The Paper Menagerie

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “The Paper Menagerie” (2016) by Ken Liu. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective

Ken Liu (b. 1976) is an American fantasy and science-fiction author . The short story “The Paper Menagerie” was published in the collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and is the first work of fiction to win all of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards. 


Here, you can read an extract from our study guide: 

Social setting

The story’s social setting mainly deals with the contrast between the American and the Chinese culture. In Jack’s eyes, the American culture is superior. After he becomes self-conscious about his mixed-race, he demands his mother speak English and for the family to cook and “eat American food”. Jack rejects the Chinese food that is typically cooked in the house and the origami toys, demanding “some real toys” instead. Gradually, Jack abandons the Chinese culture, which he considers inferior, and continues his “all-American pursuit of happiness”. 

The story also deals with the issue of immigration, which is connected with the mail-order brides industry. A mail-order bride is a woman from a developing country who presents herself in a catalog to get married abroad, in a developed nation. Generally, mail-order brides are pushed to this industry by famine and unemployment in their native countries. In the story, Jack’s mother became a mail-order bride to escape her abusive employers, met Jack’s father, and got married. Unlike Jack’s initial opinion of his mother, her choice had nothing to do with a low moral character, but with the necessity of escaping an abusive life...

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The Paper Menagerie

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