Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As a ghost story, “The Eve of the Spirit Festival” derives much of its force from the intergenerational conflict of Chinese American immigrants. For children such as Emily and Claudia, China is associated with a rich lore and belief in the supernatural that pervade the religious, cultural, and social traditions that make up a significant part of their parents’ world. In contrast, the United States offers more personal freedom, but also a more impersonal worldview.

At first, the girls’ father tries to live according to his beliefs and customs and tries to raise his family according to old precepts and to pass down his heritage to his two daughters. However, the crisis symbolized by the untimely death of the girls’ mother challenges their father’s strategy. The story never reveals whether the mother could have actually been saved if she had been sent to a hospital sooner. However, the pain that Emily feels at losing her mother finds a ready outlet when she blames her father’s ways for her death. The fact that her mother’s ghost does not appear to her as foretold by her parents’ beliefs serves as a ready proof for the superiority of her seemingly more rational attitude of rejecting religion. However, this view alone is not specific to her situation. The crisis of faith in face of unwarranted personal disaster, such as a parent’s tragic death, is also a theme of some universal significance.

The story implies that Emily...

(The entire section is 578 words.)