Sek Lung is a Marginal Character
Generally, it is hard for a person, who is stuck inside the third space, to deal with the relationships from two different cultures, and the result of such a situation is that this person would be marginalized as an outsider by his or her group. In the novel The Jade Peony, Sek-Lung is depicted as a character who feels that it is hard to blend inside himself either Chinese or Canadian culture, and his closest relationship with Poh-Poh also makes him marginalized by other family members.
Thus, Sek-Lung is considered as an outsider from both China town and Canadian society and even in his own family. As a Chinese child who was born in Canada, Sek-Lung is living in an immigrant family, and he gets attracted by the local culture so that makes him drop into the third space and become an outsider of Canadian society. The first reason leading to this matter is mostly due to the fact that he is Chinese. This is the truth that never can be changed. No matter how much he wants to be Canadian, he is still a Chinese.
The third part of the book also mentions that Sekky knows this fact “[B]ut even if I was born in Vancouver, even if I should salute the Union Jack a hundred million times, even if I had the cleanest hands in all the Dominion of Canada and pray forever, I would still be Chinese”(Choy 152). What Sek-Lung said shows that he knows he is an outsider of Canadian society and that he could never be a real Canadian. Sek-Lung’s bad health condition is another reason why he is an outsider of Canadian society.
In the novel, Sek-Lung is the character that was born with serious a breathing problem so that he could not go to school like his brothers or sister, and he has to stay at home. “[B]ut the school doctor rejected my attempt to get back into the classroom. […] ‘Sek-Lung still has breathing problems,’ he told Kiam to explain to Father. ‘I recommend he stay with his home studies and try again next year” (Choy 173). He really wants to go to school and study English to become more familiar with Canada culture.
However, due to the lung disease, the opportunities to absorb the Canadian society and to make Canadian friends are being missed and that makes him further away from the Canadian society. In addition, when Sek-Lung stays at home, the traditional Chinese culture is instilled into his mind by Poh-Poh so that he cannot blend in with Canadian society. He believes all of Poh-Poh’s words, especially her superstitious beliefs. When Sek-Lung’s condition is getting better and he goes to school in September, he still thinks it is because of Poh-Poh although she is already dead. Sek-Lung thinks that “Grandmama had kept her promise” (Choy 197).
He is influenced by Poh-Poh’s traditional Chinese mentality and it is totally different from the Canadian culture and foreign to Canadian society. He cannot tell Canadian people about the superstitious belief because no one would listen to him and no one would believe it. Consequently, Sek-Lung is an outsider of Canadian society, not only because he is Chinese, but also because he is denied the chance to touch the Canadian society by his illness and is influenced deeply by Poh-Poh’s traditional Chinese culture. On the other hand, Sek-Lung is also an outsider of the Chinese group.
He was born in Canada and the different environment in which he grows up makes him different from other Chinese people so that he cannot be a fully Chinese person like others. First of all, he knows very little about Chinese. For example, he feels a headache about family ranking and Chinese kinship terms which are contained in the Chinese culture and he uses wrong titles for other family members. He mentions in the third part of the book that “I would say ‘Third Uncle’ instead of ‘Great Uncle’” (Choy 145). Stepmother and Poh-Poh both think that Sek-Lung being confused about the way to call people is brainless.
That is how Chinese people think about him and that makes Sek-Lung feel a sense of loss because he is poor in Chinese so that he cannot fully understand Chinese values. In the second place, Sek-Lung is worshipping everything foreign. That is entirely different from learning foreign culture. In the book, Sek-Lung wants to be a Canadian rather than Chinese and he wants to have an appearance like white people. “I sometimes wished that my skin would turn white, my hair go brown, my eyes widen and turn blue, and Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor next door would adopt me and I would be Jack O’Connor’s little brother” (Choy 151).
This kind of idea makes Sek-Lung feels marginalized in the Chinese group due to the conflict of his appearance and his wish that pushes him to be an outsider to the Chinese. What’s more, Suk-Lung does not like the Chinese language. For instance, he has the strongest reaction to Chinese language of all the characters in the book and that makes him be outside the Chinese group. He thinks that Chinese is harder than English. He says “English words seemed more forthright to me, blunt like road signs. Chinese words were awkward and messy, like quicksand” (Choy 150).
That means he likes English much more than Chinese. Thus, it can be seen that Sek-Lung has strong western ideas which are contrary to the Chinese culture although he was born in a Chinese family. To sum up, living in a Chinese group, Sek-Lung does not have the same Chinese opinions like others. He doesn’t know a lot about the Chinese culture, he wants to look like a foreigner and he even does not like the Chinese language. Those things make him grow farther and farther away from the Chinese group. Moreover, Sek-Lung has been marginalized in the family due to his close relationship with his grandmother.
As the book mentions, Poh-Poh is the most powerful person in the family who occupies the highest status and she prefers Suk-Lung above all other kids. For starters, because of his good relationship with Poh-Poh Suk-Lung attracts much jealousy from his family members especially from Jook Liang. For example, in Jook-Liang’s part, she said “For years, I had been nagged to remember to wash diapers and generally clean up after my baby brother, who was now three years old and sickly. I was tired of his always leaking at both ends. […]Baby brother was sick again. Always sick. Always getting all the attention […]” (Choy 27).
Compared with the way Jook Liang is treated by Poh-Poh: washing diapers of little brother, always being told that she is useless, never being taught but expected to work. The ways Liang and Sekky were treated by Poh-Poh are unequal and that is why Sek-Lung has been jealous and marginalized by Liang. Furthermore, Sek-Lung follows Poh-Poh, and does abnormal thing which makes the whole family ashamed of them. In order to make wind chimes they search the garbage so as to find materials with the result that other family members feel ashamed. Second brother Jung Sum said “All of our friends are laughing at us!
They also make the first son Kiam feel unhappy and said they are beggars. The whole family is ashamed of them and Sek-Lung being ashamed of following Poh-Poh so that makes him be marginalized by other family members and become an outsider in the family. Finally, Sek-Lung becomes marginalized by the family because he has shown his belief in superstition by Poh-Poh. After Poh-Poh’s death, Sek-Lung says that he can always see Poh-Poh’s ghost in the house, so that makes other family member feel weird because only he can see the ghost in the house but they cannot, so they don’t believe him and think he is abnormal as well.
“Sister Liang refused to take me out anywhere her jitterbugging girlfriend might see or hear me” (Choy 178). His behaviour is not accepted by his brothers and sister or even his parents. Although he lives with them together and they love him, his superstitious opinions of seeing Poh-Poh’s ghost still confused him to be marginalized by the whole family. All in all, Sek-Lung is an outsider like a marginal member in his family because he spends too much time with Poh-Poh so that makes him be treated better than other kids, does shameful things and is deeply influenced by Poh-Poh’s opinion.
Sek-Lung is a person who wants to be a simple Canadian, a kid who knows very little about Chinese culture, a son who is affected by grandmother’s old traditions and an outsider of society. He wants to be Canadian but he can’t; he is living in a traditional Chinese family but he knows nothing about their traditions. He has the best grandmother who loves him most in the world but he is marginalized by other family members because of his grandmother. To conclude, Sek-Lung is an outsider of society. He belongs neither to Canadian society nor Chinese group, and even is marginalized by his own family.