Native Speaker was written by Chang-rae Lee in the twentieth century and published in 1995. The novel takes place in New York, depicting the late twentieth century. The protagonist is Henry Park, a spy for an espionage firm who has been deserted by his wife. Henry is first chosen to work in this espionage firm because he possesses exceptional skill in blending into varied surroundings. He fails his first assignment, which was to spy on Dr. Emile Luzan; afterwards, Luzan dies mysteriously, and Henry is put on temporary leave.
However, Henry is soon after given a task of collecting information about John Kwang, a Korean American politician running for mayor. Henry Park later begins to reflect the meaning of being a Korean immigrant, ultimately coming to the conclusion that the consequence of assimilating into another culture is the loss of one’s sense of cultural allegiance. After learning that Eduardo, one of his closest colleagues, was a spy, John Kwang becomes emotionally devastated and lets the “Korean gang handle Eduardo”, which leads to the bombing of his own headquarters, the death of Eduardo, and his eventual departure to Korea.
Park, with a newfangled animosity towards his espionage firm, quits his job and starts working with his wife teaching English. The title Native Speaker is symbolic because it epitomizes the novels conflict, which is the protagonist’s eagerness for the unimaginable: to disconnect the connection between him and his culture and to become a native speaker of a different culture. The setting as New York is important because it exemplifies opportunity, freedom, and success, the very reasons that immigrants move to America. New York is widely associated with the American Dream, starting from nothing and achieving lots of success hrough hard work and determination.
Theme The protagonist in Native Speaker considers his usage of language symbolic of his identity. Not only is language used as a form of self-conscious identification for the main character, but also is used to differentiate his facade and pattern of clothing. Henry embodies the first generation immigrant very well, but he can speak as well as a native speaker. Henry’s contradictory attributes convey his conflicting identities. Every time Henry thinks about his father and tries to describe his father’s belief about a given subject, Henry includes some of his father’s language.
Whenever Henry discusses his father with someone else, his own language intermingles with his father’s language so that Henry cannot fully be part of one language like he wants. Henry noted that whenever his father discussed his views on certain topics, his father not only communicated his arguments but also provided insight on the character of his father. In most cases, Henry’s father’s use of language identified him as a “stranger” or someone from outside the governing society and someone who at best could hope for an auxiliary role in that society.
A lot of times, Henry’s father alienated himself from the main society with his foreign use of language and lowered himself into someone with a secondary role in his community. Judging himself based on the precedent of his proficiency in language, Henry looks at himself as an antagonist to society because of his particular usage. Since Henry passionately declares language as the almighty judge of one’s identity, he scrutinizes the slightest distinctions of context and definition, and he consolidates his awareness of the distinctions into his capacity of language.
Henry’s expertise in the English language enables him to achieve and maneuver forward more than his father. Despite this beneficial trait, Henry does not try to fill in holes in understanding and tolerance between different ethnic groups, like John Kwang does. Instead, Henry employs his capacity of language to arrange himself with people that he closely resembles so that he can extract information easier and soon betray those people much quicker. Henry therefore severs ties with his native heritage and submits himself in service of white America; however, Henry cannot fully integrate himself into white America.
Henry, therefore, does not have a solid identity. His identity crisis soon causes Henry to doubt and finally refer to his identity as an adversary to society. Henry, however, is not the only character that believes that his unique usage of language deserves the identity of adversary. Henry’s wife gives him a note that called him a “false speaker of the language,” which conveyed Leila’s distrust and negative view of Henry during that moment in time. Scholarly Journal Analysis
First, Wu notes the contemporary critiques of Native Speaker. Some support this novel because it explores the real relations between New York City’s diverse populations, while others reject it as empowering the stereotypical view of Korean American culture. Wu finally asserts that Park, the protagonist in the novel, had failed as the “ethnic consultant”, or someone who accurately portrays and characterizes Asian Americans without referring to stereotypes or mostly false assumptions.
Henry Park’s portrayal as a scripted and unacknowledged individual is used to represent the typical Asian American. Wu states that Henry Park is similar to the nameless character in Invisible Man in which both are exemplified as the stereotypes rampant in society. Wu then gives the insight of a Korean American critic, who says that Henry Park’s career as a spy perfectly embodies the stereotype of an Asian American as a scripted and selfconscious individual.
He gave this insight to support the fact that a lot of the reviewers acknowledge Henry Park as a representative of the stereotype that attempts to accurately describe Asian Americans but also to point out the fact that none of the critics and reviewers stated or believed that it was an accurate stereotype. I agree that Native Speaker does not accurately describe the personalities of many Asian Americans, but the journal’s argument, that a writer (or critic) who does not claim a certain point means the writer opposes that point, has flawed reasoning and is not verifiable.
Although Chang-rae Lee’s portrayal of the Asian American may be true in some cases, his portrayal is false for many other cases. I, someone who have lived in America for almost 10 years, have met many Asian Americans who were spontaneous, tentative, and conspicuous in American society, the opposite of Chang-rae Lee’s portrayal of the Asian American. Most of these Asian Americans were those who lived in America for at least half a decade; however, Changrae Lee’s portrayal was very accurate for Asian-Americans who recently came to or only lived in America for a short time.
