The Layers of Deception in Ha Jin's Short Story

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1916

Ha Jin's short story ‘‘In the Kindergarten’’ is filled with deceit, which is used for several different purposes. Characters manipulate one another for personal gain, to ease sorrow, to avoid social persecution, and in order to seek revenge. Some characters fabricate stories in an attempt to preserve someone else's innocence....

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Ha Jin's short story ‘‘In the Kindergarten’’ is filled with deceit, which is used for several different purposes. Characters manipulate one another for personal gain, to ease sorrow, to avoid social persecution, and in order to seek revenge. Some characters fabricate stories in an attempt to preserve someone else's innocence. Some are subtle in their deception, whereas others carelessly expose their dishonesty in their haste to meet their needs. Even the narrator cannot be fully trusted, as the reader is led to make certain assumptions that upon closer examination turn out to be false. By the end of the story, the reader is left to ponder if Jin's short story is a morality tale or merely a statement of fact: people just tend to lie.

"In the Kindergarten'' begins with little Shaona being unable to sleep at naptime. Unlike her fellow classmates in her kindergarten, Shaona's mind is active with thoughts about missing her home and wondering if her parents' love has been withdrawn from her since the recent birth of her baby brother. As she lies awake on her cot, she overhears her teacher talking on the telephone. The voice is fuzzy in the background, however, and Shaona must press her ear to the wall so she can hear better. Teacher Shen is upset, but Shaona is not sure why. Her teacher is using words that Shaona does not understand. The words that Shaona does understand are used in ways that do not make sense to her. For example, Teacher Shen is referring to a loss of blood in connection to having a baby. This conflicts with the image that Shaona has in her head. Shaona's grandmother had told her that babies come from pumpkin patches. Surely, her grandmother would not lie.

When the students finally wake up, they go outside, where the sweet smell of dichlorvos greets them. The potent pesticide will rid the city of flies, fleas, and mosquitoes. Could it be that something with such a pleasant fragrance could be so deadly? Then Shaona sees two jet fighters drawing a long double curve in the sky. Her eyes tell her that the planes are no bigger than pigeons. If this is true, how could a pilot fit inside them? Could her own eyes be deceiving her?

Teacher Shen follows the children outside. She has conceived of a plan. She will treat her students, who trust her completely in their innocence, to a day outside of the isolating walls that surround their school. She will take them to the turnip field behind their kindergarten, where they will learn to recognize and pick purslane, a tasty salad green that grows like a weed in the garden. In order to persuade her students that the work they will be doing in the hot sun is worthwhile, Teacher Shen accentuates the tasty meal of purslane, which she has promised them at the end of their toil, smacking her lips and saying, ‘‘It tastes great, different from anything you've ever had. Tell me, do you all want to have purslanes for dinner or not?’’ Of course they do. Their normal meal is bland and boring. Anything new added to the menu would be exciting, even if they have to work in the noonday sun to get it, instead of playing during their recess. Teacher Shen would not lie to them.

Teacher Shen herself, however, has also been lied to. She used to be more fun, Shaona reflects. She used to sing and smile. Recently, however, she has become sullen. Rumor has it that she divorced her husband because he was sent to jail for embezzlement. Poor Teacher Shen: she has a liar for a husband.

As the children continue to work in the garden, Uncle Chang reminds the students from time to time, from his reclining position under the broad, shady leaves of a tree, not to step on the young turnip plants as they pull out the purslanes. Uncle Chang is in charge of several gardens in the area. He must be smiling at the children and especially at Teacher Shen, who has figured out a way to weed the garden for him for free. Sneaky Uncle Chang: in the end, not only will he receive a long noontime nap and a weed-free garden but he will, in effect, take home the students' portion of the bounty to enjoy with his dinner meal.

One slightly bright boy, named Dabin, recalls that he once ate purslanes and that they tasted "like crap, more bitter than sweet potato vines.’’ He was forced to eat it for medicinal reasons and would not have done so if his mother had not insisted. His memories can't be true, of course, because the children around him recall that Teacher Shen just told them that it tastes great. The young boy must be a liar. When a fight breaks out between the boy and one of his accusers, Shaona is the final judge of who will be punished. She points to Dabin, who is taken away and put into isolation to mull over his deceitful attitude. Shaona knows that once he is set free, he will seek his revenge on her. She will have to create a scheme to protect herself. However, first she must complete the prodigious task before her, that of filling the large duffle bag with purslanes, a task that will eventually take the children one and a half hours of concentrated work. The exertion is worth it, though, or so they think. To keep them on task, Teacher Shen keeps reminding them (where is her conscience?) of a proverb they had recently learned: "Many hands provide great strength.’’ What Teacher Shen did not reveal to her students was that she had secretly altered the proverb for herself, adding just a small phrase of her own at the end: "Many hands provide great strength for me.''

