Critical Introduction

Unfolding the Paper Menagerie

Unfolding the Paper Menagerie is an industrious examination of Ken Liu’s short story, Paper Menagerie, through various critical analysis lenses. Kylie Lingo examines the structure of the piece in Capricious Envy of the Monomythic Boy. Maria Zavala’s One Heart and Two Identities, the struggles of understanding one’s identity while coming from a background of clashing cultures is the focus. Paper Menagerie is an award-winning short story, and hopefully through these careful analyses, anyone can see why. Evan Samuelson takes a look at the unintentionally told story of Jack’s potential psychosis in Delusion in the Paper Menagerie. Aneesa Loughmiller, in The Magic of the Paper Menagerie, compares and contrasts how the idea of magic is presented in other media, opposed to the casual approach Paper Menagerie takes. With Subversion of the “Evil Matriarch” in Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie, Ambrosia Shomaker examines the depiction of Jack’s mother in contrast to other wicked mothers present in fiction.

Capricious Envy of the Monomythic Boy- Kylie Lingo, New Criticism

In this essay, Kylie Lingo delves into method of the monomyth to better articulate the main principles of Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie. By recognizing this basic structure of Liu’s work, Lingo is able to better articulate the themes within The Paper Menagerie for a better understanding of both envy as well as the monomyth in modern storytelling.

One Heart and Two Identities- Maria Zavala, Reader Response

Maria Zavala examines the perspective of the first-generation immigrant in Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie, relating to her own experiences in trying to compromise between cultures struggling for control in one’s life, and staking out their own identity.

Delusion in the Paper Menagerie- Evan Samuelson, Deconstruction

The Paper Menagerie is a postmodern short story that defies traditional patterns of meaning. In Samuelson’s essay, the significance of the paper creatures is uncovered by an examination of their possible interpretations and how their meanings fail to create a cohesive narrative. “Delusion in ‘The Paper Menagerie'” reveals what Jack’s journey means in the context of his mental health and emotional well-being.

The Magic of the Paper Menagerie- Aneesa Loughmiller, New Historical

Analyzing the short story Paper Menagerie through a New Historical Lens, Loughmiller compares the discrimination Jack’s mother experiences with discrimination that happens to Asian Americans currently. This is compared with the ending of the story when Jack learns to empathize with his mother’s experience and sheds his negative beliefs about her. Likewise, stories of immigrants are being told more in 2022 as a way to counteract prejudices.

The Loss of Identify- Rafael Jacobo, Psychological

In “The Loss of Identity”, Rafael Jacobo provides a compelling analysis of Ken Liu’s short story “Paper Menagerie” through the lens of Erik Erikson’s’ theory of psychosocial development. Using this lens, Jacobo argues that the story offers a rich illustration of the complex interplay between induvial identity and social changes across the eight stages of development by Erikson.  By drawing on the Character jack, the protagonist of the story, Jacobo highlights key factors that contribute to Jacks neglection of his Chinese heritage from Infancy to adulthood. The essay demonstrates the importance of understanding what factors influence the sense of individuality over time.

Subversion of the “Evil Matriarch” in Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie- Ambrosia Shomaker, Feminist

In this essay, Ambrosia Shomaker takes a look at the trope of the “Evil Matriarch” in fiction, and how Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie subverts this trope by making the evil mother of the story a kind woman whose only evil is being different, while her ‘heroic’ son is the one who torments his mother. Editor’s Note: This essay was selected as a winner for the 2023 CWI President’s Writing Award for Critical Analysis.

Without further ado, it is time for the unfolding to begin.


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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