Papa Bear by Chin Shen
In Papa Bear by Chin Shen we have the theme of memories, childhood, belonging, rebellion, acceptance and pride. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Shen may be exploring the theme of memories. The narrator has been told by their parents of the life that his father had growing up in China. How his grandfather plagiarized Japanese articles and passed them off as his wife’s. This may be significant as his grandmother won awards for ‘her’ writing which may lead to some readers suggesting that Communism, particularly in China, has no real foundation. It may be a system of government that does not appeal to the westernized narrator. It is also interesting that the narrator’s father appears to have rebelled against his parents. The narrator’s father started to smoke at a young age and then he joined a local gang.
This too may be significant as it suggests that the narrator’s father wished to belong to something that was an alternative to how he was being raised. At no stage of the story does the reader suspect that the narrator’s father is prepared to follow in his parents’ footsteps. He is an individual who prefers to rebel against the status quo that existed in China at the time he was growing up. The fact that the narrator’s father left for Australia at a young age may also be important as it suggests a strong desire for the narrator’s father to explore a different type of world. A world where perhaps he can be independent of others. At no stage in the story does the reader feel as though the narrator’s father has accepted the position (in China) that he finds himself in.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The fact that the narrator’s father abandons the traditions of his parents and their political beliefs not only suggests that the narrator’s father is rebelling against his parents. As many young people do. He also appears to be abandoning his life in China and what it represents. Many believe that communism is oppressive and this may very well be how the narrator’s father feels. He wants to be free of structure hence his rebelling against his parents and their beliefs. How influenced the narrator’s father is by Australia is noticeable by his changing of his name to Tandy. He is attempting to westernize himself. Something that is further noticeable to the reader when the narrator’s father takes a line from the movie The Shining and uses it when he comes home (Honey I’m home). If anything the narrator’s father is avoiding any type of recognition with his upbringing.
The end of the story is interesting as Shen appears to be exploring the theme of pride. The narrator is proud off his father and wishes to be like him when he grows up. This may be important as the narrator represents the first generation of Asian-Australians who are prepared to put aside their heritage. Just as his father has denounced his heritage so too is the narrator prepared to do so. He prefers the life of his adult father than the life that his father had as a child. In Australia the narrator’s father was allowed to be himself and act in a manner he saw fit. He was not constrained by Communism which may not accept the individual for who they are. This is the complete opposite to how the narrator feels about his father. He is proud of his father for standing on his own two feet and not simply, blindly, following the lead of his parents.