Study Guide

Eleanor & Park Race

By Rainbow Rowell

Race

Chapter 1
Steve

"Are you retarded?" Steve said. "His mom's Chinese."

Mikey looked at Park carefully. Park smiled and narrowed his eyes. "Yeah, I guess I see it," Mikey said. "I always thought you were Mexican."

"S***, Mikey," Steve said, "you're such a f***ing racist."

"She's not Chinese," Tina said. "She's Korean." (1.26-29)

This conversation is a politically incorrect disaster, isn't it? This exchange between the kids on the bus in the opening chapter of Eleanor & Park really illustrates the clueless racism that happens at Eleanor and Park's school.

Chapter 2
Eleanor Douglas

She pulled it out of the way and started to say sorry—but it was that stupid Asian kid, and he frowned when he saw that it was her. (2.25)

Even Eleanor thinks of Park as that "stupid Asian kid" when she first sees him, and internally, she calls him that for a while. Park's right—it's the first thing anyone sees.

Chapter 6
Park Sheridan

Except she said it, In hee-ya! Because she was apparently never going to stop sounding like she just got here yesterday from Korea. Sometimes Park thought she kept the accent on purpose, because his dad liked it. But his mom tried so hard to fit in every other way… If she could sound like she grew up right around the corner, she would. (6.26)

Even though Park's mom tries to fit in—and mostly succeeds, given her popular business—she can never truly fit in, because her accent will always set her apart. Park's always been aware of his mom's efforts to be like everyone else.

Chapter 7

Most of the kids here were black, but most of the kids in her honors classes were white. They got bused in from west Omaha. And the white kids from the Flats, dishonor students, got bused in from the other direction. (7.42)

At Eleanor and Park's school, it's easy to see dividing lines like race and class, as Eleanor describes here. ("Dishonor students"—too clever, Eleanor.)

Cal

"Now there's a girl who might want a piece of you," Cal said. "Looks like somebody's got jungle fever."

"That isn't even the right kind of racist," Park said, looking up. (7.25-26)

More cluelessness, this time from Park's good friend Cal. Goes to show that even Park's friends don't think twice about making racist comments.

Chapter 10
Eleanor Douglas

(Stupid, perfect Asian kid.) (10.5)

Even when Eleanor's falling for Park, she never stops thinking of him this way, which reflects the culture she's grown up in—the stereotype of Asians as "perfect" is a pretty typical one.

Chapter 12
Eleanor Douglas

Eleanor couldn't figure out what an Asian person was doing in the Flats anyway. Everybody else here was seriously white. Like, white by choice. Eleanor had never even heard the N-word said out loud until she moved here, but the kids on her bus used it like it was the only way to indicate that somebody was black. Like there was no other word or phrase that would work. (12.31)

Because she's new to the neighborhood, Eleanor's picked up on the complete lack of diversity in the Flats—and the racism that comes with it.

Eleanor had only known one Asian person in her life—Paul, who was in her math class at her old school. […] Paul was the one who'd taught Eleanor to say Asian and not oriental. "Oriental's for food," he'd said.

"Whatever, La Choy Boy," she'd said back. (12.28-30)

This goes to show how rare Asian people are in Eleanor's neighborhood—if she's only known one Asian person before, Park is the second one she's met. Ever. Her response to Paul is pretty insensitive, right? And we wouldn't generally categorize Eleanor as insensitive.

Chapter 19
Park Sheridan

"I mean, you don't seem like you're from here…"

"Because I'm Korean?"

"You're Korean?"

"Half."

"I guess I don't really know what that means."

"Me neither," he said. (19.146-151)

So this is a really important thing about Park: Even though the world thinks he's Asian, and therefore an outsider, he has no idea what his Korean heritage even means. It's all about appearances, isn't it?

Chapter 20
Park Sheridan

Their grandmother looked nothing but Irish. Or maybe Park only thought that because everyone in his dad's family made such a big deal about being Irish. Park got a Kiss Me, I'm Irish T-shirt every year for Christmas. (20.21)

Amazing that Park's half-Irish, and his grandparents even make a big deal about it, and yet no one even considers that Park might be anything other than Asian. In fact, Park's family is one of those old, established Nebraska families. Go figure, right?