May-Lee Chai “saving Sourdi” Analysis
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In “Saving Sourdi,” author May-Lee Chai tells a story that many native born American citizens do not often think about: the strain that emigration can have on a family. The story is told from the point of view of the youngest daughter, Nea, who the audience comes to find is impulsive and only seriously cares for her older sister Sourdi. There is an apparent strain between family members, especially as Sourdi gets older and is placed into an arranged marriage with an older man right out of high school. However, it could very well be that this conflict within the family dynamic is a product of Neas own perception and does not hold nearly as much weight as Nea leads the audience to believe in her narration.Neas point of view is limited for a number of reasons: nowhere in the text does the audience ever get to really know the true thoughts of the other characters, they are only given Neas opinion and interpretation of events. Secondly, the audience is being told to make judgements from events told in the mindset of an eleven year old girl in the beginning, then a fourteen year old later following a time lapse. Without saying, many preteen and teen girls tend to use a flair for the dramatic when it comes to their parents. For instance, Nea and her sister would talk to each other in the bathroom talking about things like “when Ma grew depressed and smoked too much and looked at us as though she wished wed never been born” (Chai 118). The reader cannot completely confirm nor deny this as the mothers perspective is never given and Nea never really tries to relate to how her mother truly feels at any time.
Out of all the family members, Nea is the only static character; despite the three years that pass since the beginning of the story, she continues to hold onto her hero complex for Sourdi and makes impulsive decisions when she believes her older sister needs a savior. The mother repeatedly lets Nea know that Sourdi can handle things and knows the right actions to take unlike herself, but it doesnt really get through to her until she makes the impulsive decision to “save” Sourdi by going all the way to Des Moines with Duke. As she leaves, Nea catches a glance from her sister that she interprets as “She had grown up, and I had merely grown unworthy of her love” (Chai 128). Knowing Sourdis nurturing and caring nature towards her little sister, its highly unlikely that she no longer loves Nea – again, a flair for the dramatic – but Nea can no longer pretend her sister is the young girl trying to escape the fate she was bound to face as it is custom in Cambodian culture to have an arranged marriage at a young age. While it is clear to the audience that Sourdi is a very static character, Nea makes it much more difficult to see the changes in her mother though they do exist. It isnt until Nea is fourteen that readers get to see the mother actually complain a bit about her situation when she tells Nea, “Im tired. […] You girls, its always something. Dont let your old mother rest” (Chai 123). Perhaps with Sourdi being grown up and occasionally calling her mother for advice about things, her mother feels she can be a little more open with her daughters about her experiences.