Saving Sourdi is a short story, which deals with the struggles and perceptions of Nea, who is one of the characters. The main characters are the elder sister Sourdi and the younger sister Nea. These two sisters are close and grew together all through to their life. Their growth and togetherness exhibit their different roles played in this story thus clearly bringing out their definite characters. This story is illustrated to show how the character of Nea and her viewpoint shapes the interpretation of the reader about the story. Saving Sourdi is a tale that holds up the strong bonds of sisterhood and family and change as people grow to maturity. The story is created from a point of view that can influence how one views the characters and their choices.
This short story by May-Lee Chai is quite interesting in showing how the characters ultimately play different roles. Nea, who is the sister to Sourdi, is the narrator as well as the principal protagonist in “Saving Sourdi” as they grow up into adulthood (Chai, 43). Although Nea and Sourdi grow up together, the development of their characters is differently manifested. Nea falls behind, maturity-wise, but Sourdi continuously matures. This is most likely due to her aggressiveness together with her nervous behavior that plays the negative roles all through the story.
It is evident from the story that Nea continually attempts to save her sister all through the entire story but with no success over and over. Her action shows her perseverance in repeated trials and her aggressiveness. However, she never grows up in the story, unlike her sister who develops into a young woman. Nea is too plain and non-enthusiastic though continuously tries her best to save her sister from various situations. Sourdi is more beautiful than Nea because Nea is too childish. The author describes her beauty by her round face, long and wide nose, sleek hair and crescent-shaped eyes. The beautiful looks makes her to get attention from admirers, especially men, throughout the story. Sourdi is submissive to men in this short story but Nea looks upon it as a threat to their sisterhood relationship. She thinks that the men have the aim of snatching her sister from her.
Sourdi is perceived as being more desirable and older compared to her sister. Nea is the controlling one compared to Sourdi. Seemingly, she takes the role that is supposed to be played by her elder sister. Nea is too naïve to understand the happenings between Sourdi, his husband, and Mr. Chhay (Chai, 143). All she fights for is happiness and closeness to her sister, whom she feels marriage has snatched away from her. She wants to be the heroin in the fight because she thought that Mr. Chhay is a bad man but later that was proved wrong. This shows her protective character. Nea also shows her selfish and immature character when she involves Duke in sourdi’s family matters without any proof. It is demonstrated when she took Duke to Sourdi’s home to help her save her sister, whom she thought had been attacked by Mr. Chhay.
Nea’s aggression, anxiety, and naivety negatively influence her decisions all through the story. Nea is a static character. This means that she does not change. She does not think before she acts. Despite the lessons learned from her actions, she does not alter. Her mother addresses this issue by saying that the problem with Nea is that she does not think before acting (Chai, 79). She is a hardheaded child from her childhood to her adulthood. Nea is also a flat character. This is because; the author does not show the reader the other right side of her.
She is just the same despite the life lessons and experiences she passes through from the beginning to the end of this story. She can be termed as impulsive, selfish and a strong-willed adolescent who never matures up (Shea, Renée, Lawrence and Robin, 56). The family, especially Ma, always find it hard to tolerate prejudice brought about by the foreign culture and work hard to solve it together with Nea’s stubbornness. To add on, Nea is fearless. It is seen at the beginning of the story where Nea fearlessly faces the drunken man and stops him from messing with her sister. She stubs him to ensure her sister’s protection.
Sourdi has a round character. She blooms from a child to a mature young woman (Chai, 109). She faces her marriage life with courage just to ensure change takes the path with her husband hence forming a beautiful family. This shows that she stops depending on her family and becomes independent. She embraces her individuality with courage. Ma also seems to have a round character. She is an active woman who raises and supports her children from childhood to adulthood. She marries off Sourdi to a rich man only to make sure Sourdi gets a better life.
The story commenced when Nea and Sourdi were all alone working in a restaurant in the presence of drunken men. One of the drunkards was trying to place his arms around Sourdi and due to the protective nature of Nea, she stabbed the man. Ma, her mother, apologized to the grieved and made Nea do the same, which was contrary to her expectations. She thought she could be seen as a hero by protecting her sister. Talking to her sister that very night, Nea boasted to Sourdi that she would have killed the man but Sourdi felt disappointed (Chai, 297).
The story then moved to the part when Duke and Sourdi began seeing each other. This made the two sisters to start drifting apart because Sourdi began to show interest in men (Shea, Renée, Lawrence and Robin, 156). Duke used to wash dishes for Ma, which made the relationship with Sourdi to start and later came to an end after being fired. Ma fired Duke because he dropped a tray of utensils, which instantly broke leading to a loss in Ma’s business. Sourdi felt that Duke had no future due to his poverty.
