by Laurence Yep
Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
Yep ends the book twice, really – first in Chapter 12 within the narrative of Moon Shadow, and second, from an outside-the-story level in the Afterword.
Let's tackle the ending in Chapter 12 first. With the semi-successful flight of Dragonwings, Windrider's dream (and Moon Shadow's dream for his father) of flying is quenched. Though the plane literally crashes, he is able to prove to himself and to others, including Uncle Bright Star, that he can fly. At this point, Windrider's dream shifts to what has been Moon Shadow's dream all along: to have his family together again. Or perhaps we should say families plural, since Moon Shadow considers the people of the Company and the Whitlaws to be as close as kin anyway. Chapter 12 closes with Father en route to bringing Mother to America, the Lees as partners within the Company, and Moon Shadow sitting with the Whitlaws reflecting on his good fortune.
Things wrap up pretty nicely, but there are still unanswered questions. Will Mother and Father make it back safely? If they do, how will Mother find the Tang people's village and the demons? What will happen to Grandmother – is she going to be left alone on the family farm in China? Will the Lees pay back Uncle Bright Star's loan? Will Windrider ever create an airplane again? Will race relations get any better in the Tang people's village? Or how about in the larger San Francisco community? All these things Yep leaves to our imagination. In short, we don't know about the futures of these characters. What we do know, however, is that the characters followed through on the Lees' dream of flying. And we do know that the characters have got each other to depend on, which is what really seems to matter.
As for the Afterword: it's always an interesting decision on the author's part to write an afterword. By breaking out of the narrative, Yep draws attention to the fact that Dragonwings is a work of fiction, that it and its characters are in fact made up. But what is the effect of drawing attention to its fictional nature? We are interested in your answers, and we'll offer that the self-consciousness of this work of fiction shows how important it is to tell these stories, whether they are real or not. Yep gives us specific names of dynasties and people and tells us that there are loads of people who remain forever forgotten.
The truth is that the "real" Tang people who immigrated to America in the early 1900s don't have available autobiographies, don't have biographies. The importance of fiction and of a piece like Dragonwings is, then, to make space for the stories of these people and to imagine the humanity of these individuals. Yep reminds us that stories can be really harmful when he references Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu. Whether stories are real or not, we tend to remember stories and characters as speaking to some truth. By offering us this story about the lives and world of the Lees, Yep provides another reality to imagine, another space to remember and honor.