Short Essay: Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice

Prompt: What message does Le aim to convey through “Love and Honor…?” Think about family, oral traditions and lessons on storytelling.

In Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, Nam Le tells the story of a young author who is faced with a dilemma of whether or not to “sell out” and write about his “ethnic story” in order to meet an upcoming deadline. The young author in the short story eventually relents and writes an “ethnic story” but is unable to submit it after his father burns the only copy of the story. However what appears to be an act of betrayal, in hindsight, is yet another example of the young author’s father saving the young author from himself. Through this compelling short story, Le offers an empathetic view of Americans, Asians, and Asian-Americans, ultimately showing the reader that conflicts arise between these groups from a lack of knowledge, not malice.

In the short story, Le makes clear distinctions between Asian, American, Asian-American people and their values. Le has characters throughout the short story that are symbolic of each kind of culture. Le introduces characters that represent American culture such as the young author’s girlfriend Linda, a young white woman who does not understand the young author’s insistence on staying in contact with his father, and some of the young author’s friends who encourage him just to write an ethnic story to gain “easy” notoriety. Also Le has characters that represent Asian culture (the young author’s father) and Asian-American culture (the young author). Through his portrayal of these characters Le makes a firm statement on the intentions of these particular groups of people.

Even though, in the story, Anglo-Saxon Americans are portrayed as somewhat antagonistic to many aspects of the background of Asians and Asian-Americans, Anglo-Saxon Americans are never portrayed to be truly antagonistic and instead suffer from a lack of understanding. One of the young author’s fellow writers describes to the young author what he perceives to be the cheap story telling that comes with ethnic literature. The friend even discounts the young author’s ethnic background as something the young author can “exploit” rather than respecting the young author’s ethnic background as a legitimate struggle. However the young author’s frustrated friend, while disrespectful, never objects to the struggles of ethnic people but the cheap writing he associates with it. And while it is unfair to tie the two together, the young author’s friend, a representation of Anglo-Saxon Americans, does not hold negative feelings towards ethnic people. If anything, expressing his disdain for ethnic literature has made the friend feel like “a bad person.” The young author’s girlfriend Linda has misunderstandings about Asian culture as well, as she struggles to understand the young author and his insistence to keep in contact with his father, who she simply sees as abusive. This misunderstanding can be accredited to the young author himself, as that is the only way Linda learned and misinterpreted the actions of the young author’s family. Ultimately Linda, a symbol of an Anglo-Saxon American, can not truly be antagonistic as she herself is dating an Asian-American man, not something to be expected out of a person who is truly antagonistic against Asians or Asian-Americans.

The young author’s struggle between his father is symbolic of a larger intrinsic disagreement between first generation Asian-Americans and their Asian parents. Throughout the short story the young author is conflicted between western and eastern culture. On one hand, the young author treats his father as an annoyance and shows such a disconnect to his Asian heritage that he blatantly exploits his father’s background instead of showing restraint and respecting his father’s story. However despite his reservations about his father, the young author still willingly takes care of his father’s need during his father’s visit and is angered when his friend suggests that ethnic stories were cheaply done. At the end of the story, when the young author’s father burns the ethnic story, the young author expresses remorse (retrospectively) at the angry way the author reacted. This suggests that the young author’s conflict with his father, and the Asian-American first generation struggle with their Asian parents, can be reconciled with understanding. While much as in real life the understanding is not immediate nor is it guaranteed, the young author demonstrates that with time it is possible to reach an understanding.

Conflicts between Anglo-Saxon Americans, Asians and Asian-Americans can be contributed to a lack of understanding and not ill-intentions. In the short story, Anglo-Saxon Americans display antipathy toward some Asian-Americans and Asians but ultimately just need more understanding and already have the good intent necessary to do so. Similarly, the conflict between Asian-Americans and Asians suffers from a lack of understanding but the story expresses promise for understanding over time.

Post Submitted by: Jesse Chiang

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