Study Guide

Dragonwings Themes

  • Friendship

    Obliged to make a home away from home in America, Moon Shadow's survival and adaptability depends not only on his father but on the friends that they make along the way. As we come to see with the men of the Company and the Whitlaws, Moon Shadow's friends are his family in America. The significance of friendship throughout Dragonwings expands our common understanding of family to expand across blood lines.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Who would you say is Windrider's best friend?
    2. What is the difference between a friend and a family member in Dragonwings?
    3. Do people have to share common life experiences in order to be good friends?
    4. In the book, how does a friend show that she's are a good friend? What makes a good friend?

    Chew on This

    Since friends are people who support you no matter what, Mother is Windrider's best friend in Dragonwings.

    Since friends are people who know what you need better than you do, Uncle Bright Star is the best friend to Windrider in Dragonwings.

  • Family

    Moon Shadow's dream at the beginning of Dragonwings is to meet his father and have a more coherent family. His parents live on different continents, and Moon Shadow has never met his dad. As explore in the discussion of "Friendship," however, the lines between family and friends get happily blurred in Moon Shadow's life. The book asks us, what is the difference between family and friends? And really, does there need to be a difference? Is it possible to find or make a family?

    Questions About Family

    1. What defines a family for Moon Shadow?
    2. What does it mean that Moon Shadow thinks Miss Whitlaw was a Tang woman in a previous life? What does it mean that he considers her his family in another life?
    3. Why does Uncle Bright Star stand in the way of Mother coming to America?
    4. Why does Black Dog hang out with the Sleepers but not the Company?

    Chew on This

    Moon Shadow does not consider the Whitlaws his family because they are demons and thus too different from him.

    Moon Shadow considers the Whitlaws his family because of they selflessly act for each other's benefit.

  • The Home

    You might have noticed in Dragonwings that there's a lot of moving around in Moon Shadow's life, which also means that his home space is constantly shifting and resettling. Could it be that this unstable home space speaks to Moon Shadow's struggle to belong in America? Maybe. What is it that constitutes a home? Is it four walls and a door? Is home necessarily a thing in space, or could it be a feeling?

    Questions About The Home

    1. Where does Moon Shadow feel most at home?
    2. What does each new setting that Moon Shadow moves to say about each situation and his mood?
    3. How do Moon Shadow and Windrider nest into each new home space?
    4. What makes San Francisco the Land of the Golden Mountain for Moon Shadow? Does he consider it home?

    Chew on This

    Moon Shadow considers the Land of the Golden Mountain home because he has grown the most as a person in San Francisco.

    Moon Shadow cannot consider the Land of the Golden Mountain home until his mother arrives because home is wherever his family members are.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Dragonwings is bursting with the hopes that each of the characters hold. Some characters help one another with dreams, like Moon Shadow's devoted faith in his father, and some characters have dreams that conflict with one another, like how Uncle Bright Star's priority is the Company while Windrider cares most for his destiny to fly. What is a dream worth? What is sacrificed in pursuing one dream? Can dreams shift?

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Can a person pursue two dreams at once?
    2. What is Moon Shadow's dream, and how does he work to achieve it?
    3. Does Windrider's faith in his dream make him a bad friend and father?
    4. What is the dream of the Company, and does it continue?

    Chew on This

    Windrider is a bad father and friend because he neglects his loved ones' wishes in order to pursue his own dream.

    Windrider is a good father because he models faith, an independent spirit, and self-confidence to Moon Shadow.

  • Race

    Moon Shadow is a Chinese immigrant to America in the beginning of the twentieth, a time during which a legalized sort of racism and discrimination was going down in American history. Significantly, Moon Shadow thinks of himself as a Tang person and white Americans as "white demons." Moon Shadow's assumptions about national and cultural difference shift, however, the more people he meets.

    Questions About Race

    1. Why does Moon Shadow think that Black Dog thinks of the Tang people as the demons do?
    2. Does racial difference present the biggest conflict in this story?
    3. How is Moon Shadow's life made more difficult because he is a Tang person in America? How is his life made more manageable because he is a Tang person in America?
    4. What assumptions does Moon Shadow have about demons? Why? Do these thoughts change and, if so, how?

