Diction and syntax are used in literature to give the narrator a certain atmosphere or to portray the narrator in a light other than the common person. Diction is defined as the choice of words especially with regard to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness (Merriam-Webster). Syntax is defined as the way in which linguistic elements are put together to form constituents, as phrases or clauses (Merriam-Webster). Gish Jen use both of these literary tools very effectively in her story “Who’s Irish? ” to display the narrator as a foreigner in America who is unaccustomed to the way Americans live.
The author uses broken English to cement the feeling of not being at home with the environment around you, including the feeling of being out of place. This accentuates the distance between the narrator and her daughter, helping the reader to understand that there is little connection between mother and daughter in this story. This makes understanding the actions of the mother in regards to disciplining Sophie easier. The missing articles and simple words changes the image of the narrator within the reader’s mind, forcing them to see the vast differences between her and the other characters.
The narrator is very traditional in her views about what should and should not be valued in life. The narrator sees more value in the strictness of her home country in how a child is normally raised; the long hours spent in school and doing homework, the calm and collectiveness of a mild mannered average Chinese person, any characteristic of China that the narrator agrees with but Natalie doesn’t. Since the narrator raised her daughter in America, Natalie does not have the same values as her mother and won’t let her treat Sophie the way a reader can conclude she raised her own daughter.
The narrator says “I tell daughter, We do not have this word in Chinese, supportive. ” (Jen, 106) She is trying to explain that where she grew up and the ways of life that she understands are completely different from where she is now, and that she does not like the way she is experiencing life now. The narrator uses many examples of how Sophie doesn’t act like a Chinese child, saying that she is wild. She blames this trait on the Shea family, but Natalie blames it on Sophie’s past babysitter, Amy. Now that Amy has quit, the mother has started to babysit and take care of Sophie while Natalie and her husband aren’t home.
When the narrator offers to spank Sophie so that she won’t take her clothes off in public or act wild anymore, Natalie and John willfully object to the notion. They refuse the offer because Natalie says that “It gives them low self-esteem,” and “and that leads to later problems. ” Natalie says thing like this to her mother as a passive-aggressive way of telling the narrator that she is to blame for her issues. The thought process of the narrator is explained throughout the story and it’s used to define the narrator as someone out of place, someone not in their own element.
This makes it simpler to take in the way that the narrator decides to treat Sophie in a manner that is looked down upon in America. The narrator thinks like a woman from China, living with their customs and their traditions. This makes living with an Americanized daughter with American values difficult, especially when she is told not to discipline her granddaughter in her own way. The author’s use of broken English puts even more distance between the narrator and Natalie’s husband, John, and his family.
The narrator doesn’t understand why John or any of his three brothers don’t work. Bess, their mother, lets them live with her and the narrator does not have a liking of that. She is used to the man of the house working because that’s how it was when her husband was alive and Natalie was growing up, along with how she was raised. Bess worked before she got sick, but now she cannot go to work. Sometimes, when the narrator is at her house, she offers to let Bess come live with her and her daughter because Bess complains about needing female company.
This is very impactful for the narrator, but Bess mostly shrugs it off. Very near to the end, when Natalie is forced to find another home for her mother, Bess offers the same to the narrator. She offers to let her live with her. She takes the offer and in the end, the narrator sees how kind and generous someone can be, even if she is not the same nationality as them. Overall, the diction and syntax that the author uses is impactful and changing for the reader when it comes to understanding the story and why some of the events take place the way that they do.