English 1121 (Prof. Scanlan)
Essay 3 Draft
May 15, 2020
Ethics and Character Decisions
In Ha Jin’s short story “A Good Fall,” important scenes occur where characters such as Ganchin and Master Zong follow an ethical code during moments of problematic times. Master Zong was head of the temple that Ganchin was a monk/kung fu teacher in. Ganchin’s visa expired which led him to be an illegal alien. Master Zong wanted to send Ganchin back to China so he kidnapped Ganchin. Ganchin escaped the airport and eventually found a building to attempt suicide. The author, Ha Jin explores the experience of Chinese immigrants and the challenges they face in the United States. Holley E. Martin’s Article “Falling Into America: The Downside of Transnational Identities in Ha Jin’s A Good Fall,” explores the idea of “transmigrants” being tied to China and exiled to having an American identity. In another article “An Interview with Ha Jin” by Jerry A. Varsava explores Ha Jin’s writing which elaborates the moral behind “A Good Fall.” Master Zong follows utilitarian ethics while Ganchin follows virtue ethics when it comes to the most important scenes of “A Good Fall” where they had to decide what they had to do in the moment of stress. While both Martin’s article and Varsava’s article focus on two different concepts, I think both articles will help explore the reasons behind the ethics followed by both characters. In order to show this, I will examine Martin’s article and her ideas of transmigrants being tied to China and exiled to having an American identity and how that connects to both scenes. Then, I will examine Varsava’s article that will allow us to get a better idea of Ha Jin’s purpose of a “A Good Fall.”
From the start of the short story, it was obvious that Master Zong was evil and only cared for himself. Master Zong and the help of another man had grabbed Ganchin from his arms and shoved him in the BMW that was going to send Ganchin to the airport. “They just didn’t want to sully China’s image by letting an ocher-robed monk roam the streets of New York. That would tarnish the temple’s reputation as well” (344). Master Zong only wanted to send Ganchin back home for his own benefit. He decided to follow utilitarian ethics when Ganchin told him he wasn’t going to go back. Master Zong is one of the characters who does well financially and socially which is unlikely according to Martin who says “But, even English and a good job are no guarantees of success in the U.S., because a character cannot distance him or herself from a Chinese identity” (6). But Master Zong has been taking advantage of Ganchin for his own utility. The Chinese identity seems to form a negative image especially when Ganchin mentioned the reason why Master Zong kidnapped him. The importance of China’s image has huge meaning in the story. Thinking about it, Master Zong could have let Ganchin figure things out on his own but instead he took the opportunity to kidnap Ganchin and fly him back home all on his behalf as if the kidnapping was acceptable with the fact he paid the ticket and all.
Ganchin was going through it after being fired from the temple. He had to find a way to survive. He felt useless living in the U.S that he eventually thought the only way to solve his problem was to kill himself. When in search of a perfect building to jump from, Ganchin decided to follow virtue ethics. Suicide was the way out for Ganchin. Martin goes on to discuss the whole situation of Ganchin and the attempted suicide. “The disturbing conclusion, however, indicates that in order to succeed in mainstream America, Ganchin does not just have to change; he has to break himself, literally smash up who he used to be” (11). She goes on how immigrants who are poor and uneducated can have the tendency to feel trapped. “.. overburdened by obligations to those back in China” (11). Having that weight on your shoulders can let one feel exiled from having an American identity. But with Ganchin’s failed attempt at suicide, it later worked in his favor. He didn’t have to worry about deportation or the worry of money. Ganchin’s martial arts instincts had benefited him on something that would have been the worst mistake of his life. To keep in mind, he was an ill man. To survive a jump like that especially under those circumstances was a tad bizarre.
As well as the characters in his story, Ha Jin himself was an immigrant and self-exile. As so, he decided to become a spokesman in English for those oppressed in China. The purpose of his writing especially in “A Good Fall” is based on his own experiences and knowledge of Chinese immigrants and the challenges they face. Varsava’s interview with Ha Jin brings clarity on the purpose of his short story. To how he was raised, to who his family was, to his writing, and the meanings he had towards his writing. Which allows us to understand the ethics followed within the characters of “A Good Fall.” Ha Jin was asked about his work and will more of it be set in the United States and is the United States a figure of setting in his stories such as “A Good Fall” and he responded “Yes, all the stories are set in Flushing, New York, which is an immigrant community” (26). Having such a specific area of setting for his story sets the struggles that immigrants face especially when mentioned how NYC is one of the most expensive places to live.
Both Martin and Varsava helped explore utilitarian and virtue ethics, allowing us to understand the background towards the idea of immigrants being exiled, to Ha Jin’s purpose as a writer. Having Ha Jin explore the experiences of Chinese immigrants living in the United States indicated the ethical code that both Master Zong and Ganchin chose to follow. Under certain circumstances, certain actions and decisions were made during moments of stress. Each character handled their own situation differently, having Master Zong only think of himself, to Ganchin thinking the best thing to do is kill himself. Both Master Zong and Ganchin could have handled their situations differently but as we’ve discovered, the struggles of being a Chinese immigrant had impacted their lives and how they chose to handle it.