During today’s class, I wanted to bring up the economic side to the story between Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid. It seems that Kingston is showing that idle people do not fare well in America (a little American propaganda I see). On page 127, Brave Orchid complains about how lazy and how almost pompous her sister is acting for “if [Brave Orchid] were in her sister’s place, Brave Orchid would have been on the phone immediately, demanding one of those Chinatown jobs… Immigrants nowadays were bandits, beating up store owners and stealing from them rather than working. It must’ve been the Communists who taught them those habits.” There is a binary dichotomy between America and the other that favors America in work effort. Moon Orchid does not begin working and becomes a burden to Brave Orchid and her family. I felt that it was a huge struggle, by the tone of the book, when Brave Orchid had to take off from work to help her sister. Luckily, the husband said the load was usually light giving her freedom. Moon Orchid does not take on a job and remains idle in the middle of the American organized chaos and she goes mad. Is it because of the loss of a husband? Is it the fast pace of America? I don’t know, but it seems like a bit of both. What do you all think of this passage?

Cautionary Tale: Don’t Be Idle, Stay Working
Tagged on:

2 thoughts on “Cautionary Tale: Don’t Be Idle, Stay Working

  • September 19, 2019 at 3:50 am

    I hadn’t considered this and now it’s all I can think about! I hate capitalism with a burning passion myself so I can’t believe I missed the line about communists “teaching them those habits” – you’re right, it feels like such a shining example of American capitalist propaganda inserted so naturally within the story. Unfortunately, I feel like it also aligns with another point from class today about whether or not the story contains “hope,” but in a way I don’t like one bit! I had this feeling before reading this that, since the narrator feels oppression from both the Asian-American community and from white people since she is a woman, and since she was espousing these more intersectional feminist ideals, the “hope” really would come from a hope for change and adaptation in the future. Unlike Chin, for whom the past can represent a more unadulterated point of pride, Kingston, as a woman, is forced to recognize how she would have been oppressed in her own culture’s past as well, through stories such as the story of Fa Mulan. Her hope lies in a future which adapts respect for her culture with feminist ideals which are more often afforded to white women. For her to find peace with her culture, she must abandon parts of it which look down on her gender. For her to find peace in a largely white feminist movement, she must abandon parts of it which look down on her culture. Now, after reading this comment, all of this has been tinted for me by the idea that she is inserting this American capitalist propaganda – it seems to make the message that the hope here, the possibility of change, seems to lay in specifically an American future, that America is the place where this can happen. That certainly is another feature of American propaganda, that America acts as a blending space where cultures can adapt and change. This idea is often used to ill ends, such as insinuating that people should “just learn English” as though it’s easy or that people should abandon ties to their original culture altogether in order to blend – an idea that Chin dealt with in Donald Duk by directly combating, suggesting the proper course was to reclaim the heritage entirely. Here, Kingston seems to be trying to adapt her heritage rather than reclaim it, and there is the desire to find places which “do not have ghosts,” perhaps, where she is not haunted by the parts of her culture which oppress her, but where she can still retain the parts of her culture which empower her. All of this seems ideal, but the idea that America specifically enables this makes me take a step back – again, as you pointed out, this feels like propaganda, and makes me a lot more suspect than I was before. Why is there hope in America specifically? Why in capitalism specifically? Does the idea of blending become watered down by tying it to loyalty to a country, inherently weighting the culture of that country? Thanks for pointing this out, I’m going to be thinking about this for weeks!

  • September 19, 2019 at 8:56 am

    I think that instead of (or maybe in addition to) “idle people don’t fare well in America,” the larger point being made here is that “people who don’t adapt to American norms don’t fare well in America.” Which, when you put it like that, seems self-evident. The same could be said of many other places and situations. Moon Orchid doesn’t adapt well to America (an indication of this is her recurring dream of being forcibly kidnapped and flown to Washington, DC). And she doesn’t fare well in America; she literally loses her mind.

    But I think that your point about the economic element of the story has value. Maybe that explains the closing line to this story: “All her children chose to major in science or mathematics.” They see these fields as concrete and economically viable.

Leave a Reply