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Native Speaker By Chang Rae Lee English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1713 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Native Speaker was the Chang Rae Lees first novel. It was published in the year 1995. And then it became a great success. The novel was nominated for many awards and won them all. It also received American Library Association Notable Book of the Year Award. Then novel is widely appraised and appreciated by the critics and it has been commonly regarded that the author has delicately portrayed the theme of love, affection and culture with the novel while paying attention to the intricate details ‎ (Engles 27).‎

Chang Rae Lee is an American writer of South Korean origin. At the age of three Chang Emigrated to the United States of America. Before turning to the full time writing career, Lee was the financial analyst of Wall Street. His first and the famous novel Native Speaker appeared in 1995, which won numerous Awards (Nguyen, 2012)

The story of the Native Speaker rotates around the character named Henry Park. Park spends all his life to become a Native American, a true America. His Korean inheritance seems to float further and further away as the force of his adopted country continues to evade him.

Harsh upbringing of Park back in Korea, has taught Park how to hide his emotions and how to remember everything he learns and the weirdest of all, how to feel an increasing sense of alienation. We can say in other words, that his Korean Heritage had taught him how to become a natural spy. But the only factor that assist him to shine in his profession put a tension to his American and rise in the approach of his coming to conditions with the death of his young son. When he is offered to spy on growing American-Korean politicians, he must find out that that the people are in his surroundings? This was the true test of his identity. He has to figure out the conflicts, which are prevailing within the political and ethnic sectors of New York (Kim, 2005).

Plot Overview:

Henry Park, who is also the narrator, is an American-Korean immigrant. Explorations begin when the Henry’s Caucasian spouse leaves him. The novel Native Speaker is based in New York City. It takes place for the period of a time when black customers and American-Korean councilman boycotted the American market. The councilman was names as John Kwang. John was also a possible candidate for the post of mayor. Henry Park is employed to an investigative company of CIA -style. The Assignment which was offered to Henry by his company was to keep a check on John Kwang. Park does not know the purpose of investigation and who is paying for this investigation? He thinks that the client is a xenophobe.

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Henry has always been close to his father, who is now dead. Parks father was a successful immigrant who worked well in the chain of developing market. As the story progresses John starts feeling with his volunteer Henry. He feels close to Henry because he was too a Korean. But Henry betrays him. Henry’s child, to whom Henry’s trying to teach confidence, died. Her life leaves him because she thinks he is so indifferent towards his child’s death. His passes the information to his firm, which was later then used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to detain several immigrants. The raid of Immigration and Naturalization Service plays a vital role in the downfall of the politician. The American Dream of the politician then ends.

Henry thinks of his father and decides that his father would prefer to see his misleading behaviour toward John “in a rigidly practical light,” and also he would have considered this an s part of his struggle to stay and survive in the state of America. He then leaves his firm and rejoins living with his wife. He then starts teaching English to the non-native speakers with his wife (Kim, 2005).

The Theme of the Novel:

Native Speaker is convincing book for the readers. It brilliantly explains the complexities and troubles of the racial stress in the United States of America. The details of this book the immigrants of Korean-America experience and also America immigrant experience are compellingly distressing. Native Speaker is a complex story that goes deep into far more than the topic of language (Engles 28).

The book shows Henry, who is the typical American-Korean. Though he was the legal American, but he was completely surrounded by his Korean beliefs in his mind. He possessed a Korean personality moreover he sounds like a Korean too. Whatever he learnt in his years in Korea clearly reflects in his adult life. While he was trying to connect himself to the America and striving hard to become a Native American, he feels himself like an emotional alien ad a perfect stranger. He feels that he is completely isolated in the country he lives, also feels total isolation from the country from which he arrived. Despite the fact that he was totally americanized, he feels troubled while adapting American culture, beliefs and behaviours, because they were quite in contrast with this Korean heritage.

Native Speaker is an anecdote of cultural separation. The story is about sons, father and about their wishes to connect and strengthen the relation with the world, a world of complete strangers by beliefs and by culture. Lee deeply explores the theme of identity in his book. The theme extends to the struggle of immigrants. These immigrants stand between two different cultures. They do not want to stand apart from the society. The story includes details about betrayal, loyalty and the feeling of being alien, felt by the immigrants. It also connects with the efforts of immigrants and what they finally get out of those efforts. He further explained how the descendants and the elders of the immigrant with non Caucasian background find that generations later their identity is challenged.

The scenes in the book sharply and intensely show that what it feels like to be an immigrant in the great city of New York, especially Korean Immigrant. Lee’s scenes in the story about the dynamics that live between the American-African residents and American-Korean Shopkeepers are non-judgemental and genuine.

Chang in his book also analysis the pathos of the kids who are deserted in Korea, by showing the character of woman who comes to work for Henry Park’s father after the death of his mother. But the problem and the issue of the communication and language difference is central to the book Native Speaker. This issue makes this book work reading. It touches upon the hauntingly memorable human themes, by its stories and images. The readers will find these themes compelling and unforgettable. This book is about bridging and the differences between cultural norms, people, languages, personal histories and generations.

Character Constructions:

Henry Park:

Lee states the story beautifully but the other person as a reader one may experience mixed-up and gone in the commentary that Henry Park and the Narrator offers. Many critics may think that they cannot easily trap the character of Henry Park. He is difficult to understand and pin down. Some readers may also feel that Henry Park does not do anything to capture and win the hearts of the others, as it can normally be found in other books.

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Many critics of the book Native Speaker say that in their opinion Henry Park is an Asian-American who is trying to adapt the American Society in all aspects of life. It is right that the Henry Park, who is also the Protagonist of the book, completely represents a Korean-American. Lee chooses Henry Park as the protagonist in his book, to describe the difficulties faced strugglers. Those strugglers who are striving to define themselves in their new society.

John Kwang:

John Kwang has been describes as a local famous person. He is an appreciated public figure, fearless, a motivated minority representative and he destroys the Korean American pattern. At that time the involvement of an Asian in American politics was minimal, in these circumstances John Kwang was doing his best as a successful minority politician. He wants to realize the minorities that they all have a lot more mutual and common in all aspects. Kwang wants to bring these people together. And he wants them to work side by side. The media in the book shows him as a perfect leader and so his people think. In the book, it can be clearly seen that he trusts in the people of his race like he trusted Henry, who was spy in real. He runs as a Godfather figure in the streets of New York.

Lelia Park:

The character of the Lelia Park is a normal one and totally different from her husband Henry Park. Lelia is once portrayed as a sad mother who has lost his son. She hates her husband when she starts thinking that her husband no more cares for the death of their only child. In the memory of their beloved child, she starts spending time with the kids of other countries’ children to teach them English.


The discussion can be concluded by saying that this wonderfully written and well organized novel clearly shows the struggles of the fresh generation of the American-Korean. They had to suffer emotionally as well as professionally. Their life was totally an experiment. Beside this, one of the books most compelling and powerful conclusion is that English can be served as the biggest obstacle in the development of struggling families.

Work Cited

Sue-yon Kim, “Chang-Rae Lee’s Native Speaker: Acknowledging, Contradicting, Transcending the White and Yellow”, Journal of English and American Studies, Volume 4. (2005).

Engles, Tim. “Visions of me in the whitest raw light”: Assimilation and Doxic Whiteness in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker”. A Journal of Asian American Cultural Studies. 4.2 (1997), p27-48

Lee, Chang-Rae. Native Speaker. US: Berkley Books, 1995. Print.

Nguyen, Stacy. “Chang-rae Lee: On being Korean American, a novelist, and his family”. Northwest Asian Weekly. March 10, 2010. Web. 10 December, 2012.


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