Physical setting

The events described in the short story “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu take place in Connecticut, US, where Jack was born and lives with his parents. When Jack is ten years old, the family moves to a “new house across town”. While the house is not described, the narrative hints that Jack’s room symbolizes his isolation and determination to forget about his Chinese heritage: “I would hurry on to my room, where I could continue my all-American pursuit of happiness”. 

In college, Jack moves to California, where he studies and where he takes part in job interviews. The end of the story focuses on Jack’s mother’s life in China and Hong Kong:

Only a few years after I was born, the Great Famines struck China, during which thirty million people died. The first memory I have was waking up to see my mother eating dirt so that she could fill her belly and leave the last bit of flour for me.

The letter that Jack reads highlights the poverty in which his mother lived before the Cultural Revolution. Later on, when Jack’s mother arrives in Hong Kong, she works for an abusive family and lives in terrible conditions: “At night I was locked into a cupboard in the kitchen to sleep”. The mother’s account of her life in C...

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