Dabin is released from his solitary confinement and glares at Shaona all through the children's purslane-free evening meal. Shaona, fearing Dabin's nasty revenge, decides to trick the young boy. She offers him two of the six peanuts that her father had given her as a treat the last time she left home. Dabin is impressed. After eating the two peanuts, he requests more. Shaona, in a stance of mock innocence, lowers her eyes and tells Dabin that those were the only peanuts that were left. Dabin searches her clothing but finds nothing in her pockets because she has hidden the other peanuts in her socks. Later that night in bed, to soothe her sorrows, Shaona retrieves one of the peanuts and eats it, though it is against the rules. She carefully hides the shell under the pillow so she will not be caught. Does that mean that Shaona is a liar?

The next day, good Teacher Shen comes to the rescue of the children after they soil their clothes in the mud. After admonishing them for creating extra work for her, Teacher Shen washes and dries their clothes during their morning nap. Teacher Shen probably believes that her theft of Shaona's remaining peanuts was justified by the extra work that the children had caused her.

Upon awakening from their nap, the kindergarten students are once again ushered toward the turnip garden next door. To raise their spirits, Teacher Shen has the children sing a song as they march toward the fields. The song is about happiness and playing games, things that children should be experiencing. Is Teacher Shen trying to make it appear that the children are playing a fun game while working in the field? Is she trying to make them forget that they did not receive their prized purslanes the night before? Is she hoping that they will fall for her same lies today? ‘‘Aunt Chef couldn't cook those [purslanes] we got yesterday because we turned them in too late,’’ Teacher Shen announces, ‘‘but she'll cook them for us today. So everybody must be a good child and work hard.’’ Silly, innocent children: they buy Teacher Shen's lies. Even though Shaona does not quite swallow the misinformation that her teacher is feeding them, she nonetheless does not know how not to follow her teacher's instructions. She works, although sullenly.

Upon the sight of a handicapped wild rabbit, Teacher Shen demands that the students chase it. Teacher Shen's mind is working as quickly as a calculator. Her bill owed to Dr. Niu would be nicely decreased if she could just get that rabbit in her hands. Whereas she was very careful to direct her students while Uncle Chang observed her, in Chang's absence she allows the youngsters to trample the young turnip seedlings and destroy the garden in their exuberance to harness the rabbit. Uncle Chang is, after all, nowhere to be seen. How can he prove that it was her students who destroyed his crop? If he asks, well, Teacher Shen will probably tell him a white lie. She wouldn't want Uncle Chang to think that she had taken advantage of him or that she was not grateful for his help.

Teacher Shen is a sly one; but she is not so sly that she has completely fooled Shaona. Shaona can relate. She knows that, in a tough situation, it is all right to lie or sneak or do whatever one has to do to get revenge. Yes, the same sweet little Shaona that the narrator introduced as an innocent babe, so innocent she still believes that babies come from pumpkin patches and that an abortion is something a mother uses in which to carry her baby, this same young girl is peeing into the duffel bag of the collected greens. Can it truly be that that is what she is doing? She keeps her bottom carefully hidden so no one can tell. She also does not completely empty her bladder so that the moisture will not wet the bag. She then delicately places fresh purslane leaves over the dampened ones so the odor will not be readily apparent. Then, after her task is complete, with a kicking heart she runs back to her group to pretend nothing unusual has just happened. The deceit has lifted her previously sullen mood. Her revenge has lightened her spirits. Her heart is throbbing in victory. She has outdone her teacher in deception.

How does this morality tale end? The narrator describes Shaona as if she has successfully completed a rite of passage. It is as if all of a sudden she had become a big girl. She feels that from now on she will not cry like a baby at night. Shaona, through her deceit, has somehow miraculously grown up. She has learned the ways of the adult world, a world in which deceit usually ends with a reward. Forget the teacher's husband who ended up in jail. Maybe he had lied a little too much. He was a fool. Smarter people know that one must control the size of their untruthfulness if they are to get along in this world. One must judge the situation and manipulate it. One must keep one's eyes open, adjust the ancient proverbs to fit one's own needs, and outsmart one's fellow companions.

