Formal Analysis of Notes of a Native Speaker

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In the text ‘Notes of a Native Speaker,’ the author addresses the struggles he encountered when trying to establish his cultural and ethnic identity. As a Chinese born in America with Chinese parents, the author provides insight into the difficulties that individuals from American minority races face in not just fitting in but also developing a cultural identity that allows them to not only blend in but also feel welcomed by the general public. The inability to create one’s cultural identity especially among the children of color can be quite disastrous, hence affecting the wholesome development of such a child as they struggle to cope in the environment they operate in. From the text, the narrator is clear that one’s identity is defined by different factors.

Being the only Chinese in the school dominated by the whites impacted on the social wellbeing of the narrator. Though he saw himself as an American and never considered himself a Chinese, the narrator’s early school interactions were never interfered by his racial identity. In fact, he had made friends with everyone despite their skin color; both whites and blacks as he easily assimilated into the American life. He could not distinguish between his two best friend Charlie who was white and Kimathi a black boy. To the narrator’s delight, what counted was that he was a faster runner and a better student than his classmates.

The narrator observes that being in the larger society plays an influence in determining the identity of people. When in early schooling, the narrator was aware that his race was a significant part of who he was. He not only had a black and white friend but embraced the different cultural aspects of both the white and Chinese cultures. Childhood allowed the writer the laxity to enjoy the concept of who he was. He enjoyed the aspects of life that were guaranteed by both the Asian/Chinese and the American white cultures freely as he had no restrictions. According to the narrator, childhood comes with a sense of freedom as the society does not give one limits that are likely to confine them to the demands of their cultural identity. As a child, the narrator easily enjoys the benefits of both the Chinese and European cultures without any pressures to that might be associated with his racial identity.

Societal pressure is critical in shaping one’s identity especially in relation to their races. The narrator observes that the issue of him being a Chinese and therefore different from others strongly started coming out while in his adolescence. Social pressure to conform were quite high if he had to fit in. Using an example of how he had to change his hairstyle for the first time to loook cool as other, the narrator points out that societal pressure especially in the environment we live in is quite a force to reckon. The peer pressure though came indirectly forced him to conform leading him to try out many hairstyles, most of which he was not satisfied with. Using situational experiences, the narrator illustrates how different he was influenced into making decisions that he, later on, disapproved ‘in the 12th year, as sixth grade got under way, I became aware — gradually at first, then urgently — that bangs were no longer the look for boys.’ Out of fear of disapprovals, the narrator does not form relationships with white girls as the society does not approve of such relationship. The narrator throughout the essay is able to demonstrate that societal and peer pressure are quite critical in helping a person’s cultural identity.

In the essay, Notes of a Native Speaker, the author’s usage of poetry at the beginning of the essay is quite significant as it gives the reader a look at who he is and the journey he had gone through to gain his current identity. In the poem, the narrator is obviously proud of who he is currently and boasts of his success of being assimilated into the American society successfully. ‘I have few close friends of color; I married a white woman.’ The narrator lays bare his embracing of the Americanism despite the challenges he had to undergo through. The poem helps illustrate the benefits of fully adopting American life and how success is viewed in terms of personal gains rather than the positivity in the society. In fact, the narrator despite going through many challenges finally succeeds in being embraced by the American society as illustrated in the poem. He marries an American wife, lives in a good neighborhood and does everything in the American ways.

Notes of a Native Speaker essay gives an insight into the different challenges people of race face as they try to get their American identity. Challenges ranging from societal pressure for one to conform to their racial identity which limits interactions to their specific races and the inside conflict are laid bare through the narration from the essay.

Works cited

Liu, Eric. “Notes of a native speaker.” Colombo, Cullen and Lisle (1998): 660-673.

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