Dr. Kate Liu, Dr. Wen-chi Lin
Journal on Novel
June 8, 2000
"Do You Have A Normal Family?" (144)
Family Identity in When Fox is A Thousand
In When Fox is A Thousand, family identity is one of concerns for personal identity and national identity. Here, I want to draw a line between these two but to focus on family identity to examine the significance and the value of a family for these four female characters, they are Diane, Ming, Artemis, and Claude. I observed that a condition of breakage and sterility in postmodern family can be observed through their situations.
In Diane's family, the generation gap is a big problem for communication. Through the "scandal" of Andie, Diane's brother, Mr. and Mrs. Wong are very indifferent about their children. On the one hand, they educate their children by giving them much room of liberty to do whatever in their own life, which is very good. On the other hand, they inevitably still try to constrain their children's behaviors in the name of "liberty." When Andie's homosexual identity has been discovered, the Wong parents hereafter have the disconnection with their own son. Only siblings support one another, even though Diane indeed does not try to or cannot do anything for her brother, so she feels guilty later on. Andie would rather wander outside and write to his sister than send any note to his parents about his condition. After the stealing credit card scene, in the dialogue between Diana and Artemis, the familial relationship of the Wongs, especially between the generations has been explored.
"You steal credit cards often?" Artemis
"No. Just sometimes. When I need to remind myself who takes care of who."
"Don't you have family that looks out for you?"
"I have a family that looks after itself--it looks after my only insofar as I'm part of it . . . . As long as I am what they expect me to be, they take care of me. Step outside of that and forget it. It's not that they refuse me anything. It's just that they don't understand the other half of my world." (40-1)
In Diane's family, the duty of generations is blurred up. She points out that every one in her family is living alone, independently.
At the same time, it is apparent that Diane still cares about her family. She does or does not sometime or all the time because she has been used to be in this circumstance. She no longer expects to have a harmonious or happy family in a very ideal concept. It seems very natural to have Diane see her family in this way, practically and cynical a bit. All of them are isolated from each other, and they do not want to try to understand each other further. Therefore, alienation is very naturally existed among them. In this regard, it will not be very surprised to see Diane's mother would very practically try to avoid any disgrace brought to her by her own children.
Mercy/Ming also has her own family crises even though she does not make a clear statement about the exact crises she has. However, she apparently has strong sense of the familial bond than Diane and Artemis.
Trapped in the familial responsibility, Ming feels "helpless" to change her situation in her family, and she also feels guilty, if she just runs away from her family. She is struggling not only between these two bonds for the helpless and subversive for the guilty. Ming realizes very well that she is always a part of her family, and her family is also always a part of her life, as long as she is from the blood of the Lees. She has the family crisis simply because she does not deny her family. In Ming's case, the stronger family bond than Diane's has been presented even though Ming seems not satisfies with her family, which has very strict discipline for next generation.
Very different from Ming and Diane, Artemis is an adoptive child, and this identity raises her sense of indifference naturally. It seems that she is not so close to her adoptive parents either. Meanwhile, there is no much about her and her family because there is an almost complete absent presence of her parents. But it can be found from some passages that Artemis' fathers (so does Saint's father) is more interested in collecting artifacts, especially in the far-East. It is ironic that Artemis's parents are more interested in Chinese than she.
From her relationship with her adoptive parents, it is understandable that Artemis is not interested in and enthusiastic at looking for her biological mother/parents. Artemis is very practical to pay her concerns to people around her. It is meaningless for her to search out where her root is, since she realizes that she is an abandoned child, so she has no need to search for anyone, who threw her away. Artemis also confesses that she does not want to find a mother to take any more loads to her. She tells fox, "I don't want to meet her. I don't want to know what she's like" (222). Artemis does not want to feel guilty or feel embarrassed in the rest of her life for someone she is not concerned for. For her, she would rather care about her friends rather than her adoptive parents and biographical mother, a stranger for her indeed. Artemis wants to cut off with her past--her blood stream, even though it is ambiguous about fox's tone in depicting her status. Less and less sense of responsibility and identity is found in Artemis. As she claims, "I am no less who I am for where I've ended up" (96). Artemis gives a new way for identity by denying any outer relation or value but confirming herself with a strong self-awareness of her status in the environment.
This is a very different way from those that Diane and Ming identify them by their familial relationship (if they do). As an adoptive child and a Chinese Canadian woman, Artemis does not (she does not have to) confirm her identity by her history, her family and blood of family, or her color of skin.
Besides her racial background, Artemis also has a generation gap with her adoptive parents in focusing on familial relationships. Through her and Eden, two notions from two generations contradict to each other about their attitudes toward this world. The young generation think that the old generation is ruining the world for us. (57) But, the old generation might talk back like Mrs. Lee responds to Ming that the more you run away from the old world, the more it catches up with you. (41) Apparently, when the old generation tries to catch up the pace of the young generation, these children strongly disagree with their parents.
Sometimes it might be taken for granted that generation gap is inevitably, but does it mean that the violence among siblings should not be a wonder that Claude hates her brother because of the sexual violence? From Claude's story, another familial violence is revealed--her parents' violence between husband and wife and the violence between she and her brother. However, two pairs of two parties seemingly have to no interface, as if they all are strangers. Living under the threat of violence, Claude can never forget the scene of her parents' quarrel, which is a clear memory for her. (178)
The juxtaposition of three sibling relationships reveals the gap between people in the same generation. Ming does not like her brother, nor respect him. Not even mention how much Claude would hate her brother. In contrast, Diane is the only possible support for her brother when he is as a lost son no longer stays with the Wongs' house. Straying, bad communication, and even violence, these three women probably have more familial problems that I am limited to find out.
Apparently, this is not a novel only focusing on family value. What I want to emphasize is the point that people gradually lose their faith in family. When they confront problems or troubles, family becomes the last place and support, either because they decline to approach it, or because the family is no longer supportive of--reject to or not able to. More pathetic to say, we didn't see any parent even try to offer support. In this regard, it is understandable why children no longer call help to their family because their situation is just the same as Claude once mentions, they "always forget things or break things" (179). They are longer reliable. Not only a gap or breakage between two generation but also sterility of faith in family and of the continuity of familial value is reflected on these four female characters.
However, the family must serve certain significant value taking the underworld scene for example. Except the circumstance of death, family history is the only other reference that the judge needs. It displays the judgment for a person's identity still weighs on family and its history. Moreover, from Andie's letters (185), Children still has concerns and attachment to their family, no matter how bad relationships they have with their parents. Family still holds a moral value for these children. "A name must carry you into the past and the future" (231). Either surname or family name, name is still a sign for identity even though it is dangling.
Lai, Larisa. When Fox Is a Thousand. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1995.