Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566

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The thematic concern of this story revolves around the conflict between illusion and reality. Dick is a complicated character who is amusing, kind, and generous. His affection for the blind Korean students is sincere. He makes them laugh with his stories about the circus and gives them hope by describing what they cannot physically see. He promises the children that once he gets home, he will buy them candies, clothes, and shoes. By misleading the students into believing that everything in the United States is rosy and by painting a glorified picture of his own life, Dick instills false hopes into their hearts. The conflict between lies and truth is emphatically pronounced by Cho’s discovery that not all Americans live in “beautiful homes with shiny cars in the driveways.” It is also expediently demonstrated and accentuated by the physical conditions of the students. Their physical blindness mirrors and underlines their mental blindness. Their naïveté reveals their vulnerability.

Dick is not weaving “fairy stories” merely for the Korean children’s benefit. He also wants to create an unreality for himself to block out unpleasant memories and to hide from reality. Dick is not happy at home. His parents are poor first-generation Romanian immigrants, who have been struggling to establish themselves in the United States. The squabbles between Dick and his mother are also often occasioned by cultural conflicts. Dick is more in tune with the mainstream American culture than with the culture that his parents brought with them to the United States. He is independent and lives in his dreams. He does not worry about finances and often takes his guests out to buy them dinner and drinks. Dick’s mother, on the other hand, is pragmatic and frugal. She once asks Dick to pick up cow dung from the street. It can be used as fuel in winter. She believes Dick is ashamed of her, ashamed of her secondhand clothes, and ashamed of her broken English.

Telling “fairy stories” is one way for Dick to avoid facing reality. Alcohol is the other. Dick’s mother has complained to Cho that Dick has been drinking heavily lately. On the way to the beach, Dick never stops drinking. He finally passes out in front of Cho, leaving the latter to figure out how to get back to the bus station.

The complexity of the story, however, lies in the fact that Dick is doing the wrong deed for the right reason. The blind Korean students remind him of his mother. He knows that they have been through a lot in life. He does not want to disappoint them by sharing the miseries of his own life with them. He wants to hear them laugh. He wants to inculcate and rekindle hopes in their tormented young hearts. As Cho recalls, their school “was in a bleak building that had once been a warehouse. Everything at the home for the blind children of refugees was bleak.” However, when Dick walked into that school, he “had heard for the first time” the blind students’ “laughing shouts.”

It is apparently for the same reason that Cho decides to send a coconut home. He can see in his imagination the children touching and hugging the strange fruit and its shadow while laughing and shouting: “We will not crack it open to see what is inside. We want to keep it whole.”