The characters of Shawn Wong's Homebase are unusual in that the majority of them go unnamed. Only Rainsford, the narrator and protagonist, and his father, thought of as Bobby, are named throughout the book.
Rainsford Chan is a fifteen-year-old, Asian American boy. He is a fourth generation American, meaning that his great-grandparents were the ones to immigrate to America from China. One of the first things the reader learns about Rainsford is that both of his parents are dead. In an attempt to understand his own identity, Rainsford spends the majority of the novel reflecting on his family history. Because his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are all no longer with him, he has to rely on his own imagination to fill in his understanding of their lives.
Bobby, Rainsford's father, is called Bobby because it's what Rainsford called him as a toddler before he could pronounce the word 'daddy.' Bobby died when Rainsford was seven years old and exists in the narrative entirely through Rainsford's recollections. It is clear that he was a loving and devoted father who spent a lot of time with his young son. He also plainly tried to Americanize Rainsford through acts such as buying him a Superman shirt and teaching him the lyrics to the American folk song "Home on the Range."
Rainsford's Mother, like his father, is dead at the start of the book though her death is far more recent. She is depicted as having been a very proud, loving, and attentive mother. She was the owner and manager of a flower shop and taught Rainsford to make "oriental" arrangements.
Rainsford's Grandfather, though long dead and only vaguely remembered by Rainsford, can be said to be a main character, and is certainly the central figure of the last chapter of the book. He was born in San Francisco, California, but Rainsford knows that he returned to China during his lifetime. When he came back to the states, he was processed by immigration officials at a place called Angel Island, a location that Rainsford finally discovers at the end of the novel and which allows him to feel connected to his past and at peace with his identity.
Rainsford's Great Grandfather, the first of the family to come to the United States, could not speak English and faced horrible prejudice in his new home. In America, he found employment building railroads. While Rainsford feels close to his father and grandfather (to the extent that the lines between the three seem to occasionally blur), he has nothing in common with his great grandfather. He will never have to face the kind of discrimination that his great grandfather faced in his life time. This disconnect speaks to the Americanization of each subsequent generation.
Rainsford's Aunt and Uncle are Rainsford's only living family members present in the narrative and he is sent to live with them at the start of the book following the death of his mother. They are depicted as successful, kind, and encouraging to Rainsford that he too can achieve a kind of American dream. Importantly for the narrative, they allow Rainsford lots of time and space to himself.
The final character is actually a personification of America itself, referred to by Rainsford as, alternately, The Body, The Dream Bride, and, The Shadow. America is imagined as a beautiful, white skinned and blond haired, fifteen year old girl, a love interest for Rainsford who often seems unattainable. His relationship with this imaginary girlfriend represents his feelings towards the United States and his role within them throughout the novel.
Rainsford Chan, the narrator and main character of the novel, reveals the process of his struggle for identity as he lets the reader know his thoughts. His development occurs rather quickly as readers realize, rather instantly, that he is “American” in every way. Only Rainsford himself is unaware of this. Moreover, as he tells of events and episodes in his family history, it is clear that other family members before him have already made the transition....
(The entire section is 1,900 words.)