Or could it be that this conclusion is a bit misleading?

Source: Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on ‘‘In the Kindergarten,’’ in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
Hart has degrees in English literature and creative writing, and she focuses her writing on literary themes.

The Effectiveness of In the Kindergarten

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1633

Ha Jin's short story ‘‘In the Kindergarten’’ gives readers in-depth information about two main characters. One is five-year-old Shaona, who has been sent away to school recently, when she was replaced in her home by the birth of a baby brother. The other is her teacher, Shen, who is recently divorced from her husband and is recovering from an abortion. Both characters are fascinating in their own right, especially to Western readers who want to understand more about everyday life in China. Unfortunately, this story simply is not big enough to carry all of the information that is packed into it. It has one main character, Shaona. It explains her confusion, follows her growth, and ends with her taking control of her situation. The excessive information given about Teacher Shen's life drains power from what readers think of Shaona's predicament, and it diminishes the success of the story overall.

Success is relative, of course, and judging the success of any work of art is linked to understanding what the work is trying to do. The observation that a short story has multiple points of view only becomes a criticism after the question of how many it rightly should have has been settled. In this story, there are at least three distinct perspectives, and possibly more.

The most conspicuous point of view is Shaona's. Readers see most of the story through her eyes, from the first sentence when she is having trouble sleeping to the last when she realizes that sleeping will not be a problem for her anymore. Between these points, the story follows the range of her consciousness. Shaona is confused as she tries to understand what an abortion is; cunning, in offering two peanuts to her nemesis, Dabin, and hiding the rest in her sock; betrayed when she realizes that Teacher Shen has stolen the class's purslanes and, more personally hurtful, Shaona's peanuts; and triumphant when it strikes her that covert destruction gives her power over the kindergarten bureaucrat that took advantage of her. The story tells Shaona's emotions directly to its readers, explaining what she thinks but does not say aloud, such as that she knows Dabin will take revenge and that she misses her parents. There is no indication anywhere in the story that this is meant to be anything other than a chronicle of Shaona's experiences.

By contrast, Teacher Shen's life is revealed with inconsistent vigor, giving readers spurts of her life story and flashes of her thought. Most of the information given about her is out in the open, where it is entirely believable that the facts readers know are ones that Shaona has acquired from her experiences of the teacher. The clearest example of this is in the story's opening segment. Readers find out that Teacher Shen has had an abortion, that she cares for her elderly mother, that she is so poor that she cannot afford eggs, and that she is in a panic about the prospect of word of her abortion leaking out, and it is all conveyed without the narrative having to enter Teacher Shen's mind. This early part of the story clearly establishes the pattern that makes the story Shaona's, with no need for any other point of view, since the story is willing to let Shaona gain knowledge through overhearing things, even when it is unlikely.

The pattern that is established in the story's first few pages is broken, however, when the narrative gives readers direct access to Teacher Shen's thoughts. The most flagrant example of this is when the children are asleep and the narrative explains that the teacher is unhappy about not being able to take a nap herself: this is not an observation of her behavior; it is a direct statement of what is going on inside of her mind. Another obvious case of entering the teacher's consciousness is when the story says that she was "fearful that Uncle Chang would call her names.’’ There is no reference to anything she has said or done to indicate that Shaona is just guessing that she harbors this fear. It is the story's narrative telling readers that this is how she feels, presenting Teacher Shen's thoughts directly to the reader.

There are a few instances when the story's narrative attempts to explain how Shaona would know what other characters are thinking. For example, she knows how the absence of purslanes affects her classmates because ‘‘[e]very one of her classmates looked upset’’ (emphasis added). She knows that Dabin is pleased about the peanuts that she has given him because it is easy to interpret his response: "His eyes glittered and his mouth twitched like a rabbit's." Descriptions like these allow readers to see how Shaona might reasonably know how others feel, but there are other instances when information that comes from beyond Shaona's direct experiences is harder to explain. In one case, the narrator explains that Teacher Shen "used to sing a lot.'' Since Shaona has only been at the school for a week and a half, readers can only put this information in her mind if they assume that other students would have mentioned it to her. Likewise, readers can only explain a statement like "The sight of the irrigation made their teacher hesitate'' if they presume that Shaona put together the irrigation with a certain, unexplained look on the teacher's face, in order to interpret what was going on within her mind.