Later, Sourdi’s family met Mr. Chhay, and that was the moment Sourdi’s life took a turn. Ma made her get married to Mr. Chhay against her wish. This is because Mr. Chhay was a financially stable man who could provide a suitable lifestyle for both Sourdi and her children. He was older than Sourdi when they got married. Her marriage separated her from her family (Chai, 58). The two sisters were too close to each other to the extent of discussing particular issues concerning their lives late in the night before retiring to bed. Their relationship eventually weathered after Sourdi got married.
One day, Nea received an alarming call from Sourdi at night making her feel that her sister was in danger because she sounded like a crying person. Nea tried to inquire what the problem was, but Sourdi asked for her mother. She quickly judged Mr. Chhay as a dangerous man whose intention was to harm her sister. She even thought that Mr. Chhay had hit her. Nea acted promptly by narrating the whole scenario to Duke, Sourdi’s ex-boyfriend and both decided to pay Sourdi a visit to see what the actual problem was without informing her. Sourdi was shocked to see Duke, who accompanied Nea (Webber, Sabra, and Patrick, 204). She did not expect Nea to visit her with someone else without telling her.
Nea and Duke saw the bruises on Sourdi’s eye and concluded that her husband had hit her. The reason for her bruised eye was that a diaper box had fallen on her face. Duke reacted by knocking Mr. Chhay in the mouth who bled profusely. However, they realized that the alarming call was to notify Nea that she was going to have another baby and did not know what to do. The situation was settled, and Nea went back home. The story ends in the same way it began in that, the husband whom she was forced to marry abuses her and tries to save Sourdi from the violent marriage.
Point of View
The whole story is set in Nea’s point of view (Chai, 175). Nea has a unique manner in which she sees the events taking place different from any other person. The reason to why I conclude that this story’s viewpoint is Nea’s is because; she is the main narrator and major protagonist. She creates suspense to the readers and brings out the strong relationship between her sister and herself. The suspense in this story is clearly noted which was successfully created by Nea. We are not able to know whether Nea became a heroin in trying to protect her sister. Did she mature up after her separation with Sourdi? Was she able to realize her mistakes from her experiences and initiate change in her life? In the latter, did she get married? What of her sister’s marriage, did she leave them in peace? Does this story reveal the two sisters’ relationship after being told in Nea’s viewpoint? All these questions have been left unanswered thus creating suspense in this short story. The suspense can only be created if Nea is the narrator. It also helps the author to show up the distinct characters of Nea and Sourdi (Webber, Sabra, and Patrick, 204).
If the story were from Duke’s point of view, we could have read the different part of the story, probably showing how he was a better man for Sourdi. Various details of the story highlight that it was from Nea’s point of view. For instance, lack of details concerning the relationship between Duke and Sourdi indicates that the perspective cannot be from Duke. Also, the story is written in first person with the narrator being Nea.
The story could also be different if it came from Sourdi’s point of view. It could not bring out the suspense, and the entire plot could have been different. According to me, the author could have used Sourdi as the ideal narrator because she is easy to relate to, and everyone understands her. Nea is a character whom no one could ever know due to her inherent dramatic nature (TEACHER’S, M. A. N. U. A. L., 77). If it could have been in Ma’s point of view, the plot could have also been entirely different. It could have revolved around a single mother who raises her children with limited financial ability while trying to understand a new country’s culture and language.
The story takes place in 1980s. It starts late at night symbolizing trouble. The rising actions occur in the course of 3-4 years. These years separates the Nea from Sourdi. After the climax, the story finishes a few hours later (Webber, Sabra, and Patrick, 204). Saving Sourdi short story took place in United States after the family moved there. It was difficult for Nea to adjust to this environment since the place was only occupied by Americans but not Asians as she opted to find. It was the only Asian family present in that society. The two girls were at their tender age when they moved to the U.S. The family operated a bar that located in South Dakota. It is ironically named as the silver palace. This is the initial point where the story commenced with a recollection of Nea attempting to save her sister, Sourdi.
This family at first lived in Texas but later moved to South Dakota, at their uncle’s place. The bar setting plays a crucial role in the formation of the protective characteristics of Nea. The bar leads to several situations to arise. For example, Nea feels that there is a necessity of saving Sourdi from being harmed by the drunk man in the bar. Therefore, Nea does not leave her elder sister to fight for herself in the midst of the drunkards even though she is the eldest and can take care of herself.
