The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Craig Chin, the first-person narrator of the story, tells of events that are important to him as he finds identity and peace. This occurs on several levels, but the most important of these is his relationship with his father. Both father and son love each other in an unquestioned, unconditional way, yet problems occur because of the father’s insistence that Craig become a sports star. At the same time, Craig experiences severe difficulties because of his birth and ethnicity. On the one hand, he is Chinese by looks and blood; on the other, his way of thinking, his central culture, and his own goals in life are distinctly American. Readers learn of these difficulties and their resolutions through the revelations of the main character’s thoughts and actions.

Calvin Craig, Craig’s father, is the most loving and helpful and understanding of all fathers except for one matter: He is unable to accept that his son will never be any kind of successful athlete. His attitude is revealed primarily through his actions. Always on the sidelines encouraging and advising his son in football and basketball, he fails to realize the torment he is working upon the person in the world whom he loves most. For Calvin himself, sports had been the ticket to acceptance in American life.

Uncle Quail is the stereotypical “last generation” from the Old Country. In one section of the story, Uncle Quail tells of the experiences of his own father’s generation as they built the United States’ railroads and performed other such tasks. Then he explains the discrimination against them that occurred once the rails had been laid. He survives as a...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Craig Chin

Craig Chin, a Chinese American eighth-grader, the focal character. Until the year in which the novel takes place, he and his parents lived in Chinatown in San Francisco. He now must adjust to a new environment, a smaller Chinatown in a small city on the California coast and a high school in which most of the students are “Western people,” or non-Chinese. His two Chinese cousins also attend the high school, but they think of themselves as Americans first. Craig has to adjust to life in a much smaller city than San Francisco. He also copes with a father whose expectations for him include standard sports such as football and basketball; he has neither the talent nor the physique to be good at either, being a little overweight. He negotiates an identity as a Chinese and an American. He changes during this year under the influence of his mother, his father, and Uncle Quail, an old friend of the family. Craig’s suppressed artistic and aesthetic interests, discounted by his father as impractical, emerge gradually.


Calvin, Craig’s father, in his thirties. He moved from Concepcion to San Francisco with his father when he was twelve years old. He had a small grocery store there but now has taken over operation of a store owned by a friend, known to Craig as Uncle Lester. Craig’s father, who had been a good athlete in high school and had won acceptance by “Westerners” that way, pushes Craig toward sports.


Jeannie, Craig’s mother, who seems beyond reproach in every way. She is about the same age as Calvin and was also a sports champion in her youth, winning many awards in Ping-Pong tournaments. She is less obsessive about sports and seems to understand her husband’s frustrations well enough to help Craig deal with them. She is a retiring person, and her own personality does not often come forward.

Uncle Quail

Uncle Quail, a lonely man in his...

(The entire section is 814 words.)