The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.

King Duk...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Donald Duk

Donald Duk, a twelve-year-old schoolboy in a well-to-do Chinese family. He is suffering from an identity crisis. He is ashamed of his Chinese ancestry, his father’s occupation as a restaurant owner, and his name, resembling that of a cartoon character. His father, King Duk, treats him affectionately and humorously, recognizing his desire to give up everything Chinese to be fully American. His father suggests that he must have taken a little white boy home from the hospital. Like his mother and sisters, Donald is fascinated by old Hollywood films and fancies himself as the Chinese Fred Astaire. He takes up tap dancing. In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year, Donald is inspired by a character in Chinese folklore, Kwan Kung. Donald’s uncle, whose name is the same as Donald’s, tells Donald that one of his ancestors was a bloodthirsty warrior and that Donald’s grandfather, who was one of the first of his family to come to America, had worked laying track for the transcontinental railway. He shows Donald a photograph of the Golden Spike Ceremony, during which the tracks from the east and the west were joined. That night, Donald dreams that he is in the midst of a camp of Chinese railroad workers, watching one of them brandish a battle-ax weighing more than one hundred pounds. Describing it as formerly the weapon of Kwan Kung, he throws it to his twelve-year-old son, who catches it and throws it back. Then the swordsman exhorts the workers to outdo the Irish on the eastern section of track by laying ten miles in a single day. This dream recurs. In a later version, Donald tells Fred Astaire that the Chinese are passive and without the spirit of competition. He then finds himself in a railroad camp where Kwan Kung is foreman and participates in a Chinese lion dance, celebrating the laying of ten...

(The entire section is 749 words.)