essay on the paper menagerie

The Paper Menagerie

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Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ken Liu's The Paper Menagerie . Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

The Paper Menagerie: Introduction

The paper menagerie: plot summary, the paper menagerie: detailed summary & analysis, the paper menagerie: themes, the paper menagerie: quotes, the paper menagerie: characters, the paper menagerie: symbols, the paper menagerie: theme wheel, brief biography of ken liu.

The Paper Menagerie PDF

Historical Context of The Paper Menagerie

Other books related to the paper menagerie.

Extra Credit for The Paper Menagerie

Fantasy Fusion. Ken Liu coined the term “silkpunk” to describe his epic fantasy fiction inspired by East Asian history and culture.

Coming Soon. The next installment of Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty trilogy, Speaking Bones , is slated for release in 2022.

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Racism in The Paper Menagerie Essay

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Among other moral tragedies, racism occupies a prominent place since many people suffer from it both at external and internal levels. Prejudices based on ethnicity are particularly unfair and bitter because one’s race is not something one can choose. However, hearing scornful remarks from strangers is one thing, and enduring emotional contemptuousness from the closest people is another. In Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie,” the tragedy of racism is depicted within a multicultural family. Also, it is a tragedy of the society the influence of which can be too devastating to heal. “The Paper Menagerie” teaches the audience how ungrateful and cruel a child can become under the pressure of others and warns that frequently, people realize their mistakes too late, when they cannot change anything.

Racism in Paper Menagerie

“The Paper Menagerie” is a story about the tragedy of racism because it depicts how unbearably difficult it is for someone to be different. People’s minds are constructed in such a way that the distinction in physical appearance inevitably leads to biased opinions, and frequently causes unfair treatment of others. However, the otherness is mostly ascribed to someone by individuals not belonging to their identity group rather than given by nature. This is exactly the situation that occurred in the narrator’s family. His mother is the main victim of racism: it is not her fault that she is Chinese, but her son makes her feel terrible because of her ethnicity. The story is the embodiment of the racism tragedy because the closest people – a mother and her child – cannot get along. The problem of racism is woven in “The Paper Menagerie” through the depiction of a multicultural family. It is not a common story of brutality where a gang of white youngsters beats up their African American peer. This tragedy is much deeper because it involves hatred of a child against his mother – the one who has given him life. And now, the boy seems to have forgotten all the sacrifices his mother made for him and all the good things she did for him. He treats her only as someone whom his father “had picked <…>out of a catalogue” (Liu 27). The sad part about it all is that the son does not have any reasons to hate his mother except for the fact that she does not suit into the society in which he lives. Jack relishes his disgust and even admits that “contempt felt good” (Liu 27). However, the boy does not have any justification of his behavior and his cruel treatment of his mother.

Irony in Paper Menagerie

The essence of the tragedy is that racism is not born in an outsider, but it grows in someone who is actually a part of the race he hates. At first sight, it seems that the story is a tragedy for the mother since she is the one who suffers from the mockery of her own child. The poor woman who had experienced many sad events in her life thought that she has finally found her happiness. Unfortunately, the source of that happiness grew up to become the most painful stab in her heart. When Jack asks his father, “Do I have a chink face?” it is obvious that he disgusts his mother and everything connected with her national identity (Liu 32). However, since the boy takes after his mother, it is also a tragedy for him. He wants to be similar to his peers, but the irony is that he cannot escape reality. Racism denies the mother her son’s love, and it denies Jack the possibility to live the life he has always wanted. They are both unhappy, each in their own way and under different circumstances. The problem of a generation gap is a phenomenon known to many people, but the tragedy of multicultural relationships is known only to those who have such families. Jack is the reason why his mother has become deeply depressed, and he is also the main cause of his own uneasiness.

The Paper Menagerie Thesis Statement Examples

“The Paper Menagerie” tells a story of the tragedy of racism in the family where the child decides he does not want to be related to his mother. The problem is that he is already similar to her even though he refuses to admit it. Racism is represented by scornful remarks and bitter treatment, and it denies the participants of the argument some of the most cherished dreams. Therefore, the story serves as a warning sign to those who neglect sincere love while seeking acceptance from insignificant people.