Many Asian Americans who recently moved to America tended to hide themselves from view (just like Henry Park’s father in the predominantly White neighborhood) and generally be very reserved in the community. Yung-Hsing Wu is true that not all Asian Americans fit into Chang-rae Lee’s stereotype of Asian Americans. But, his affirmation to support his argument is not a valid one. Author’s Style Chang-rae Lee illustrates his artistry as a writer through the protagonist. By incorporating the story through an educated and thoughtful individual (Henry Park), Chang-rae uses practical language that thoroughly brings out his excellence in style.
Written in a very smooth design, his language naturally flows instead of being clunky and abrupt. Lee naturally blends in imagery with components that resemble a stylized motion picture. The diction is very meticulous, and wonderfully enunciated; however, his characterizations sometimes include many trivial details that hinder the readers from seeing the overall purpose and goal. There were a few instances when Lee was too engaged in expressing his story that the story sometimes went off on a tangent when describing something specific and then went back to the plot, making the novel seem wishy-washy in some places.
The passage that I chose exemplifies Henry Park’s background on how he became a spy and what he did as a spy. This passage is significant because it sets the framework of Henry Park’s identity crisis in the novel. When Henry Park states that he “worked with Koreans”, he was actually spying on them for the benefit of white America. The espionage firm that Henry Park works for symbolizes white America because the firm manipulates foreigners and immigrants for its benefit and causes the deportation of many Koreans living in the US late in the novel.
The firm uses the information that spies like Henry Park obtained to harm potential assailants or malicious individuals as the firm deemed fit. This paradox that, Henry Park works and assists Korean Americans in their jobs but actually harms them in the process, helps explain why Park’s identity crisis exists in the first place and gives light to the profundity of the situation. The passage also points out the outer personality of Henry Park. He is illustrated to be a scripted, calculating, yet inconspicuous type of person.
The passage shows that the novel is set in 1st person in Henry Park’s perspective; however, the structure of the passage is not direct but a little bit wavering. Not only does it focus purely on the story of the 1st person narrator, the passage also includes a back story of some other people mentioned, including Hoagland, Jack, etc. Chang-rae Lee helps build a phlegmatic tone that helps emphasize Henry Park’s acceptance of his identity-less self. When Henry Park states, ‘We pledged allegiance to no government. We weren’t ourselves political creatures.
We weren’t patriots. he not only gives hint to his acceptance that he does not have a strong affiliation with a specific country, but also conveys the dispassion that Park has on this issue. Henry’s statements that “We pledged allegiance to no government” and “We weren’t patriots” implies that he did not have a strong support for the government that he is working for and confirms his non identity character. Chang-rae Lee, at the end of the passage, uses the fragment to describe Henry Park in his “unauthorized biographies” in order to emphasize his apathy in relation to the writing of the biographies.
Henry Park calling himself “prodigal and mundane” conveys that he thought of own writings as not exemplary but he did not do much to correct this. Concluding Novel Discussion The protagonist in Native Speaker considers his usage of language symbolic of his identity. Also, Wu’s scholarly journal is sound in its evidence in illustrating that Chang-rae Lee tried to emphasize stereotypes but his reasoning was not logically sound. In the novel, Chang-rae uses practical language that thoroughly brings out his excellence in style.
Written in a very smooth design, his language naturally flows instead of being clunky and abrupt. Chang-rae Lee also helps build a phlegmatic tone that helps emphasize Henry Park’s acceptance of his identity-less self. Lee consolidates an important theme that were similarly and accurately represented in many twentieth century poems. This poem’s primary theme is identity and the search for identity. The poem is an illuminating poem in which the narrator details herself and her clouded identity. Because Georgia Johnson is mixed, she cannot fully identify herself as part of one culture.
She acknowledges the enmity that either side can have towards her, and so she further defines herself as an individual with no real identity. Even though Johnson’s identity is clouded, she looks at the bright side of this cloudiness by recognizing that this identity cloudiness helps her view the world through a nonpartisan viewpoint. The first three lines of the poem relate to Native speaker because the lines in the poem have an indirect description of the protagonist, Henry Park. In these first three lines, Johnson says, “Not wholly this or that/But wrought/ Of alien bloods am I,”.
These lines help describe Henry Park in a broad standpoint. He desperately wants to sever ties with his identity a Korean and conform to the American culture more, but his inner blood prove to be robust. The reality of his identity provides a powerful force that negates the desire to conform into American culture and puts Park in an inescapable area in which he is forced to accept his differing identities and remain without one true identity. The next three lines of the poem help portray Henry Park’s situation: “A product of the interplay/ Of traveled hearts. /Estranged, yet not estranged, I stand… .
Just like Georgia Johnson, Henry Park is in an inescapable area where he is forced to accept that he is without a true identity. Park eventually finds himself surrounded by callous eyes due to his extreme efforts to become American. These efforts have strained his relationship with his family and put himself in a negative light in front of other Korean Americans in the novel. The first six lines connect to the novel in that they perfectly embody the novel’s (and Henry Park’s) conflict, which is the inescapable barrier of a person’s identity due to the individual’s clouded identity.
The poem, though also addresses the novel’s resolution. Johnson announces in the poem that “From my estate/l view earth’s frail dilemma;/Scion of fused strength am 1,/ All understanding,/Nor this nor that/Contains me. ” These lines are crucial in understanding Henry Park’s epiphany in terms of his identity. By encircling the type of person he might be, he uses a supporting tool to propel himself to be as great as he can be. The novel and the poem share the same theme in that both affirm that having a clouded identity can be detrimental to an individual who wants to conform to his/her society.