This story centers on the theme of culture shock, a person’s disorientation when introduced to an unfamiliar way of life. In this story the protagonist finds conflict with how her ethnic culture impedes on her new living environment. As her story progresses she is faced with a reality check that not any one culture’s ideas are enough to succeed in life and that there is a need to have more of an open mind. Towards the end of her story she learns a valuable lesson that helps her grow as an individual and she learns how to accept her new life.
In “Who’s Irish” the grandmother is very passionate about her Chinese culture, values, ideas, and traditions. She feels her people are the epitome of hard workers who devoted to their culture. She is at odds with her Americanized daughter Natalie, her lazy husband John and his family, and her granddaughter Sophie who she has nicknamed “wild child”. John’s family is Irish and the grandmother cannot believe how lazy he and his brothers are because of their Irish background, whose people have worked as hard as the Chinese. Luckily John’s mother, Bess, is a kindred spirit to the Grandmother as they both discuss how they view their children and the differences in the generation gap. The grandmother’s main challenge is Sophie and her hyper active attitude. As their time together increases and struggle to get Sophie under control becomes more demanding the grandmother relies on how in her culture children are to act around their elders and the methods that follow this process. She is deemed too strict and abusive to watch over Sophie and the mother has no choice but to expel her from their home. Luckily she finds a new home with Bess who accepts her as is and the grandmother learns a valuable lesson that ethnic labels are unnecessary and what matters most is the devotion to one’s own values.
“Who’s Irish” was a story I did not particulaly enjoy. Not because of the way it was written or anything technical, but because of the way the mother was treated. Family is something that I believe should mean something; loyalty is a very big issue for me. So whenever I hear about someone prioritizing a significant other over their blood family it in furiates me.
“But now my daughter take me around to look at apartments. After all I can cook, clean, there is no reason I cannot live by myself, all I need is a telephone. Of course, she is sorry. Sometimes she cry, I am the one to say everything will be okay. She say she have no choice, SHE DOESNT WANT TO END UP DIVORCED.” (pg 621)
Clearly evident is that she values her marriage more than the relationship she has with her mother. Like divorce is so much worse than losing her mother. That is atrocious and what is worse is that the mother does not even feel badly about it. That shows the type of person she is and her daughter treats her so badly. Also, in China, the elderly are treated with so much respect they are practically adored. What she is doing is wrong on so many levels.
Even though she is so bad to her mother, she still entrusts her with Sophie. Of course, with no pay even though Sophie’s father was unemployed for a long period of time. That entire family just boiled my blood. Bess completely saved the story fortunately.
A key point I picked out while reading this story, was the conflict between what heritage a foreign child would benefit from. In the story Who’s Irish? by Gish Jen, it appears as if the grandmother is somewhat of a bigot. The reason why I say this is well because, it seems like in every other paragraph, she’s constantly making remarks on how the Chinese heritage is “fierce”, like herself…tough, obedient, and strict in other words. This brings us to the reason of why she is always trying to override her granddaughter, Sophie’s “wild side”, with her Chinese half. The wild side seems to represent the Irish paternal side in Sophie; though the grandmother feels the American way is also quite similar. This is seen when the grandmother describes Amy, Sophie’s old babysitter. Amy was in a way sort of a free spirit, a “creative” American, which would also answer why Amy applauded Sophie’s “creative” behavior on stripping herself of her clothes in the park. Throughout the story we continue to see the grandmother make remarks in regards to Sophie’s behavior; “I am not exaggerate: millions of children in China, not one act like this”(Jen 619). The grandmother’s remarks can even be witnessed by the main character in the short story Two Kinds by Amy Tan . “I didn’t have to do what my mother said anymore…This wasn’t China”(Tan 1228).
The story seems to reflect the American way as a trait of disobedience and odd behavior, from a child to their guardian. When we look at Who’s Irish?, we see Sophie’s disobedience to her grandmother, parents, and elderly strangers. Then, when we look over at the daughter’s actions towards her mother in Two Kinds. I believe even later on in the story we see her mother try to throw in the fact that only “obedient” children can live under her roof. This could be used as a reference towards the point the grandmother was trying to make over in Who’s Irish? Being that the mother in Two Kinds, was also from China, this “obedient” trait could be a key factor most given from child to parent in China.