Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

The events of Homesick are viewed through the eyes of Jean Guttery, who is twelve years old when the action begins. Independent, thoughtful, imaginative, and willing to stand up for what she believes, Jean gradually learns to respect opposing points of view. Andrea Hull, the daughter of another missionary, is...

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The events of Homesick are viewed through the eyes of Jean Guttery, who is twelve years old when the action begins. Independent, thoughtful, imaginative, and willing to stand up for what she believes, Jean gradually learns to respect opposing points of view. Andrea Hull, the daughter of another missionary, is Jean's best friend. A few years older and far more sophisticated than Jean, she understands hair styles, popular dances, fashion, and boys. Jean admires and even envies Andrea's worldliness. The Hulls have an adopted son, David, who longs to discover his real parents.

Jean's father, Arthur, works as a missionary for the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). A quiet, caring person, he sends his family away from Hankow when the fighting becomes dangerous but stays behind to help care for the victims of war. A natural storyteller, he delights in reciting tales of the dangers he has survived in "narrow squeaks." The main concern of Jean's mother, Myrtle, is that Jean be a "good girl." A somewhat distant though beloved parent, Myrtle surprises Jean by suddenly giving birth to a baby girl, an event that everyone else seems to have been expecting. When the infant dies, Jean's mother spends months recuperating from the physical and emotional blow.

Lin Nai-Nai is Jean's Chinese nurse. She teaches Jean embroidery, and Jean teaches her English. Something of a rebel, Lin Nai-Nai has run away from her husband because she did not want to be a second wife. Lin Nai-Nai's own parents now refuse to see her, even when she risks her life to bring them food during a siege. Jean comes to realize that she loves Lin Nai-Nai even though the nurse sometimes angers or irritates her—Just as, upon reflection, she realizes that she has grown to love China.

Images of home and roots fill the episodes in this book, developing ideas about what it means to be a foreigner and what it means to belong. Jean's own journey of self-discovery complements this theme. Over the course of two years, Jean learns to accept and understand people and places that differ from her expectations—even America. Although Jean loves her grandmother, aunts, and cousins, not everything else about America is perfect. Her new teacher is worse than her teacher in China, and there is no getting around the hated "Palmer method" of writing. But Jean learns to laugh, to be herself, and to adapt. She learns that "home" is more than just a particular place.

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