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Conflict, Climax, and Irony

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In Gish Jen’s “Who’s Irish?”, the conflict unravels gradually throughout the story. The narrative, which is from a female Chinese elderly hints at a cultural conflict that started when her daughter, Natalie, married John, who is from an Irish family. Moreover, Natalie does not follow old Chinese traditions like herself. The conflict escalated when Natalia and John finds her at night in the park with their daughter, Sophie, sleeping inside a foxhole with bruises on her skin and eye. After that incident, she never saw her granddaughter, and Natalie and John never asked her to babysit Sophie again. Through a series of flashbacks in the story, the grandmother recalls instances where she is against the lifestyle and parenting styles of Natalie and John. The grandmother’s memories hint at the differences between her and Natalie and John. Moreover, grandmother’s recollections and feelings about Natalie and John also lead to the climax of the story.

The irony in the situation is that in the beginning, the grandmother recalls being prejudiced about the Irish. In addition, the grandmother often compares the Chinese culture to the Western culture and she is having a difficult time reconciling what she knows about Chinese families – parents being comfortable about spanking and supportive of other parents who choose to spank their children, well-behaved and helpful children, and hardworking adults, among others – with the kind of culture that her daughter tolerates – parents forbidden to spank their children, children being allowed to express themselves regardless of being rowdy, and adults taking time off from work, for instance. The grandmother’s inability to adapt or accept an unfamiliar culture becomes the cause of conflict. In the end, the grandmother is accepted by a person, Bess, John’s mother, whose culture she does not understand, which is the irony in the story.

Although the conflict seems internal because the grandmother, who asserts traditional Chinese culture and traditions, the situation is also external in nature because Natalie and John also fail to listen to her thoughts and ideas. Natalie, for fear of being divorced by John, dismisses her mother’s suggestions on how they could bring up Sophie. John, on the other hand, does not make an effort to know and show respect towards Natalie’s mother. The traits and lifestyle of John is also a result of how he was brought up in a privileged Irish family. Therefore, the conflict is both internal and external. The conflict, however, was not resolved in the story. The grandmother may have learned to accept another culture because of Bess’ efforts, but the conflict between her and her daughter and son-in-law was not resolved.

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