“In the Kindergarten” Lit Circle Round 2

Here is the second group of freshmen’s literature circle materials on Ha Jin’s short story “In the Kindergarten.”

Summarizers: Gryphon and Luke

In “In the Kindergarten” we meet a young girl named Shaona living in China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Shaona overhears her teacher, Teacher Shen, speaking on the phone with Doctor Niu about paying for her abortion. Shaona does not know what an abortion is, and questions whether it was a place where a baby was held. It is important to know that the story takes place at a time when China’s One Child Policy was in full swing. Here, we are presented with the chronic tension. Teacher Shen requires both money and certain resources to deal with her abortion. Later, the class is told by the teacher that they were going to spend the day picking puslanes, a plant used during port-partum bleeding. They were told that the herbs would be sent to the kitchen and that they would eat them for dinner. Before they left the field with the duffle bag of the puslanes, the teacher drops a third of them off with Uncle Chang, the one in charge of the vegetable fields at this establishment. Shaona is confused, but doesn’t question it. When the children were presented with dinner, they were disappointed due to the fact that there were no purslanes. Shaona recalls seeing her teacher go home with a large green bag and assumed it was filled with laundry, but now she knows it was filled with purslanes. Here is the acute tension. Shaona and the other children are upset with this, and the next day, Shaona urinates in the bag of purslanes while the children and Teacher Shen were chasing a rabbit. The story ends with Shaona eating a large meal and feeling confident in herself. She feels that she is now a “big girl”.

Discussion Directors: Caroline A and Deonna

  1. What is the purpose of the interaction on pages 46 and 47, where the children are arguing?

  2. Why do you think Jin chose to write from Shaona’s perspective instead of the teacher? How would writing from Teacher Shen’s POV affect the story?

  3. What was the significance of Shaona’s conflict with Dabin? How does her giving away her peanuts affect the story?

  4. Why does the author include the detail of Teacher Shen giving a sizeable amount of the purslanes to Mister Chang?

  5. How does Shaona’s arc come full-circle at the end of the story, where she becomes a “big girl”?

Why do you think Jin chose to write from Shaona’s perspective instead of the teacher? How would writing from Teacher Shen’s POV affect the story?

Jin chose to write from Shaona’s point of view in order to portray Teacher Shen’s situation through the eyes of child. This juxtaposition between the way a child’s mind perceived her predicament—as shown in the scene when Shaona overhears her conversation on the phone–and what the reader realizes to be the teacher’s struggle to recover from an abortion, allows the author and the reader to view the situation through fresh eyes. Using the perspective of a mischievous child over a rather serious situation (abortion, theft, abusing labor, etc.) creates interest and tension for the piece, as well as gives us many small details that we would not have gotten otherwise, such as the relations between the children in the kindergarten and the teacher’s outer ward persona, despite her inner conflict.

Lit Connectors: Athena and Jessie

1. The school
2. Smorgasbord
3. Chanice’s Workshop Story
4. Gallus, Gallus
Both stories, “In the Kindergarten” and “The School” had many vibrant and impotant strokes of peculiarity, both involved children, and in both stories those children acting very strangely. In the Kindergarten is similar to the story we read last semester The School in its use of unsavory language by children. We noticed that in In the Kindergarten, although only kindergarteners, the children used curse words that gave an absurd tone to the piece. Likewise, The School was overall a very odd story. In it, the children in one class at a school witness a series of increasingly peculiar events that all involve the deaths of things they have interacted with. It starts small, and ends up going up to the death of a Korean orphan. Throughout it, the children who go to the school start to sound more and more grown-up, which adds to the surreal feeling it gives off. Both of the stories include children that use more adult language to give off an absurd vibe, and emphasize the strangeness of the situation. In The School, this odd situation is the succession of deaths, and in In the Kindergarten, this situation is the teacher’s need to support herself because of her abortion.

Illustrators: Sonya and Isabella


We decided to try and draw a couple of different things from the story and combine it into one image. Firstly there’s the girl/main character in the center who is holding her skirt full of purslanes, as that was a scene from the book. Shaona is holding her skirt to collect them, which is a part of the tension as the teacher later takes them for her own reasons. The teacher, Teacher Shen, is nearby, almost like a shadow supervising her to make sure she is collecting enough to satisfy Dr. Niu. There is description about what Teacher Shen is wearing and what her face looks like, but not as much about the other characters. A big concern for Teacher Shen is being able to exist without confrontation or her secret being released: she wants to get the doctor to keep quiet about her abortion, and to receive more money to assist with her needs; taking care of her and her mother and eating eggs to stay healthy after the abortion. We drew a plane above to signify the tension and possibility of it being a warplane when Shaona notices it and wonders how pilots could fit inside, followed by a childish observation saying ‘only pigeons could fit in them’, showcasing her naivety.

Do you think the chronic tension is Shaona missing her parents, or Teacher Shen being in need of money? Why or why not?