There is a third point of view in this story, one that makes observations that cannot be attributed to either Shaona or Teacher Shen. It is this unidentified perspective that tells readers, ‘‘It was said that [Teacher Shen] had divorced her husband the previous summer because he had been sentenced to thirteen years in prison for embezzlement.'' No one in the story could be considered to have come up with this thought: Teacher Shen certainly would not have thought it, and it is highly unlikely that any of the kindergartners would include such obscure details as "embezzlement" and ‘‘thirteen years’’ in their gossip. The same adult narrative perspective later tells readers, ‘‘Whenever their little skirts or caps were full, they went over to unload the purslanes into the duffel bag from which their teacher was picking out grass.’’ Since Teacher Shen is referred to as ‘‘their teacher,’’ it is not her thought, and yet this line apparently comes from an adult perspective that would see the kindergartners' clothes as "little." There are no other adults in the scene: the story has added a new point of view.

There are short stories that work quite well without holding firmly to one narrow point of view. Some are told from an omniscient perspective, which is one that allows the narrative voice to tell readers anything that happens anywhere at any time, skipping unapologetically from one character's mind into another's, from one locale to another, or even through different time frames. Other stories establish a pattern of changing points of view, focusing first on one character's experience and then shifting to another's. Still others can tell their tales from nonhuman perspectives, viewing the action from the point of view of a building or an abstract concept like a community. These works can all be successful by sticking consistently to one method throughout. ‘‘In the Kindergarten’’ starts out clearly, firmly presenting the world from Shaona's point of view, but through the course of the story it changes. It violates the rules that it establishes for itself, with no deliberate pattern and for no good artistic reason.

The problem with this kind of inconsistency is that it distracts readers from the story's main point and dilutes its effect. The information that the story gives to readers that does not come through Shaona's point of view may be interesting, but, given that this is Shaona's story, it is mainly irrelevant. Teacher Shen's abortion, her husband's jail sentence, and her fear that Uncle Chang might call her names might all be significant points, if this were a different kind of piece. It is a short story, though, and as such its space is limited: some information might be considered interesting but still does not deserve to be covered here. Once this is established as a conflict between Shaona's understanding of the world and the reality that she has found around her, there is an artistic responsibility to stay with that vision. This starts out as a story about Shaona's naïveté, as she tries to make sense of what the teacher says about babies in terms of what she herself knows about them. To bring in other points of view makes the style of those early pages irrelevant. If an artistic piece cannot keep consistent, it needs to show why it should be inconsistent. If not, it just presents readers with a worldview that is not as thoroughly imagined as it could be.

These irregularities of point of view do not make ‘‘In the Kindergarten’’ any less interesting, nor do they detract from its value as a peek into what life is like in communist China, which is probably the aspect that most readers want from it anyway. The extra knowledge about Teacher Shen and comments that come from no discernible source enrich readers' understanding of the facts of the case, even as they weaken the story's artistic purity. The uneven handling of this story's point of view does not ruin the story, and for many readers it will not even be noticeable. Still, the story starts out with an established point of view, and it could have and should have finished what it started.

Source: David Kelly, Critical Essay on ‘‘In the Kindergarten,’’ in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
Kelly is an instructor of creative writing and composition.

Ha Jin's Meditation on What Children are Taught and What They Really Learn

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2004

From the time a child is very young, everyone— parents, teachers, other children—tries to teach him or her something. The things others say don't always make sense to a child; sometimes the message gets horribly scrambled in translation. Children are further confused when parents, teachers, and other children offer wildly different opinions on the same subject. And then there's a whole other category of information for children to deal with: things that nobody tells a child but that they can't help seeing— the way people really act despite what they say, the way things really are despite what people claim. In Ha Jin's ‘‘In the Kindergarten,’’ originally published in The Bridegroom (2002), Jin meditates on what children are taught and what they really learn, through the eyes of his young protagonist, Shaona.

