ENGL 220 H: Close Reading Assignment
“The Third Dumpster” by Gish Jen
The Third Dumpster is approximately a seven page short story written by Gish Jen. In this story, the author does not seem to have any relation to the characters other than simply being the storyteller; a third person point of view. The tone of the writing can be seen as funny, farce and somewhat confusing. The stories tone is considered funny because in many parts of the story Jen uses slight humour through the characters rolls. It is almost as if the characters lives themselves are a joke, something to be mocked. The two brothers, Morehouse and Goodwin cannot seem to get their lives together; Goodwin’s wife divorced him, both men are unemployed contractors as well as pressure their parents put on them to conform to Chinese culture/values even though they are live in America (a completely different culture that allows people to have a sense of freedom). The boys feel trapped between their parent’s approval and the desire to be who they want in the society they live in; the natural instinct to please their parents is holding both of them back. Therefore the entire story revolves around this mockery of the two bother lives not being what they want, and their desire to please their parents keeps them stuck in one place. The story can also be confusing to a reader because of a few writing choices that create some misguidance, but ultimately is resolved by the end.
The plot of this story is interesting; the author gives us pieces of the “bigger picture” or entire plot as we continue to read. At first the reader is given minimal information about the two brothers buying a house for very cheap at an auction, and as the story progresses the reader discovers the reason for their purchase and continually more information on who the brothers are. The plot can create some confusion to the reader (like stated previously) however it does begins to grow clearer as we continue to read.
There are a few stylistic choices within this story that not only add significance, but also are found to be untraditional and rather fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting of them all would be the most obvious; throughout the story Jen never once uses quotations to indicate when a character is speaking. Even without the use of quotation in this story, it is very easy to indicate whether a character or the author speaking. When I pondered why she would choose to eliminate the use of quotations, a few idea came to mind; the vacant quotations – although Jen flawlessly does it- can look a little messy, cluttered and blurred, just like the way the two brothers feel about who they are. The brothers feel rather lost in the twister of their own desires to fit more in American society and confusion of wanting to please their parents by conforming to traditional Chinese values. I also thought that the nonexistent quotations may represent the house their renovating for their parents. Just like they way the chaotic form of writing with no quotations, the house is initially very messy.
Another stylistic choice that I found to be interesting was Jen’s use of italics. Italics we only ever used by their parents when they were either talking about American culture (in disapproval, of course) or when they were putting emphasis on Chinese culture. The italics are putting greater attention on the thoughts shown in the specific text; therefore if only thoughts in italics have to do with American and Chinese culture, we can once again assume that this intentionally adds more tension to the brother’s thoughts on their beliefs. The italics add extra pressure to this tug-of-war between the two cultures.
Irony also seems be reoccurring throughout this story. Possibly the most ironic would be the name of the two brothers, Morehouse and Goodwin, both names sound very American when we already know as readers that their parents are very supportive of Chinese culture. This is ironic…