Literary Luminaries: Marie and Sebastian

  1. “What’s an abortion? Shaona asked herself. Is it something that holds a baby? What does it look like? Must be very expensive.”
  2. “[The teacher] used to sing a lot; her voice was fruity and clear. But recently she was quiet, her face rather pallid.”
  3. “The boy would be ‘jailed’, and he might get even with her after he was released.”
  4. “[The children] were shouting out ‘rat-a-tat’ as if the spinning platform was a tank turret.’


Specifically, we thought the quote “The boy would be ‘jailed’, and he might get even with her after he was released.” was an important part of the story. It’s an interesting bit because it, combined with several other quotes describing the children and their interaction with the adults in the kindergarten, lends to the impression that the kindergarten wasn’t a place where safety or kindness was encouraged. In the first place, the fact that the child is going to ‘jail’ and won’t get out for a while, is highly questionable and makes the reader assume that the kindergarten isn’t a fun or morally constructive place to be. The second part is even more concerning. ‘…he might get even with her after he was released…’ is a clause that’s very concerning for multiple reasons and sparks several questions. This is a six-year-old. What can a six-year-old do to seriously get even with another six-year-old? It’s presumed to be a violent action because of his previous behavior, which means that this kindergarten creates very violent kindergartners and is overall not a fun and funky place to be. This is critical to the rest of the story because it establishes the environment that Shaona is living in and the story takes place in.

Craft Terms Experts: Harrison and Gabi


Example 1:

The lines, “the teacher TO embezzlement” (45) are a great example of the first-person point of view. These lines are Shoana describing her teacher Mrs.Shens appearances and her mannerisms This lets us know as the reader what Shaona thinks about her teacher. This is an important piece of the story because Shaona perspective about her teacher changes latter in the story once her teacher takes the purslanes home. So it is therefore important to know her perspective of her teacher

Example 2:

From “Shanoas mind was racing TO a few purslanes” (48). These lines show Shaona’s hope for eating the purslanes. But then later on on the page form the lines  “she remembers seeing TO harvest home” we see Shoanas understanding that her teacher took the purslanes. This is important because this event cause Shaona to be mad and later then pee on the purslanes.


Example 3:

The 3rd to the final paragraph on page 44 is an example of Characterization. The lines give a very in-depth description of how Shaona is distressed in her situation. It talks of how much she misses home and how much she hates the kindergarten’s beds, and how her dismay at her situation has warped her view of the Kindergarten and shows us how happy she was before in contrast to her distress.


Examples 4:

From the ending of the page of 46 to 47 dialogue is used in a fight between students. This causes one of the students to be put in a pantry like a place as punishment. This causes Shaoan to like her teacher even less.



“In the Kindergarten” Lit Circle Round 1

Here is the first group of freshmen’s literature circle materials on Ha Jin’s short story “In the Kindergarten.”

Summarizers: Rey and Angela

The story begins with Shaona, a little girl of around 5 or 6, who is living at a kindergarten with her classmates and her Teacher Shen, who overhears a conversation between her teacher and an unknown person, discussing the painful aftermath of an abortion she recently had. After the call is over, Teacher Shen gathered the children and led them outside, where she told them that they would be picking purslanes, a herb that grew in the schoolyard. After a while of collecting the herbs, Shaona got into a fight with her classmate Dabin, who insulted her for the number of purslanes she had picked. He was taken away by the teachers, and the children continued searching the fields, excited for the purslanes that Teacher Shen had promised they would get for dinner. At mealtime that night, Shaona noticed that their food is what it always was, and gets angry because they did not get to taste the purslanes. After dinner, Dabin was released by the teacher, and in order to keep him from messing with her, she gave him some peanuts she had gotten from her father, who she hasn’t seen for 2 weeks. At recess the next day the children play instead of collecting herbs but continue their labor the day after. While the class is picking purslanes, a wild rabbit runs out into the field, and all the children run after it trying to catch it for their dinner that night. During the rabbit chase, Shaona leaves the class behind and pees on the collected purslanes. She is so satisfied with her attempt to sabotage whoever would be getting the herbs instead, that she doesn’t even get upset when they have the same foods for dinner that evening.

Discussion Directors: James and Elissa

  1. What is the significance of Teacher Shen’s pregnancy?

  2. Did she give Dabin the peanuts to placate him? I doubt he would have gotten away with much with all the teachers around

  3. Why are the Kindergarten children cussing?

  4. Where do you think the story takes place?

  5. Was she selling the purslanes or was she eating them?

In the story “In the Kindergarten”, we (being Elissa and James, students at HSPVA) believe that the story takes place somewhere in Asia, specifically China. The author, Ha Jin, includes tiny small little details about the characters, the food, and the surrounding area that clue the reader in to where the setting may be. For example, the names of the characters are Chinese, Shaona, Dabin, Teacher Chen, Uncle Cheng, Weilan, Luwan, Aili, and Aunt Chef. While ‘Aunt Chef’ may not be explicitly Chinese, I think it’s an Asian thing to call older adults that you know “aunt” or “uncle” because that’s what I’ve been doing since I was able to talk. We have reason to think that this story specifically takes place in rural China, due to the amount of farming that the main characters do. Furthermore, Teacher Shen seems extremely concered about her pregnancy, and even talks about perhaps getting an abortion, which alludes to the one child law in China, which while may or may not still be in affect, was most likely in affect at the time that this was written. Finally, the food that was mentioned also gives helpful clues to the fact that this is in China, specifically the purslanes and fried eggplant which is a very japanese/chinese type food.