In her second week of kindergarten, Shaona, who has left home for the first time for her schooling, is still an innocent. And she'd like to stay that way, as Jin implies in the first line: ‘‘Shaona kept her eyes shut, trying to sleep.’’ Shaona's sleep, and her innocence, is cut short, however, by an abrupt introduction to a very grown-up world. During her restless naptime, she hears her teacher on the phone, begging someone to extend her terms on a loan that she apparently took out in order to have an abortion performed. Still uncomprehending, Shaona is nonetheless jolted entirely out of her child's sleep:"Those words made Shaona fully awake.’’ And once awake, in a pattern that will continue throughout the story, she proves an eager learner as she strives to understand her world, straining ‘‘her ears to listen.’’

In a speech that tragically illustrates the broken continuum of family life, the teacher fully reveals her secret, mentioning her family responsibility to her own mother at home and that she needs to eat eggs (which are also symbols of fertility) to replace the blood that she lost along with the baby. For the first time in the story, what Shaona learns from her teacher comes into conflict with what she learned from her family. Her grandmother has told her that babies come from pumpkin fields. But if so, "Why did her teacher sound as though the baby had come out of her body? Why did she bleed for the baby?''

Teacher Shen then introduces a new word to Shaona's vocabulary: "abortion." Her mind racing, Shaona tries to make sense of this new term within the context of her innocent world. ‘‘Is it something that holds a baby?’’ she wonders. ‘‘What does it look like?’’ But at the same time, she is already drawing conclusions from the information she has to work with, understanding from the rest of the conversation that it ‘‘must be very expensive.’’ Her teacher slams the phone down, ending the conversation, but her student, unbeknownst to her, has just learned an incomplete but somehow horrifying lesson, which puts an end to her child's slumber."Shaona couldn't sleep anymore''—despite the fact that, yawning "sleepily," she clearly still needs rest. She wishes that she could return to the safety of her parents' home, but even there, she remembers learning another hard lesson—probably her first—upon the birth of her baby brother. Whether she learned it directly or indirectly, Shaona knows that male babies are more highly valued than girls, and she wonders if her parents "would love her the same as before’’ after her brother's arrival.

After Shaona's sleepless nap, through which the other students slumber peacefully, the children are led outside to pick purslanes, which their teacher tells them they'll enjoy for supper that night. Along the way, Shaona continues to take in and attempt to process the information the world gives her and to bring it into harmony with the information her teachers have given her. Spotting a plane up in the sky, she wonders how "a pilot could fit inside those planes, which looked as small as pigeons.’’

On the way to the purslane field, however, another category of information surfaces as well: the pieces of information that students exchange among themselves. Watching the teacher, Jin lists Shaona's own observations of her teacher but then adds something Shaona has heard: "It was said that she had divorced her husband'' because he had been imprisoned for embezzlement. But the teacher quickly breaks into Shaona's young meditations by introducing some more official information, giving her class a quick biology lesson on how to tell purslanes from turnips. It's a lesson that quickly turns practical: seconds later she has each child assigned a row to harvest.

During this activity, another student, Dabin, takes it upon himself to teach Shaona another lesson. He asks her to compare bundles of purslanes, notes that hers is smaller, and draws an immediate conclusion: ‘‘You're no good.’’ It's a personal lesson that he follows up with a more informative lecture to the whole group, asserting that purslanes ‘‘taste awful’’ and backing his claim up with a perhaps fabricated story about being forced by his parents to eat the herb as a cure for diarrhea. Another girl challenges him, calling on the teacher's authority and reminding him that Teacher Shen has told them that purslanes are delicious. At this point, the children are stymied. At this young age, they have no equipment for deciding who is wrong and who is right when authority figures come into conflict. ‘‘How can you know?’’ Dabin asks the girl."I just know it!" she says. Dabin then proceeds to teach the girl a far more profound lesson than his opinion on Shaona's worth, or purslanes. In the absence of meaningful debate, he descends into personal insult. And when his female classmate returns in kind, he responds with force, pushing her to the ground and winning the argument—for a moment, until Teacher Shen reasserts control, hustling him off to a punishment room.

But Teacher Shen, although she makes some attempts to fulfill her role as teacher, reminding the children of a traditional proverb about hard work, is about to teach the children some lessons of her own. Shaona gathers several puzzling bits of information from her: as they leave the field, the teacher gives almost a third of the children's hand-picked dinner to grouchy Uncle Chang, without explanation. She then leaves the school with a strangely overstuffed duffel bag. But at dinner, even these aberrations are overshadowed when the children sit down to find no purslanes on their plates. At this moment, the information Shaona has been gathering all day coalesces in her head. ‘‘Now she understood,’’ Jin writes. "Their teacher took their harvest home.''

