Out of the many stories that explore the question of freedom in Ha Jin’s anthology A Good Fall, “Children as Enemies” comes out as the most emotive and gripping illustrations of the search of inner freedom. The character of the Grandfather represents the trauma and regret of dislocation which affects elderly Chinese immigrants in the United States. Essentially, the movement from China to the United States is considered as a triumphant feat of emancipation from the prohibitive and restrictive Chinese environment (Walkowitz 78). The physical restraints in the Chinese environment back at home had filtered onto the minds and conscience of the characters who sought freedom.
According to the Grandfather, his migration to the United States was premised on the thought that only physical movement would dismantle the oppressive structures from his mind. His plight is anchored on the fact that the freedom and happiness that he hoped to find in the United States turns out to be illusory (Jin 56). He finds himself estranged from his cultural identity and feeling of self. His dilemma is dual in the sense that he cannot connect with the generation of his fellow migrants including his own children, besides the fact that America does not offer the cultural and social environment he can morph into. Generally, he is in a state of loss. The loss he suffers appears to be irreparable and he has now resigned to the fate of eking out a humdrum existence in a land he cannot connect with.
One telling illustration of this utter sense of loss is to be found in his regret of having left China. He wishes that he would have rather remained behind before he made the epic journey (Jin 58). Obviously, the daunting acculturation process between China and the United states oppresses the old man. The sickening nostalgia at the core of his heart represents the damage he suffers for acting as a terrain for the struggle between the cultures of the two places. His younger kin seem to be relatively easy in their new environment. They have chances, opportunities and time to adjust into the new cultural realities that are on offer in the United States (Jin 59). There generation is well represented in the American System, which is generally more receptive to younger people.
The old man is therefore estranged. He has approached the limits of hope. The only chance he is left with is to accept himself as an American and struggle continuously to free himself of every vestige of the Chinese elements. The paradox in this is that by discarding his Chinese heritage, he would have entered a new for of cultural captivity that would deny him of all the freedom. It would seem, from this opinion that the Chinese environment is limiting to its people’s freedom but the conditions in exile have an annihilating effect to the identity. The problem is both generational and cultural. The immigrants who achieve the freedom they seek are those who are willing and ready to morph into the American system by shedding off a significant part of the Chinese identities (Walkowitz 77).
The danger is that the elderly people have their identities already firmly configured by the Chinese worldview. Ultimately, the elusive freedom for the immigrants is revealed as a complex interplay between the competing elements of the Chinese and American cultures. Internal and external freedom and fulfillment for immigrants depends on their ability and flexibility to adjust to the two realities. In “Children as Enemies” Jin attempts to explain the fact that migrating to the United States does not necessarily guarantee the immigrants the freedom they yearn for.
Jin, Ha. A Good Fall. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010.
Walkowitz, Rebecca, L. Immigrant Fictions: Contemporary Literature in an Age of Globalization. New York: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007.