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“Paper Menagerie” Stories Book by Ken Liu

Ken Liu’s paper titled Paper Menagerie has employed different themes in its story. It has deployed the theme of connection, resentment, culture, prejudice, love, and struggles. Resentment is clearly shown when Jack, who is happy in his childhood, tries to reject his tradition and embrace the American lifestyle immediately; he is mature. The prejudicial theme is employed when Jack realizes that people are looking at him differently as his mother is Chinese. The theme can be related to the current happenings in the world, and one gets a view of how America perceives one from a different culture. Jack loses connection with his mother because of her mother’s tradition despite enjoying beautiful moments and times while in his youth.

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Jack is not comfortable with his culture; he tries as much as possible not to be associated with anything about it. He goes further by to even dissociate from his mother. Jack readily accepts his mother’s tradition while he is young; the acceptance makes both feel at home. Jack does not recognize how special his mother is as he enjoys playing with the paper under his finger. The moment Jack’s mother tries to teach him the Chinese language, it makes him feel more at home. The family moves to a new location, and that makes Jack feel terrible. The movement of Jack’s family to a new location helps him find a new friend by the name of Mark.

In the fight that ensued between Jack and Mark, Mark was able to destroy Jack’s childhood. Mark is seen as tribal as he says in the statement after destroying Jack’s toy; ” Here’s your stupid cheap Chinese garbage.” (Liu, 2016, p. 31). Animals are part of Jack’s family and his childhood; hence they became his tradition. As Mark refers to all of the toys as trash, Jack has to find a solution that is probably doing away with the trash. Jack tries not to refer to the trash by blocking off all related Chinese traditions. In the process, Jack tried to be All American and made several efforts to convert his mother. Jack decides to avoid talking to his mother about the Chinese traditions or probably getting his mother’s tone down. The relationship between Jack and his mother is destroyed when he attempts to have his mother leave behind all the Chinese traditions.

Jack was so happy with the origami, any problem encountered with the origami was immediately solved by his mother. The close connection between both of them blossomed till the time Jack entered his teen years. Jack makes several efforts to connect and interact with other children, but his unable due to his tradition. Jack feels that his life is in a crisis as he feels like he doesn’t look like the others. He does not feel comfortable about the relationship between his parents as he knows that their marriage only happened through the catalog procedure. Jack experiences difficulties in speaking the English language; hence, he cannot fit into the American lifestyle quickly. The conflict arises between Jack and his soul; he tries as much as possible to deny that he is from a different culture, and for him to embrace a different culture, he has first to embrace and understand his culture.

The rebel character of Jack towards his tradition hurt his mother. In the letter written by Jack’s mother, he tries to explain and narrate the struggles she had to undergo while growing. All the difficulties that she went through were not recognized by her son, Jack, who never showed interest or effort to understand. Their connection was not that strong even though the mother tried to understand Jack’s environmental culture, but Jack never bothered immediately he grew old. Jack decided to disconnect from his mother as a result of falling to trust in his actions. Jack is selfish in one way as he deliberately leaves his mother to go and embrace the American culture. He failed to understand why his mother did not want to leave behind the culture.

In the end, Jack finally comes to agree and accept his wrongdoings. He finally came to acknowledge the struggles his mother had to go through. He understands the love his mother had shown despite separating from her. Jack also came to accept the person he is; he finally appreciated and became proud of his mother’s culture. After reading his mother’s letter, he came to understand the struggles her mother went through and blamed himself for making the wrong choice that caused the separation from his mother.


Liu, K. (2016). The paper menagerie and other stories. Saga Press.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, September 1). “Paper Menagerie” Stories Book by Ken Liu. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2022, September 1). “Paper Menagerie” Stories Book by Ken Liu.

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