Karen Russell

Start Free Trial

How is the theme of transformation evident in "Reeling For an Empire" by Karen Russell?

Quick answer:

Kitsune, Dai and the other silkworm workers are transformed by their anger and sense of injustice at how they were mistreated by the factory owner.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Reeling for an Empire" shows the transformation of oppressed young female factory workers who have been turned into giant silkworms so that they can endlessly spin colored silk threads. The story focuses on Kitsune's transformation. She is the point-of-view protagonist whose thoughts and changes drive the story. Transformation is evident in the plot as Kitsune works to gain her freedom by becoming a moth, evident through her character changes as she gains a growing ability to fight back against oppression and supported by the figurative language of similes and metaphors that reflect her changes.

Kitsune is a strong, assertive person from the start, when she chooses, unlike the others, to sign the contract to work in the silk factory, forging her father's name. She is the only girl, too, who willingly drinks the bad-tasting tea that turns each of them into a silkworm.

Her first character transformation comes when she refuses to forget the bitterness of her mistake in signing herself over to the factory. While Dai advises her to use her will power to stop thinking about it, Kitsune finds power in holding on to her anger and pain. Russell uses a figure of speech, a simile—a common literary device in this story—when Kitsune reflects that hanging on to her bitter memory is

like water flushing a wound, to prevent it from closing.

Kitsune's sense of injustice inspires Dai to go on strike and make the choice to die rather than keep producing silk. It also drives Kitsune toward rebellion.

Another plot point that shows transformation is when Kitsune realizes that if she spins a cocoon and turns into a moth, as normal silk worms can, she can break free from her slavery. This is expressed figuratively through her mental power to turn her thread "opaque." The opaque thread becomes a metaphor for Kitsune's dark thoughts about the factory.

Kitsune then fuels her strength and agency with her dark anger at the point in the plot when she works to spin a cocoon and enlists the other workers to do the same—and also to cocoon the manager to pay him back for his crimes.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial