These Puns Have Gotten Out of Hand: An Analysis on the Motif of Hands in “The Paper Menagerie”
In Ken Liu’s short story “The Paper Menagerie”, the narrator Jack, reminisces his childhood memories about his mother and origami. The short story depicts a conflicted relationship between a mother and a son who is struggling to be accepted by society.The short story emits a despondent tone as the narrator recalls the painful memories as an outcast of society. Liu uses Jack’s inability to accept his origin to reveal the fear of judgment that resides within the subconscious. However, the narrator expresses his guilt towards the end of the short story, finally learning that he is the reason for his mother’s sorrow and distress. In the short story, Liu integrates the motif of hands to convey the tension between the acceptance of an individual’s culture and the rejection of one’s culture and to demonstrate the relationship between the two individuals.
In the short story, the narrator addresses his mother’s hands as if it was a magical being of its own with the ability to create life using scraps of Christmas wrapping paper. The depiction of his mother’s “cupped hands” (Liu 1) “pleat[ing],pack[ing], tuck[ing],roll[ing], and twist[ing] the paper illustrates an image of nimble fingers bringing paper animals to life. This exemplifies Jack’s acceptance of his culture as he is fascinated with the creations made by his mother’s hand. Furthermore, the term “cupped” connotes as embrace which proposes the idea that his mother’s hands hold the history of their culture and the action of folding the paper menagerie associates with the idea of the mother sharing her story with her son.Shortly after the mother finished folding the tiger, she “put her hands down on the table and let go” (Liu 1). Connotatively, the action of her hands letting go reflects her sharing her story and their culture, which reinforces the idea that her hands are filled with the history of their origin. The narrator further on states: “ I didn’t know this at the time, but Mom’s kind was special. She breathed into them so that they shared her breath, and thus moved with her life. This was her magic” (Liu 1). Jack referred to his mother as “kind” implying that she is different, however, he reaches out to his “Mom’s creation” and stroked it with his “index finger”. This further exemplifies the acceptance of one’s culture, as Jack decides to reach out with his hands, accepting what his mother has to offer him.
However, in regards to accepting his culture, further on in the short story the narrator is seen pushing his mother away. At the dinner table, he “brushed her hand away” and demanded his mother to “Speak...