    Chew on This

    Moon Shadow learns that the best way to fight discrimination is through violence, like when he hits Jack for example.

    Moon Shadow learns that the best way to fight discrimination is to work within the rules and use hard work and smarts to figure out another way, like when Uncle Bright Star convinces the authorities to let the Tang people resettle onto their land.

  • Foreignness and 'The Other'

    Dragonwings is a story about Moon Shadow's experience adapting to the new circumstances of life in America. One important question the book puts forth is, how can a person find a sense of belonging when he's constantly made to feel foreign? This idea of feeling foreign is not only a figurative alienation (in the sense that Moon Shadow is not used to being treated differently because of his heritage, for example), but a geographical change and legal label. It is helpful to remember that Chinese immigrants in America were legally considered aliens ineligible for citizenship at this time..

    Questions About Foreignness and 'The Other'

    1. How has the Tang people's village been set up to keep people from feeling foreign?
    2. What are the different ways in which Moon Shadow reacts when people treat him differently based on his looks?
    3. How does the language difference make fitting into America more challenging for Moon Shadow?
    4. How do Moon Shadow's ideas about "demons" change?
    5. Does Moon Shadow ever feel foreign to himself?

    Chew on This

    Moon Shadow learns that demons are not so different from Tang people through his close friendship to Miss Whitlaw and Robin.

    Moon Shadow believes that demons and Tang people are different because the authorities make it that way, which not even Miss Whitlaw can do anything about.

  • The Supernatural

    In Dragonwings, to believe in Windrider's dream of flight is, to a certain degree, to believe in the supernatural. And if we put ourselves in the shoes of Uncle Bright Star in 1903, for example, we might understand how the idea of a human flying through the air really is seems like crazy talk. Windrider isn't sure whether his dream about meeting a dragon was real or not, but for us readers to care about his journey, we have to be open to the idea of such a thing happening. Moon Shadow is a great resource for this, what with all the lowdown on the Stove King, good dragons versus evil dragons, and which charms to keep with you to ward off evil.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. Why is Uncle Bright Star so upset whenever Windrider brings up his dragon dream?
    2. What is the effect of Yep's choice to make it unclear whether or not Windrider actually met the Dragon King?
    3. Does believing in the supernatural heighten a sense of fear? Is it different when two people believe in something versus one person believing in the same thing?
    4. What does Windrider do in the name of destiny?
    5. What does Windrider believe in his destiny at the beginning of the book? At the end?

    Chew on This

    Uncle Bright Star believes in the supernatural, but instead of believing in Windrider's dragon dream, he believes that supernatural powers can be found among communities of people.

    Uncle Bright Star ridicules Windrider's dreams as selfish, but he suffers from a similar self-absorption in being too proud to be a good friend to Windrider.

  • Fear

    There's a lot to be afraid of in this book. We experience everything from mean, prejudiced kids throwing garbage at our protagonist to an earthquake ripping apart San Francisco. Dragonwings asks us: what do you do when you're scared of something? What does fear do?

    Questions About Fear

    1. What are people scared of in Dragonwings?
    2. How do people react when they are scared?
    3. Why is Moon Shadow scared of Jack?
    4. Are the demons in general more afraid of the Tang people or the Tang people more afraid of the demons?

    Chew on This

    Robin is a good friend to Moon Shadow because she helps him face his fears.

    Robin is a good friend to Moon Shadow because she helps him fight his fears.

  • Principles

    The characters in Dragonwings demonstrate their sense of principles by helping others. Moon Shadow, for example, is an extremely disciplined kid who consistently looks out for his dad's best interest over his own. Throughout the novel we see characters acting in generous ways. At the end of the day, Dragonwings suggests that people who look out for other people are way more awesome than those who just think of themselves.

    Questions About Principles

    1. Who is the strongest character in Dragonwings?
    2. What qualities does Moon Shadow value in other people? What is a "superior" person?
    3. What signs do we have that Moon Shadow grows and matures as a person?
    4. Why does Moon Shadow believe it is more important to look out for others than oneself?

    Chew on This

    Black Dog is the strongest character because he works outside of the law, subverting rules of the Man.

    Mother is the strongest character in Dragonwings because she patiently takes care of her own life while offering as much support as possible to the ones she loves.