Liu, Ken. The Paper Menagerie . N.d. Web.

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Paper Menagerie Symbolism Essay

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The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu Book Analysis

Through the recurrence of the character Laohu, Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie” signifies how the chain of internalized racism in society pressures people of color to strictly choose between identities by false promise of acceptance. This pursuit of societal approval creates division within relationships - portrayed by Jack and his mom. Jack’s mother’s interpretation of keeping ‘security’ in her life involved staying close to her roots. Since her son was the only person around her who shared her position in terms of social hierarchy and culture, she aspired to create a community between the two and embrace their identity as Chinese. After pouring all of her love for Jack into creating Laohu, Jack’s mother is hurt to find that Jack wants nothing to do with Chinese culture. She repairs Laohu and the other paper animals, consistently trying to remind Jack of the identity he once loved, “Every once in a while… a new paper animal would appear on my nightstand… I caught them, squeezed them until the air went out of them, and then stuffed them away in the box in the attic.” (Liu, 70). When put in a strange new country, Jack’s mother tries to hold onto whats left of her Chinese roots, choosing a familiar identity for herself. She finds American culture lacks the sense of comfort she’s been longing for, and is hurt when she discovers that American culture provides Jack with validation, and is thus more important to him. The more his mother tries to bond with Jack, the more he rejects her - both chasing opposite identities and therefore dividing their relationship in the process. 

Contrastingly, Jack’s interpretation of security involves adapting to American culture, causing him to stray away from all aspects of his Chinese roots - including his mother.

After immersing hinself in the magic of his mother’s paper animals, Jack grows fond of the pieces of culture his mother shares with him. One day he encounters Mark - a fellow classmate - and decides to share his newfound love of Chinese culture through his creation Laohu, yet is unexpectedly met with a degrading response, ”’Your Mom makes toys for you from trash?’...I had never thought of Laohu as trash.” (Liu, 68). Since Jack holds Laohu as a key symbol of his culture, Mark demeaning Laohu translates to society disapproving of the identity Jack’s mother passed down to him. Thus, Jack rejects pieces of his Chinese heritage - including the paper menagerie. Fueled by his fear of rejection, he shuts every part of his mother out of his life. By closing the door to his culture, Jack strives towards a strictly American lifestyle in hopes of acceptance, yet ends up losing the only security in his life - his connection with his mother. Overall, acceptance from a community promises security, yet the longing to be seen as an equal causes poc to reject a part of their identity. This endless pursuit of societal validation costs them the relationships in their life that truly foster stability,  and proves that internalized racism in society plays a complex role in poc’s perception of their cultural connection.

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“Paper Menagerie” Stories Book by Ken Liu

Ken Liu’s paper titled Paper Menagerie has employed different themes in its story. It has deployed the theme of connection, resentment, culture, prejudice, love, and struggles. Resentment is clearly shown when Jack, who is happy in his childhood, tries to reject his tradition and embrace the American lifestyle immediately; he is mature. The prejudicial theme is employed when Jack realizes that people are looking at him differently as his mother is Chinese. The theme can be related to the current happenings in the world, and one gets a view of how America perceives one from a different culture. Jack loses connection with his mother because of her mother’s tradition despite enjoying beautiful moments and times while in his youth.

Jack is not comfortable with his culture; he tries as much as possible not to be associated with anything about it. He goes further by to even dissociate from his mother. Jack readily accepts his mother’s tradition while he is young; the acceptance makes both feel at home. Jack does not recognize how special his mother is as he enjoys playing with the paper under his finger. The moment Jack’s mother tries to teach him the Chinese language, it makes him feel more at home. The family moves to a new location, and that makes Jack feel terrible. The movement of Jack’s family to a new location helps him find a new friend by the name of Mark.

