Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 523

Fritz prefaces her book with a foreword that explains its episodic nature. Concerned with presenting how she felt as a young child, she concentrates on vivid incidents and compresses the whole of her childhood into two years, 1925 to 1927. Fritz further explains that, in addition to compressing time and...

(The entire section contains 523 words.)

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Fritz prefaces her book with a foreword that explains its episodic nature. Concerned with presenting how she felt as a young child, she concentrates on vivid incidents and compresses the whole of her childhood into two years, 1925 to 1927. Fritz further explains that, in addition to compressing time and resequencing true events, she added minor “fictional bits” to stitch the story together, as well as conversations, “for I cannot think of my childhood without hearing voices.” As a distinguished biographer for young readers, Fritz is keenly aware of the differences between fact and fiction, and she therefore acknowledges that “strictly speaking,” the story is fiction even though only minor details have been invented. At the same time, like many autobiographers, she is most concerned with emotional truth, which prompts her to state that Homesick “is my story, told as truly as I can tell it.”

Fritz’s compression of time offers her several advantages in terms of telling a good story. The most technical advantage involves the point of view from which Homesick is told. It is not reported in hindsight but rather from the author’s perspective at the time. Placing the events in Fritz’s late childhood or early adolescence, ages ten through twelve, makes her old enough to be articulate and young enough to retain a child’s point of view, a perspective often appealing to young readers.

Another advantage of this compression is that these two years in Fritz’s life coincide with turbulent years for China, particularly for Hankow, the industrial city in which she lived. Fritz is thereby able to integrate the most dramatic domestic or personal incidents of her own life with the large-scale events of revolution and civil war in Hankow and Wuchang, the city across the river. Fritz’s father was a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) official whose work involved disaster relief, and the author listened as he recounted the suffering occurring in Wuchang. She paid attention because her nurse, Lin Nai-Nai, had family members in Wuchang. Fritz’s love for Lin Nai-Nai transformed a conflict that had earlier seemed remote into an immediate and personal event. Fritz is thereby able to show that history is not confined to textbooks; it affects the lives of real children and real adults.

The third advantage of focusing on these two years is the most important: Fritz’s last years in China and her arrival in the United States are best suited to exploring the issues of personal identity and national or cultural allegiances. That she was homesick for a country that she had never seen demonstrates the importance of a sense of national identity in the formation of an individual’s personal identity. Yet, as soon as she left China, she missed the land of her birth. Her desire to belong, to be a real American, is framed by her irritation with Americans who hold racist views of China and insist on mispronouncing “Yangtse,” the name of the river that she loves. As much as Fritz loved the United States, she did not mistake jingoism for patriotism, and neither will perceptive readers of her book.

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