The descriptions used in the story by Katherine Min are often long or rich with imagery or color. The narrative appears to be a never-ending series of memories that are restated by a much older and wiser person than the book’s protagonist, Gina. Despite the fact that the story is not dramatic or tragic and revolves around a love story between two seemingly very different individuals, its tone is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Instead, it can be described as a calm and reflective narration that does not explicitly focus on the events described but rather on the main protagonist’s attitude to these events.
The author combines both formal and informal tones, using the former for descriptions of places and individuals, and the latter for presenting dialogues. For example, the author uses long, well-structured, compound sentences to describe the protagonist’s father: “I think it was a source of tremendous irritation to him that he could not communicate with other people in so ordered a fashion, that he could not simply draw an equals sign after something he’d said…” (Min, 1995, p. 101).
At the same time, when describing Gina’s dialogues with friends and peers, Min (1995) employs formal language: “Sorry, Gina. Lousy pass…” (p. 101). It might be possible that with this double-language the author also shows the duality of the protagonist, her double-identity: American and Korean.
Other prevalent emotions that sometimes set the tone for the whole story are anger and irritation, often mixed with desire or passion when more intimate scenes are presented. For example, when describing the first dinner with Gina’s father and her future husband, Min uses the following words: “…felt a rising irritation I could not place, anger at my father” (Min, 1995, p. 176). The calm reflectiveness of the narrative is disrupted by these emotions, which also transform its tone, making it more active but also more aggressive.
The feelings of anger and irritation are often subtle in this story. Nevertheless, the author herself points out that her anger is a rage of a small and powerless person, whereas her ambivalence emerges from constant self-questioning (Ling, 1999). The description of passions, failures, successes, misunderstandings, and insights are present and form a specific mood that the reader might interpret as the protagonist’s attempt to understand who she is and what she wants.
However, the overarching tone of the story is acceptance and calm, which should not be interpreted as a lack of emotions or indifference; instead, it seems to be the author’s (or the protagonist’s) agreement with what happened and her decision to explore her own perceptions and emotions further. Despite the fact that the narrative is comprised of memories, the story is not nostalgic as the author uses memories as enablers of her self-reflection rather than tools that help her revive the past.
In sum, the story’s tone can be described as follows: often calm and reflective, sometimes subtly or explicitly aggressive (the latter is less frequent than the former), and transforming into accepting and interpretative toward the end of the story. Attention to detail makes the story lively and explicit descriptions of intimate scenes or even a specific emphasis on them can be interpreted as an attempt to make the story more passionate or emotional, helping the reader understand the protagonist’s inner struggle and her search for an identity.
Ling, A. (1999). Yellow light: The flowering of Asian American arts (Asian American history & culture). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Min, K. (1995). Courting a monk. TriQuarterly, 95(1), 101-221.