In the fight that ensued between Jack and Mark, Mark was able to destroy Jack’s childhood. Mark is seen as tribal as he says in the statement after destroying Jack’s toy; ” Here’s your stupid cheap Chinese garbage.” (Liu, 2016, p. 31). Animals are part of Jack’s family and his childhood; hence they became his tradition. As Mark refers to all of the toys as trash, Jack has to find a solution that is probably doing away with the trash. Jack tries not to refer to the trash by blocking off all related Chinese traditions. In the process, Jack tried to be All American and made several efforts to convert his mother. Jack decides to avoid talking to his mother about the Chinese traditions or probably getting his mother’s tone down. The relationship between Jack and his mother is destroyed when he attempts to have his mother leave behind all the Chinese traditions.

Jack was so happy with the origami, any problem encountered with the origami was immediately solved by his mother. The close connection between both of them blossomed till the time Jack entered his teen years. Jack makes several efforts to connect and interact with other children, but his unable due to his tradition. Jack feels that his life is in a crisis as he feels like he doesn’t look like the others. He does not feel comfortable about the relationship between his parents as he knows that their marriage only happened through the catalog procedure. Jack experiences difficulties in speaking the English language; hence, he cannot fit into the American lifestyle quickly. The conflict arises between Jack and his soul; he tries as much as possible to deny that he is from a different culture, and for him to embrace a different culture, he has first to embrace and understand his culture.

The rebel character of Jack towards his tradition hurt his mother. In the letter written by Jack’s mother, he tries to explain and narrate the struggles she had to undergo while growing. All the difficulties that she went through were not recognized by her son, Jack, who never showed interest or effort to understand. Their connection was not that strong even though the mother tried to understand Jack’s environmental culture, but Jack never bothered immediately he grew old. Jack decided to disconnect from his mother as a result of falling to trust in his actions. Jack is selfish in one way as he deliberately leaves his mother to go and embrace the American culture. He failed to understand why his mother did not want to leave behind the culture.

In the end, Jack finally comes to agree and accept his wrongdoings. He finally came to acknowledge the struggles his mother had to go through. He understands the love his mother had shown despite separating from her. Jack also came to accept the person he is; he finally appreciated and became proud of his mother’s culture. After reading his mother’s letter, he came to understand the struggles her mother went through and blamed himself for making the wrong choice that caused the separation from his mother.

Liu, K. (2016). The paper menagerie and other stories . Saga Press.

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  1. The Paper Menagerie Study Guide

    Historical Context of The Paper Menagerie Ken Liu mentions two major events of twentieth-century Chinese history in “The Paper Menagerie,” the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution. The Great Famine occurred in China between 1958 and 1962. The famine was man-made.

  2. The Paper Menagerie Summary and Study Guide

    The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a collection of 15 short stories from the award-winning science fiction author, Ken Liu. The collection includes tales of magical realism, futuristic technology, historical fiction, and gritty noir. Simon and Schuster published the book in 2016.

  3. Racism in The Paper Menagerie: Essay Example

    “The Paper Menagerie” is a story about the tragedy of racism because it depicts how unbearably difficult it is for someone to be different. People’s minds are constructed in such a way that the distinction in physical appearance inevitably leads to biased opinions, and frequently causes unfair treatment of others.

  4. Paper Menagerie Symbolism Essay

    In Ken Liu’s short story “Paper Menagerie” Jack, a naive Asian-American adolescent, lives alongside his family in America. Unlike Jack’s father, his Chinese mother was a significant figure throughout his childhood. She was his shoulder to cry on, someone who could lift him up when he was down.

  5. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu Book Analysis

    The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu Book Analysis Through the recurrence of the character Laohu, Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie” signifies how the chain of internalized racism in society pressures people of color to strictly choose between identities by false promise of acceptance.

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    Topic: Literature Words: 757 Pages: 3 Sep 1st, 2022. Ken Liu’s paper titled Paper Menagerie has employed different themes in its story. It has deployed the theme of connection, resentment, culture, prejudice, love, and struggles. Resentment is clearly shown when Jack, who is happy in his childhood, tries to reject his tradition and embrace ...