A sheet of paper can wield more power than an army. In Wayson Choy’s novel All That Matters paper’s power is portrayed as a double-edged sword; where it acts both as a catalyst for change and opportunity, but also as a tool to imprison and constrain individuals. Although paper “represents a significant tool of diasporic mobility” states literary critic Alena Chercover in her analysis of Wayson Choy’s All That Matters, she argues that there is a significant trade-off in its ability to facilitate “survival in the diaspora, [as] it often carries a steep price”(12). This price that results from passage across “national, ethnic, gender and class boundaries” (Chercover 12) appears to weigh more on female immigrants. Immigration and the papers that facilitate it, tend to favor positive outcomes for males however, for many female immigrants the “ghost papers facilitate the bondage of Chinese women rather than freeing them from the strictures of home- or host-land” (Chercover 12). The character of Stepmother exemplifies how her “passage across national borders comes at the expense of her female agency, requiring in exchange the confinement of her body” (Chercover 13).
These struggles of assimilation are revealed in Choy’s writing, who draws on his own experiences to provide vivid imagery and deep insight into the emotions felt by immigrants. In her analysis of Wayson Choy’s works, literary critic Deborah Madsen writes, “growing up in Vancouver’s Chinatown was instrumental in shaping Choy’s [...] writing” (101). Madsen explains that “the immigrant condition of a failure to belong, both in the nation of ethnic origin and also to the nation of residence” (101) is a recurring topic in Choy’s novels as a result of his own experiences. Madsen provides insight into Choy’s writing and concludes that the feeling of unhomeliness is the major problem that limits diasporic success.
Both Chercover and Madsen’s critiques focus on problems associated with immigration, however Chercover takes the analysis of unsuccessful immigration one step further by concluding that paper acts as the underlying mechanism behind this problem. Paper traps females into constrictive gender roles, which results in the feelings of unhomeliness. Wayson Choy highlights both the positive and negative effects of paper on his characters throughout his novel All That Matters showing how paper provided a means of liberating them from their old life but also applied a constant constraint to each person’s freedom. In the essay that follows, I will explore the role paper plays in the hardships faced by characters in Choy’s All That Matters focusing specifically on females and how paper negatively influences the development of their identity.
Initially, Choy shows how paper is a positive force that is instrumental in the creation of opportunities for the Chen family, like the ghost papers that facilitated their passage to Canada. However as the book progresses it becomes clear that the crossing...