Homebase is an imaginative, coming-of-age novel by Shawn Wong, published in 2008. It tells the story of Rainsford Chan, a fourth-generation Chinese American whose grandfather worked in the California gold rush. The narrator, Rainsford Chan, struggles to feel accepted into white society, though his great-grandfather (alongside many other Asian workers) helped build the Transcontinental Railroad.
The themes include imagination, culture, and family. The narration is told in five chapters, from the point of view of Chan, who constructs imaginative flashbacks to explain his family's history. He is compelled to do this by the present circumstances of his parents being deceased. Chan is raised by his laissez-faire aunt and uncle, who give Chan a considerable amount of freedom to develop, and the resulting opportunity to speculate about his past. A large part of his flashbacks are imagined in vivid detail, though Rainsford never knew his grandfather and great-grandfather.
Culture is another touchstone theme in this novel. Chan is exceptionally sensitive to his perceived lack of moorings to a particular place. He is a successful athlete in American sports, but feels remiss for not knowing how to speak Chinese. His early childhood memories include his father teaching him the song "Home on the Range" and learning American history through World War II films.
Finally, Chan's filial duties constitute another theme to emerge from this novel. The conflicted Chan, though orphaned, nevertheless exhibits many remarkable duties in parents, both while they are alive and in their memory. As part of the novel's narration, Chan writes a letter to his father, which he writes in part to confirm his own identity and in part to bring closure to his father's death. During the several years between his father and mother's deaths, Chan helps his mother at work in her flower shop. After her passing, he is a respectful and upstanding member of his aunt and uncle's household. In some ways, Chan's bereavement of his parents allow him to develop for himself a confident sense of American identity.
Themes and Meanings
Rainsford Chan’s story is one of finding himself. He must determine his identity and meaning as a person, a man, and an American. Of these three, only the second one (that is, his identity as a man) presents few problems; remarkably, he experiences less of this struggle than a reader might lend plausibility. He is athletic and likes girls, cars, war films, hamburgers, and milkshakes; hence, there is rather an absence of problems.
His struggle to find himself as a person revolves mostly around the fact that his parents are dead. This works in the novel not as a Freudian formula; rather, it serves as a way for the novelist to emphasize that Rainsford’s background and heritage—even his parentage—are dead. His realizations are never quite made from an existential context, and yet he does discover and define meaning from within the self.
It is the problem of his...
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