Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 295
Home and family play integral roles in forming a person's definition of self but often elude exact definition themselves. What is "home," and what makes a "family"? Jean Guttery is born in China and grows up there, surrounded by her parents and other expatriate adults who still consider America their...
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Home and family play integral roles in forming a person's definition of self but often elude exact definition themselves. What is "home," and what makes a "family"? Jean Guttery is born in China and grows up there, surrounded by her parents and other expatriate adults who still consider America their home. Jean has only her imagination and the letters from her grandmother in Pennsylvania upon which to base her image of "home." As she dreams about the U.S., she almost forgets how much she cares about China.
Jean's feelings about China are mixed; she loves the countryside and people and speaks the language fluently, but she cannot stop wondering about America. Jean's mother believes in the axiom, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," but Jean refuses to sing the British national anthem in her British-run school. Her father finally points out that "God Save the King" and "America" have the same tune, enabling Jean to sing along without compromising her own beliefs. This episode presents one of many examples of divided loyalties. Complicating Jean's personal conflict is a historical one. Jean and her family are caught up in the Chinese revolution and, as missionaries, serve as hated political symbols of Western influence in China. The Chinese, too, are asserting their own ideas of "home."
Fritz's discussion of adoption, orphans, and family relationships raises further questions about home and roots: Does an adopted child ever really live at home? Does an orphan have a home? What happens to home when parents divorce? David Hull, the brother of Jean's best friend Andrea, is an adopted child with an overwhelming desire to find out about his real parents. His embitterment and dissatisfaction teach Jean that the search for roots is really a search for oneself.