Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In its delicate treatment of the past’s impingement on the present and in its complex combination of the political, the personal, and the supernatural, “Pipa’s Story” reflects, the narrator says, how people’s buried pasts are like ginseng roots, all with different shapes. Selected for The Best American Short Stories, 1994, “Pipa’s Story” is the only tale in Lan Samantha Chang’s debut collection, Hunger: A Novella and Stories (1998) that is not based on Chinese immigrants in the United States. Although the plot of the story focuses on a young woman who leaves her Chinese village to work for a wealthy man in Shanghai, the thematic heart of the story is the relationship between the girl and the mother. The mother, reputed to have supernatural power, is such a powerful figure in her village that Pipa thinks she will disappear if she does not escape the shadow of her mother. When the mother gives Pipa a small stone from the area where her husband’s body was found to hide in the heart of Wen’s house, it is clear that even though she is leaving, her obligation to her mother accompanies her.

When Pipa learns how Wen, her powerful employer, once desired her mother and murdered her father just before she was born, she is torn between her wish to break free of her mother, insisting that none of the story has anything to do with her, and her sense that even her flight from her mother fits into some incomprehensible design....

(The entire section is 512 words.)