2010
10.25

The model minority myth has been established as one of the most important aspects in our analysis of this text.  Chang-Rae Lee incorporates this idea countless times throughout Native Speaker in an attempt to come to terms with its validity, relevance, and the effect it has on those who meet its qualifications.  As the novel progresses, this supposed myth becomes increasingly problematic.  Lee clearly demonstrates that it is often the cause of racial tension and discrimination, as seen in the relationships between Black and Korean characters in the novel.  Additionally, this idea consistently prevents Henry from achieving success professionally as he feels an unspoken obligation to protect the very people his employer wishes to expose.  Both of these instances occur several time throughout the novel and Lee dedicates much of his writing in this novel to these topics, having them become central themes.

However, the aspect of the model minority myth that I find most critical in this text is its effect on Henry himself.  Evidence of this can be seen throughout the novel, though it is rarely clearly identified and can be found mostly in brief paragraphs in which Henry removes himself from his surroundings in order to inhabit a memory or recollection.  A particularly enlightening passage can be found on page 128 at a point in which Henry steps out of his initial “reunion” with Lelia and recalls briefly recalls his experiences growing up with his father.  Lee injects this reverie with the all-too familiar imagery of the model minority myth as he describes Henry as a child who “studied far into the night” and “read [his] entire children’s encyclopedia” to establish himself as intelligent.  Lee also states that young Henry “never made an error at shortstop”, a sign of his determination to achieve perfection, and would place more flowers on his mother’s grave than his father did in order to exceed his expectations and remain competitive.  He also remained humble and economical by driving “only used, beat-up cars” and never asking for financial support.  All of this behavior is well-known to be representative of the foundational constructs of the model minority myth, however what is striking here is the motivation behind Henry’s behavior.   Here, Lee is suggesting that the subscription to this stereotypical behavior is inherited.  Henry’s fulfillment of the stereotype does not come as a result of societal pressures or the influence of the media, but is simply due to the desire to achieve his father’s acceptance.  Rather than investing in his own emotional and personal development, Henry pursued that which could be quantified so that his worth could eventually be calculated by his father.  This desire for practicality is what defines Henry as a character.  His career, his marriage, his interactions with others, and his thoughts are all founded upon these principles of the model minority myth, a path chosen for him by his father.

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