Towards the end of the story, the setting drastically changes. Sourdi moves away to her family with her husband (Webber, Sabra, and Patrick, 99). Nea and her mother are left behind. Nea becomes upset about their separation and seems to be skeptical about Sourdi’s husband. This helps in building Nea’s character. The theme of companionship ties the setting of the story. It is present in the beginning as the girls grow up living together under the same roof. As they mature, the bond of sisterhood and friendship is strengthened. Though Nea trails behind in maturity, one can assume that it is because she is the younger child.
However, it is ironic because she is too protective of her sister. As mentioned above that the setting changed when Sourdi moves into her family, it also changes their companionship with her sister. Sourdi leaves to his husband’s place while Nea is left at home. Sourdi is also changing from childhood and embracing her individuality by getting married. It shows her transformation from childhood life to adulthood. However, this is inconsistent of Nea, who tries to voice contrary opinions to her mother about Mr. Chhay. At the end of this story, the separate setting of the siblings enables Nea to realize that Sourdi is just trying to be independent and no longer needs protection (Webber, Sabra, and Patrick,95). The mood of this short story is disappointing.
There are some symbolic references found in the short story Saving Sourdi. These symbolic acts and statements have a representation behind it within the story’s context. Nea is in a form of Naga (TEACHER’S, M. A. N. U. A. L., 44). Naga was a magical snake in the Chinese culture with a wide mouth that could swallow people. Her irrational decisions, her overprotective character, and her actions symbolically consumed and limited the people around her.
Mr. Chhay symbolizes the community that Nea and her family desire to please. Ma wants to ensure her daughter gets her future happiness for a better life. Mr. Chhay is a financially stable man whom Ma sees as a suitable and potential husband for her daughter Sourdi.
Duke’s relationship with Sourdi shows that her involvement with men compromises her relationship with Nea. Nea hates to see her sister involve herself with men. Duke, however, is a good example to show the reader how Sourdi changes and matures up with boys until marriage. In addition, it shows how Nea fails to change and remains childish and unwilling to let Sourdi experience her relationships. She goes further to deny Sourdi’s marriage with Mr. Chhay.
The drunken man at their restaurant, Mr. Chhay and Duke symbolizes the trend of men who initiated the separation of Nea and Sourdi’s relationship. Each one was able to drive Sourdi away from her sister, making Sourdi mature while leaving Nea behind classifying her as a child. The minefield story is also symbolic in Saving Sourdi short story (TEACHER’S, M. A. N. U. A. L., 103). Its deeper meaning shows that Nea thinks that she owe Sourdi much. That is why she overprotects Sourdi and saves her in any arising situation.
To summarize, the short story “Saving Sourdi” is a story that deals with the struggles and perceptions of Nea, who is one of the characters. The main characters are Nea and Sourdi, who are sisters. The growth and togetherness of these two sisters exhibit their different roles played in this story thus clearly bringing out their definite characters. Other characters in this story include Ma, the mother to Nea and Sourdi, Duke, who was Ma’s worker in her bar and also once Sourdi’s boyfriend. Mr. Chhay was also a character who was Sourdi’s husband.
Nea, who is the sister to Sourdi, is the narrator as well as the principal protagonist in “Saving Sourdi” short story as they grow up into adults. This story progresses around two sisters who are growing up. Nea is the controlling one compared to Sourdi. Sourdi is perceived as being more desirable and older compared to her sister. Nea’s aggression, anxiety, and naivety negatively influence her decisions throughout the story. Sourdi has a round character. She blooms from a child to a mature young woman.
The whole story is set in Nea’s point of view. The author has used her to bring out each character’s character in an easy way. The whole story is centered at Nea’s actions making it flow in an interesting manner. This paper provides possible reasons to why the author did not opt to use the other characters’ point of view. The setting of this story is relevant in that; it enables the central character, Nea to exhibit her character thoroughly. The story starts late at night symbolizing trouble. The bar setting plays a crucial role in the formation of protective characteristics of Nea. There are some symbolic references found in “saving Sourdi”. These symbolic acts and statements have a representation behind it within the story’s context. Mr. Chhay symbolizes the community that Nea and her family desire to please. Ma wants to ensure her daughter gets her future happiness for a better life. The drunken man at their restaurant, Mr. Chhay and Duke symbolizes the trend of men who initiated the separation of Nea and Sourdi’s relationship.
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Webber, Sabra J., and Patrick B. Mullen. “Breakthrough into Comparison:” Moving” Stories, Local History, and the Narrative Turn.” Journal of Folklore Research 48.3 (2011): 213-247.