“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.



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