream America no matter how ridiculous the consequences.
At the beginning of the novel, the reader finds Donald to be a smart but arrogant and sharp-tongued boy who nurtures self-hatred and shows little respect for his family and neighbors. Driven by his desire for assimilation, he feels alienated from the Chinatown community and wants to reject his Chinese self. His only saving grace seems to be his sense of humor. When harassed by Chinatown gangsters, he uses humor and self-mockery as weapons to protect himself from ridicule and violence. Yet he soon realizes that it is time for him to grow up and not to act like his cartoon namesake to get out of a fight. His character undergoes a change after Uncle Donald Duk awakens in him a consciousness of his proud ethnic heritage. He realizes in the end what his father had been telling him all along: that he does not have “to give up being Chinese to be an American.” Chin makes Donald both a credible character and a powerful symbol of cultural displacement in contemporary American society.
(The entire section is 629 words.)