Lit Connectors: Edlyn and Quentin

Suffer the Little Children


Ms. Interrupter (Gabi’s workshop piece)

The Wolf and the Cherries (Christian’s workshop piece)

We can connect In the Kindergarten to The Wolf and the Cherries because both stories are about a small child facing a challenge. In Christian’s workshop piece it is about a boy taking on a wolf and in In the Kindergarten a girl is struggling in Kindergarten. Both use food to try and win the conflict they are experiencing. The girl uses peanuts, which are then taken from her. The boy uses cherry pits, which were taken from him by the wolf. In both stories the character ends up triumphant, the girl because she got the edge on her teacher who wasn’t giving them the sprouts she promised, and the boy saved his village from a wolf.

Illustrators: Christian and Chanice


The first image relates to the story because it depicts a young girl who is (probably) the same age as the girl in the story. Many have assigned the role of protagonist to the little girl and the climax would be when she pees on the parsnips while the rest of the children are chasing a rabbit. The images a whole represent the story and the arc of the story. The story describes children at a boarding school and their life on the daily. The main setting of the story is the schoolhouse. The readers are introduced to the teacher and a conflict with another man. He goes on a tangent about the teacher paying him because her rent is due. She is hysterical. This adds to the tension when the reader finds out that the teacher has used the money she worked for an abortion. The images like the sack of harvest show the fruit that the children picked.

Literary Luminaries: Natalie and Heather

“She felt that from now on she would not cry like a baby at night again.”

“ ‘Say that again, bitch!’ ”

“‘I’ve an old mother at home. My mother and I have to live . . . And you know, I lost so much blood, because of the baby, that I need to eat eggs to recuperate. I’m really broke now. Can you just give me another month?’”

“Soon Shaona couldn’t stand playing queen anymore, because she felt silly calling him ‘Your Majesty’ and hated having to obey his orders.”

We chose the third quote to elaborate on. This quote introduces the teacher’s conflict, which is the chronic tension of the story. She recently had an abortion and is now struggling to deal with the finaces and resulting health issues because of it. She remarks about how much blood she lost and needs more nutrients. During this quote, she is on the phone, asking her boss for a raise in order to be able to buy more food, but he continues to refuse. The student, Shaona, who is the main character hears this conversation and is confused about what she is talking about. This leads her to desperate measures where she leads the kids outside to pick the purslanes. Shaona, our narrator and voice of the story, is one of her students who is picking them. She doesn’t understand why she is picking the plants and comes up with her own theories; she initially thinks that they are going to eat them at dinner or some other meal, but is confused why they don’t. This is the acute tension of the story as the younger and innocent mind tries to comprehend the intense and mature situation of the teacher’s abortion.

Craft Terms Experts: Benjy, Lakshmi, Caroline W


  1. “Oh please!” the teacher blubbered on the phone. “I’ll pay you the money in three months. You’ve already helped me so much, why can’t you help me out?’…

“Have mercy on me, Dr. ·Niu. I’ve an old mother at home. My mother and I have to live. … And you know, I lost so much blood, because of the baby, that I need to eat eggs to recuperare. I’m really broke now. Can you just give me another month?’”

  1. “Big asshole,” Weilan said, and made a face at him, sticking out her tongue.

“Say that again, bitch!” He went up to her, grabbed her shoulder, pushed her to the ground, and kicked her buttocks. She burst out crying.

  1. “Aunt Chef couldn’t cook those we got yesterday because we turned them in too late, but she’ll cook them for us today. So everybody must be a good child and work hard. Understood?”

  2. He turned away to talk to other children, telling them that purslanes tasted awful. He claimed he had once eaten a bowl of purslane stew when he had diarrhea. He would never have touched that stuff if his parents hadn’t forced him. “It tastes like crap, more bitter than sweet potato vines,” he assured them.


We chose the first set of quotes. These quotes are present towards the beginning of the story. In this dialogue, Teacher Shen is having a conversation with someone on the phone. It’s in this small portion of dialogue that we understand Teacher Shen’s chronic tension and intentions. Even though the main character, Shaona, is unaware of what an abortion is or how a baby is born, the readers know what is happening. The craft element of dialogue in this case is used to reveal Teacher Shen’s backstory, the fact that she got an abortion and couldn’t afford it because she has to support herself and her mother. It’s this backstory that allows the readers to know what exactly is driving the story. Without understanding that Teacher Shen can’t afford food using this piece of dialogue, we wouldn’t know why the kindergarteners were picking purslanes if they weren’t being cooked, which is what drives the story. There are many different ways to define the chronic tension of a character. In Shaona’s case, her chronic tension is defined through direct narration. That makes sense because she is the main character. The use of dialogue to define Teacher Shen’s backstory, chronic tension, and motives as a character makes sense as a choice of the author because the main character is overhearing this dialogue.