I received some really cool questions from a high school student writing a paper on my short story “Saving Sourdi.”
Because other students might have similar questions, I am posting the questions and answers here. (I will not print the student’s name unless she emails me with a specific request for me to do so.)
Dear Ms. Chai,
I am a highschool student writing about you and your story Saving Sourdi for my English paper. I’m talking about the generational conflicts between traditional roles of women and non-traditional. I was wondering if you could help me understand Nea’s point of view because she does not seem to value the cultural view of women’s roles like her mother and sister do, although I’m not entirely sure why. Thank you so much for your time and for a great short story!
Thanks for your email. When you think about the character of Nea, remember that she is years younger than Sourdi and of course their mother. She has almost no memories of Cambodia. Most of her life and her memories have been shaped by America and her schooling here. Think about how growing up in America would give her different views of what a woman’s role is.
Also, her sense of possibilities are greater as her English is quite fluent. Her older sister will always have an accent and feels insecure about this. Whereas Nea thinks her sister’s voice is beautiful, think about how accents are often mocked in America.
Also consider the traumatic memories of war and suffering that Sourdi has but that Nea does not. Perhaps a family of her own represents a kind of security for Sourdi and not just a “traditional” role for a woman.
There is also the issue of individual personalities. Even if everyone in the story had been born and raised in America, many people choose different paths for themselves. Some people marry in high school or straight out of high school. Others do not. This is true for people of all ethnicities.
Finally, while Ma may seem to be following “traditional” roles for women, she is in fact a single working mother raising five children on her own. This is not traditional to Cambodian culture; this is a consequence of her status as a war refugee. She has lost everything but her children in the war. Finding a relatively wealthy husband for her daughter may not be a consequence of her “traditional cultural values” but may be a form of pragmatism borne from her present situation as being very poor in America. She may be thinking marriage to a stable man with money is a safer fate for her daughter than to fall in love with a poor boy like Duke who may be kind but may not have much of a secure future in Ma’s eyes.
I think if you look at it from these different points of view, the choices the characters make are not simply ones of “traditional” v. “non-traditional” roles of women but correspond to the different personalities and perspectives of each of the characters.
Hope this helps! Good luck with your paper!
oh sorry, I meant to include this in the last e-mail. Did you pick the name Nea because it comes from the Latin for “new”?
Actually, I picked *Nea* because it comes from the Cambodian (Khmer) name *Neary,* which means *gentle girl.* Nea is in some ways quite the opposite of gentle, but I feel her spirit is kind and circumstances have forced her to be a fighter. But I like how Nea works in other languages. Your Latin reading of her name is quite clever and works well for her American life!
Good luck on your homework!
[for information on my new novel featuring the characters in "Saving Sourdi" see \"Saving Sourdi\" novel: DRAGON CHICA]