Stereotypes and Finding Your Places

7 July 2016

The drama “Trying to find Chinatown” by David Henry Hwang, and the poem “I, Too” by Langston Hughes deal with stereotypes and how the characters in both works cope with these stereotypes. While being illustrated differently by each of the two authors, there is also one major similarity both pieces possess: the theme is the same. Overcoming the obstacle of stereotypes. Overcoming the obstacle of stereotypes is explored in “Trying to find Chinatown”, when the main character, Benjamin, is exploring his Asian American parents’ roots shortly after his father’s death, while also trying to find a sense of belonging in the world.

Traveling through New York City, Benjamin stops and talks to a street musician of Asian descent, named Ronnie, to ask for directions. Benjamin acknowledges Ronnie’s violin as a “fiddle” and it makes him slightly agitated. He angrily states to Benjamin “If this was a fiddle, I’d be sitting here with a cob pipe, stomping my cowboy boots and kicking up hay. ” (p. 1796). The anger Ronnie feels is clearly displayed and clear through his harsh tone displayed in his statement; Ronnie is unaware that he and Benjamin share similar heritages.

Stereotypes and Finding Your Places Essay Example

Benjamin is now dealing with an ignorant stereotype of men from the south by Ronnie’s point of view, but it is ironic because it is a stereotype possessed by a person from the very heritage he has come searching for answers for and willing to embrace and further his understandings. Benjamin responds to Ronnie’s stereotypical slur by saying: “You know, it’s very stereotypical to think that all Asian skin tones conform to a single hue. ” (p. 1798); referring to the difference of their skin tones while still sharing the same genetic history and culture.

Despite Ronnie’s doubts and aggressive acquisitions about Benjamin and his heritage and being told that he “doesn’t fit the mold of an Asian American”, Benjamin continues on his search for Chinatown and when he arrives he finds that he “felt immediately that I had entered a world where all things were finally familiar” (pg1800). “I, Too”, a poem by Langston Hughes, deals with stereotypes as well but in a different and particular way. Hughes evokes strong emotion in this poem with lines containing defiant and prideful tones with lines such as “Nobody’ll dare/ say to me” (lines 11-12).

The end of the poem says “Besides/ They’ll see how beautiful I am/ And be ashamed- I too, am America. ” (lines 15-18). Each of the lines are really hitting on the emotional ting of the subject of stereotypes which is one of those things that one can deal with on a daily basis causing different reactions to the topic and how individuals cope with it personally. The first comparison between the two literary pieces would be the main subject of stereotypes (over-coming stereotypes) and how all people with differences deal with them.

From physical appearance to the core of our cultural roots, stereotypes have always been apart of the way people view and perceive other people who live and look differently than they do. Maybe it is a stereotype that all white men from the south are hillbillies that obtain inbred desires with family members (such as the comment Ronnie made to Benjamin), or just the fact that the color of your skin is a darker shade so you aren’t treated fairly and the same as everyone else because you looked different from the majority of everyone around you, as the speaker of “I, Too…” explains.

In both pieces, dealing with the annoyances and misperceptions people have of others due to stereotyping based on physical observations and family histories, are both addressed by Hwang and Hughes and their stories are told through their own experiences and extended knowledge of each of their backgrounds. Secondly, there is a comparison in the ways that the speaker of Hugh’s poem and Benjamin of Hwang’s play deal with stereotypical situations while sharing the same calm tone.

They are never upset, blameful, rude or obnoxious in how they feel about the issue of stereotypes. Neither have an aggressive tone when they speak, even though in Hugh’s case from “I, Too…” all of his thoughts are commuted straight from him and his own thoughts to the readers because he is not having a conversation with another character like Benjamin is having with Ronnie. Still, coincidently, they both have a clear and appropriately calm tone to the delivery of their words.

Lastly, there is a major similarity in the overall attitudes of the speaker of “I, Too…” and the characters Ronnie and Benjamin of “Trying to Find Chinatown”. All of them are confident about who they are, at least according to themselves. In “I, Too…” the speaker out right says that “Tomorrow/ I’ll be at the table/ When company comes/ Nobody’ll dare? Say to me/ “Eat in the kitchen,”/ Then (lines 8-14). He knows that one day the tables will turn and the white people will feel bad for treating him differently because of his culture and background.

Benjamin’s parents are Asian American and he is certainly knowledgeable when it comes to history of the Asian culture; he feels like he is a part of that culture because it is familiar to him and he accepts it as his culture even though he is Chinese-American. Ronnie is convinced he is Chinese simply because of his darker skin tone and he knows he also has some African and European elements in his blood. He accepts this and embraces it, and he is confident regardless of his minor misperception of cultural identity.

Along with “Trying to Find Chinatown” and “I, Too…” sharing many similarities, both of these works also contain a few differences. The first difference that can be distinguished would be the setting and time in history each piece of literature was written in. Hughes writes “I, Too…” in the setting of the year of 1925 in America, where segregation was only beginning. African Americans were not treated with the same amount of respect as whites, and many of them worked for white people and/or their families as servants and employees.

In Hwang’s play, “Trying to Find Chinatown,” the setting is the present time and takes place in today’s society and day by day life of New York City. There is a vast difference in today’s generation and the generation of Hugh’s 1925 poem. Racism is certainly not unheard of, but has improved a great deal since the 20’s. Even in today’s world, stereotyping others is still a common thing. Whether it’s a stereotype based on someone’s looks, accents, skin tone, etc- there are still plenty of them around.

The second difference acquired from the two readings would be the issue of racial inequality seen in “I, Too…” between African Americans and whites and how they are viewed as different, and how two people of the same heritage and same Asian decent see each other through different eyes as well. In Hugh’s poem, there is clearly an issue of inequality noticed by the speaker of “I, Too…” who works for a white family and is not even allowed to eat at the dinner table with company. He knows he is different from the people with lighter skin tones, and the tension and unfairness is evident in the poem.

Physically and to the eye, he is not the same as the white people; deep down the speaker knows skin color is not what makes someone different. In “Trying to Find Chinatown”, Benjamin and Ronnie also have different physical appearances, but share the same cultural backgrounds as each other. Benjamin believes through his knowledge of Chinese history and the fact that his parents are Asian American, that makes him Asian. Ronnie does not understand this because he believes he is Chinese among other European descents based only on his skin color-he does not really feel like he is Chinese.

There is a contradiction between the two characters and even though they are both Chinese, they do not share the same views. Finally, the last thing that makes these works of literature different from one another is the point of view each piece is written in. Hugh’s writes “I, Too…” through the thoughts of a character in the poem, experiencing the events we read. His thoughts are what make up the poem, and he himself is telling the readers what is going on instead of the poem being written in third person, the way Hwang tells his story in a stage play form.

We hear from two different characters in “Trying to Find Chinatown,” and not just one person in the story. Given that the largest distinction between the two pieces of work are that one is a short poem and the other is a play that is intended to be acted out, these are just a few examples of how “I, Too…” and “Trying to Find Chinatown” contrast. Both “Trying to Find Chinatown” and “I, Too…” share the same theme of dealing and over coming stereotypes. While the time, place, and setting differ, the issue at hand does not.

Hughes and Hwang both illustrate through the characters in their writings how they are considered “others” in society and do not necessarily fit in or feel they belong with others around them. Each piece of writing explains the inner battles faced by the characters and how they fit into stereotypes. Even though two different authors from two opposite cultures write “I, Too “and ”Trying to Find Chinatown”, they both can relate to how stereotypes effect people and how very misleading they often can often be.

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