Perfect Chinese Children by Vanessa Woods
In Perfect Chinese Children by Vanessa Woods we have the theme of shame, struggle, pride, happiness, hope, sacrifice and love. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed ten year old girl the reader realizes after reading the story that Woods may be exploring the theme of shame. The narrator’s mother feels shame over the fact that she is divorced. According to the narrator Chinese people may have affairs but they never divorce. If anything the narrator’s mother struggles as she is raising the narrator and her sister Bronnie. It cannot be easy for the narrator’s mother who seems to live her life through her children. She wants them to be as good if not better than the narrator’s cousins. An enormous task for the narrator when you consider how bright both the cousins are. David after all gets 99.9% in his Maths examination.
The theme of pride is evident in the story. The narrator, who knows that Chinese parents live their life through their children feels sorry that her mother cannot be proud of her or Bronnie. Even if the standard set for them by their older cousins (and mother) may be unachievable. It is also interesting that the narrator’s mother has an expectation that the narrator and Bronnie will take her from being poor to being rich. It is as though success is based on monetary success. That the narrator’s mother believes that money is the real gauge of success. The narrator and Bronnie’s happiness is not taken into consideration. This may explain why the narrator rebels against her mother and starts to rob other children’s lunch money and other items from her classmate’s schoolbags. If anything the narrator is acting as her mother might feel believing in the importance of money and material goods.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. David and his sister, Jasmine, can be seen to represent an unrealistic goal for the narrator. Both are academically and professionally successful. Whereas the narrator’s mother thinks that her own children are wasting their lives with aspirations to be a writer and an actress. The snow white eraser could symbolize hope for the narrator. A hope that she will please her mother in her endeavours. However this is not the case. The narrator’s mother is further ashamed of the narrator for her actions. Going as far as to prove to the narrator that she is like other children by buying snow white erasers for her. It does not dawn on the narrator’s mother that she is putting too much pressure on the narrator. Her marks in school might not be as high as David’s but she is still an exceptionally bright child. Yee Mah is also an important character as she acts as an authority figure in the story while the fact that the narrator’s mother works fourteen hours a day suggests that she struggles to keep food on the table. Food plays an important role in the story and could symbolize a time when the narrator’s father was at home and the narrator was happier.
The end of the story is interesting as the narrator is disappointed that her mother is not proud of her. However it becomes clear to the narrator through her memories that her mother does love her and that she has made sacrifices for the narrator. The memory of the chicken wings being an example of this. Regardless of how the narrator may feel there is no doubting that her mother has provided for her throughout her life and that she might not only want the best for herself but wants the best for the narrator and Bronnie. She does not want them to waste their lives however she does spend too much of her time living her life vicariously or through her children. She may be better off realizing that the narrator and Bronnie will be successful in their own right without comparing them to David and Jasmine.