“Children As Enemies”

“Children As Enemies” is one of the short stories from “A Good Fall” by Hajin. I’ve already written about the book in the previous post so I’ll just get down to the point.

One of the touching story in the book, it’s about the conflict between the conservative grandparents and the grandchildren who wanted to become Americanized. The grandparents sold their house in China and came to the States to live with their son’s family, but they couldn’t get along with the grandchildren. Whenever a conflict arose, they blame it on the mother saying that she wasn’t good enough for them. This angers the children more and they rose in defense on their mother. One of the big argument is about the grandchildren changing their Chinese names to English names since they were often mocked by their peers. Furthermore, they also want to change their surname, which the grandparents were against since they didn’t want their identity to be changed. Eventually, they moved out of the house and lived on their own. They never stepped in the house again. Even when they see their grandchildren on the street, the grandparents were threatened not to make their mom miserable anymore.

You could say that the children were very rude since they told the grandparents to get out of the house, which is something one shouldn’t say to an elder in Asian culture. From the grandparents’ point of view, they were miserable since they couldn’t’ adapt to the western culture. They disapprove of the education system because it was different from the way they were taught. They wanted them to study hard like the students do in China and thought that discussions topics assigned by the teacher were inappropriate for the children. I had to smile while reading about that part because when we was young, my parents forbid us from watching movies with sexual contents, saying it’s inappropriate for children and yet, we had to discuss about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and whether he should be impeached at school. So, back to the grandparents, they wanted to keep their culture and their grandchildren to respect it. So, they were furious when the children wanted to change the surname. They were angry at their son and the daughter-in-law for not staying on their side. For them, life was a living hell and they wanted to go back to their country, but they can’t since they had sold their house.

However, on the side of the children, I can understand their feelings because I spent my early teenage years in America. But, unlike the children, I never wanted to become Americanized. I knew that I don’t belong there and that the time I spent will not last forever. Even so, I can’t help but be drawn into the American culture. I never wanted to change my name like the children ‘cuz it’s a beautiful name given by my parents, named after a lady from an ancient epic. But, I do hate hearing my name being mispronounced all the time, especially on the school’s intercom. The reason I can sympathize with the children is because like them, I had faced prejudice and been called countless names. Perhaps that’s why I never wanted to become Americanized. You may walk like them. You may talk like them, but deep down, you are still a Myanmar. Anyway, back to the children, I can see why they disliked living with their grandparents because they were very conservative and strict. They also dislike them talking their mom down so they were always ready to defend their beloved mother.

Overall, this story is about saying who’s right or wrong, but about the conflict that arose between the older generation and the young generation.


4 thoughts on ““Children As Enemies”

  1. A similar thing happened in England in a family where the grandfather came to visit, and the grandchildren, about 4 or 5 years old, were running around the grandfather when they sleep and stepping over them. Of course, the grandfather was offended and called the children rude, which sparked an argument between the grandfather and the parents. In the end the grandfather couldn’t take it and went back to Burma.

    In my opinion, if one lives in another culture then one should adapt. Notice I said “adapt”, which implies some sort of compromise as opposed to “accept” which means complete acquiescence. Just as we would expect a Westerner to dress decently in non-revealing clothes, we should respect and adapt to the customs of the foreign culture we live in. Maybe we can’t blame the grandparents for their lack of education and cultural awareness, since they probably never had a proper modern education.

    The children didn’t have to change their surname or first name. They could simply add an English name to their official records and use it, or make it the primary name.

  2. It’s hard enough it is for grandparents to relate to the grandkids because of the generation gap but add in the cultural gap, it is pretty darned hard to stay close. I think if the kids grow up with the grandparents, and the grandparents are active members of their lives, the gaps between them can be minimized. But you can’t expect a grandparent to walk back into the kids’ lives after being absent during their formative years and then want them to be moulded back into the old culture or expect the kids to love and respect them.

    My fear is that my own kids will see me as the weird mom with weird rituals because they are not exposed to my culture at all. Not their fault when the community they are only in touch with is the mainstream (Midwestern, very vanilla) America. It’s just one of the facts of being an immigrant especially in a not so multicultural place. It’s a shame but that’s just the way it is. Life puts me here, that’s how it is. I just hate it when people pass judgments on each other not knowing or trying to understand that every life and circumstance is different.

  3. Great analysis to the short story “Children As Enemies” by Ha Jin. I feel the same ways as you when I am reading the story. Since, I came from Burma, I feel the children in America are so rude, however I also don’t like parents in Burma too. Parents in Burma are so strict to their children. Mostly, they beat to their children if the children disrespect, disobey and argue with them.

    • Yeah, I know. I hate it when parents beat up children. They are just pushing their anger towards the children for their bad behaviors.

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