The new lesson is a hard one to swallow, and it ruins Shaona's dinner. The extracurricular lessons she's been learning from her teacher have already interrupted her sleep. This one makes it difficult to eat. Furthermore, she's got another problem: Dabin is now out of the punishment room and looking for revenge. Shaona must now do something to deal with him.

Her actions prove how quickly she's picked up on her teacher's lessons. Her teacher had offered Uncle Chang a bribe to avoid his wrath, and Shaona quickly offers Dabin some special peanuts, sent to her by her parents, to fend off Dabin's. This mollifies him but brings up another dangerous question: are their more? Again Shaona pulls forth a new tool, borrowed from her teacher's arsenal: lying; she tells him no.

That evening, Shaona again has difficulty sleeping, and to comfort herself, she makes yet another leap as a pupil, by breaking the rules and eating one of her contraband peanuts. She's not just imitating behavior she's seen at this point, not just following a previously observed script; instead, she's come to her own conclusion: her teacher's authority and the rules she's made are corrupt and don't have to be obeyed. Still, Shaona straddles the two worlds, crying quietly about the loss of her womblike family bed and the safe innocence of nestling against her mother's belly.

The next day, it becomes clear that eating the peanut was only the first step in what becomes a full rebellion for Shaona. She's disobeyed the high authority of her teacher and school, and at recess that day she throws off the rules of her fellow students, creating havoc in a play court by refusing to play queen to a "mousy" king. In this act, she's not only breaking free from peer opinion but is also taking a stand in opposition to the very early lesson she learned at the birth of her brother, that boys are more important than girls. Interestingly, it is perhaps one of the only positive lessons modeled by her teacher, when the teacher unexpectedly punishes Dabin for his violence against his female classmate.

Rebellion is pleasantly exhausting, and for the first time in the story, no longer kept awake by anxiety, Shaona falls asleep at naptime, ‘‘the moment her head touched her pillow.’’ When she awakes, she's presented with another mystery: her clothes, which had been dirty when she went to sleep, are now clean. This is delightful, a throwback to her innocent days in her family home. But she's quickly reminded again that those days are over: her peanuts, which she had hidden in a sweater, are missing. Shaona cries like a child over the loss, but she doesn't waste any time with childish wondering about their fate. Immediately, she comes to the adult conclusion that"her teacher must have confiscated the peanuts.’’

When the students return to pick more purslanes that afternoon, all but Shaona are duped by their teacher's claim that the cook wasn't able to make them in time on the previous evening. Shaona alone is sulky, though Jin adds in a line that is telling, both literally and metaphorically, that ‘‘she never stopped searching.’’ But when the rest of the students are distracted by the sighting of a crippled rabbit and run off to chase it, Shaona is given the chance to further rebel against the teacher's system. She needs to use the bathroom, and the place she chooses to relieve herself is the bag of purslanes. The rebellion isn't complete—Jin writes that she "dared not empty her bladder altogether,’’ but the act is powerful nonetheless. The other children return, still arguing amongst themselves with unverifiable information as in the previous day, but Shaona has been busy making a completely different set of far more sophisticated calculations—and acting on them.

Were they correct? Shaona suffers a moment of terrible self-doubt, worrying that, if she was wrong, their dinner will include the soiled purslanes. But when she is proved right, she is delighted—in contrast to the other students, who are disappointed— and eats multiple portions of all the offerings. That evening finds her making her stand against the teacher's lessons, her peer's opinion, and even society's roles for men and women, again on the playground. Instead of simply refusing to play in the girls' silly games, Shaona actually rejoins her young society among the boys, playing soldier and carrying a water pistol,"as though all of a sudden she had become a big girl.’’ This line, still in Shaona's voice, is perhaps slightly misleading, since the young child has no vocabulary yet to describe her true transformation. She has not just become like "a big girl''—she has become adult, on her own terms, within her small society, and she has done it while flouting her society's strict notions of what it means to be a "boy'' and what it means to be a"girl.'' But although Shaona doesn't yet have the words to express her evolution, she knows something has changed. And with her newly adult mind, she forms a concrete and telling conclusion about what the result will be: "From now on, she would not cry like a baby at night again.''

Source: Carey Wallace, Critical Essay on ‘‘In the Kindergarten,’’ in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
Wallace is a freelance writer and poet.

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