Kim's Convenience by Ins Choi Book Review
How can one understand the experience of the struggle, until it becomes a reality? Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi explores life lessons that revolve around important topics such as identity, sacrifice, and race. The play follows the lives of Appa and Umma, a married couple who are living as immigrants in Toronto with their children. Choi uses humor to illustrate the difficulties families have to go through in today’s society. Together, the uniqueness and significance of the themes discussed in the play are expressed through a variety of socially significant topics.
To begin, the value of themes presented in Kim's Convenience communicates valuable life lessons regarding identity. Throughout the play, Ins Choi expresses the idea that one’s actions or a negative chapter of someone's life should not define their identity, but rather allow them to evolve further. All through the play, Choi uses quotations to support this theme, such as a discussion that Mr. Kim has with his daughter, regarding the convenience store:
What is my story? Hm? What is the story of me, Mr. Kim? My whole life is this store. Everybody knows this store, they know me. This store is my story. And if I just sell the store, then my story is over. Who is Mr. Kim? Nobody knows that. You take over the store, my story keeps going (Choi 67).
When speaking to Janet, Appa demonstrates frustration concerning his store. Mr. Kim explains that the store defines his identity. It is conveyed that the protagonist's life story is quite dull, since it is the store that solely defines Appa’s life, and if Janet decides to run the store, her identity would be someone else's legacy. Nevertheless, as the play progresses, it is proven that Mr. Kim's identity is not just defined by the store. A conversation that Appa has with his son Jung reveals the depth of the story behind Appa’s identity. “(...) No. My story is not Kim's Convenience. My story is you. And Janet. And Umma. And Sonam. You understand?” (102) This quotation indicates that there is so much more to Appa’s story. The convenience store may be one important chapter in his life, although it does not solely define him. With or without the store, he will always be known as Mr. Kim. People judge a character based on something that is part of their identity. This is demonstrated through an encounter Mr. Kim has with a customer. “(...) Chinaman wants to run a business in Canada and he can’t even speak the language properly” (42). Through humor, racism, and identity, Mike conveys the idea that Appa cannot speak English properly, therefore making it difficult for him to run a store in Canada. This part of his identity should not stop him from achieving success, as with an accent, he may seem like an unintelligent immigrant to the public. However, this is certainly not the case. Consequently, individuals should not judge others by the negative components of their identities, as there is certainly much more that defines them.
Along with identity, important life lessons regarding sacrifice can also be observed through the relevance of themes portrayed in Kim’s Convenience. The author demonstrates the idea that sacrifice plays a significant role in each decision we make, even though an individual initially may not realize this. Moreover, a conversation between Umma and Jung contributes to the theme of sacrifice:
“Your Appa was a teacher in Korea. He was a very good teacher. The Students all love him. He has lots of friends. We have a very good life in Korea. Then we came to Canada. But he can't be a teacher here. His English is very... no good. We got to the store. And he works every day. No weekend, no time off, no vacation, always have to be open, no retirement. Why? Why is he doing that? For you. For you and Janet. He is choosing like that for you. (Offers the photo.) You choose like that for him” (78-79).
Umma informs Jung that Appa was a successful teacher, indicating that the protagonist lived an exceptional life in Korea. However, Appa chose to move to Canada to provide a better life for his children, sacrificing his exquisite life in Korea, so that Jung and Janet are able to benefit from opportunities that their father did not have access to. Therefore, something beneficial can always come out of making a tough decision. Furthermore, many individuals aren't aware of the sacrifices that are made in favor of their well beings. This corresponds to the theme, as well as many situations in the play, such as the confrontation between Janet and Appa:
“(...) Everything you have Appa give to you. All Appa having. Appa invests in you and what you do? Waste time. Waste hope. Waste hope. What do I still owe you? Tell me, Janet. I give to you my whole life (…)” (72).
In this encounter, Appa expresses his anger when Janet states that Appa owes her money for working at the store, and Janet expresses ungratefulness through her words. The protagonist's daughter is aware of the effortful decisions she has had to make, however, Janet has not realized the substantial sacrifices Appa has had to make, solely depending on the best interests of his children. It is only after Appa lists everything that he has paid for that Janet feels empathy towards Appa, as the character comprehends the amount of sacrifices the protagonist has had to make for her. Ultimately, sacrifices certainly play a significant role in an individual's life, however, it is important that one is aware of the sacrifices made for them by others.
Race is another topic that can be explored through the significance of themes outlined in Kim’s Convenience. Choi indicates that an individual should not be judged by their race, but rather by their actions. There are several encounters between characters in the midst of the play that support this theme, such as when Appa convinces Janet, that a customer is going to steal based on his appearance. “He is black guy, jean jacket. That is a steal combo” (43). As the play develops, Mr. Kim continues to teach Janet different “steal combos'' based on stereotypes created by society. However, when Mike approaches Appa to pay, Mr. Kim angrily confronts him for stealing and he seems to be very persistent with Mike. Soon afterwards, Janet realizes that her dad was in fact correct, Mike had stolen from the shop. This dispute is a great example to support the theme of race, as it is unacceptable to judge someone based on a stereotype. Additionally, society should not negatively criticize one race as a whole, on behalf of the actions of an unfavourable crowd presented in the media. During a conversation between Appa and his daughter, Mr. Kim informs Janet about a positive occurrence between a black community and a Korean store owner:
(...) All Korean convenience stores are on fire and black people are stealing. So he takes out shotgun and goes to the store. When he gets out of the car, he sees fire and smoke, people screaming, running, crazy and he looks at the store. He saw all black people in front of the store. So he gets a gun, ready to shoot, then he stops. What he sees is that black women who he gave to loan and all his black customers, make a big wall, stop other people from stealing from his store (84).
In this incident, there are a number of irresponsible black people stealing and starting various fires, on the other hand there is also a sympathetic black community that are risking their lives to protect this Korean store. Appa is conveying the message that there may be some careless people that are part of a certain race, however, others' mistakes should not define or judge the positive people entirely because they are the same race. This discussion between Appa and Janet, was in relation to Alex, the black man Janet is dating. As towards the end of this chapter, Mr. Kim tells his daughter, “Alex is not Korean, but if you want to marry him, that's okay with me” (84). Therefore, suggesting that a distinct race should be defined by the positive events in their community, not the negative.
In conclusion, a number of socially relevant subjects express the relevance and value of themes explored through the play. To summarize, multiple life lessons were presented through the progression of the play, Kim’s Convenience. Various characters benefited from the teaching of these lessons, as they can be applied to many different situations. Likewise, identity, sacrifice, and race all play important roles in shaping individuals, as life lessons that explore important topics can be revealed through various types of situations. Therefore, How struggle affects someone all comes down to one thing: what they truly believe in.