Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

by Jamie Ford
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Last Reviewed on October 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

He'd learned long ago: perfection isn't what families are all about.

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The bitterness expressed in this statement stems from Henry’s difficult relationship with his family, especially with his father, whose intervention ruined his relationship with Keiko. It might also be taken to have a broader cultural implication, functioning as a rebuff to the idea of racial “perfection” (i.e., whiteness) that, for many Americans, both during World War II and in 1986, constituted the ideal family.

A young nurse, someone new whom he didn't recognize, came up to Henry and patted him on the arm.

”Are you a friend or a family member?"

She whispered the question in his ear, trying not to disturb Sheldon. The question hung there like a beautiful chord, ringing in the air. Henry was Chinese, Sheldon obviously wasn't. They looked nothing alike. Nothing at all.

"I'm distant family," Henry said.

This enquiry from the nurse indicates American social progress since the days of internment. Henry realizes here that, for this nurse—as well as for Marty, Samantha, and their entire generation—the idea of an American family is no longer intrinsically bound to race and ethnicity. The musical imagery here employed in “beautiful chord,” in addition to having significance for Sheldon the musician, suggests the new "harmony" possible in American society as a result of this evolution of ideas.

The waitress brought a fresh pot of tea, and Marty refilled his father’s cup and poured a cup for Samantha. Henry in turn filled Marty’s. It was a tradition Henry cherished—never filling your own cup, always filling that of someone else, who would return the favor.

This seemingly small tradition Henry has passed down to his son has real meaning for him. It enables him to maintain his dual identity as a Chinese American, one who lives in America and adheres to American laws while honoring the Chinese customs passed down to him by his parents.

Henry looked up and down the empty avenue—no cars or trucks anywhere. No bicycles. No paperboys. No fruit sellers or fish buyers. No flower carts or noodle stands. The streets were vacant, empty—the way he felt inside. There was...

(The entire section contains 583 words.)

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