For such a little word, duty is a big concept. It's the opposite of fun and games in Red Scarf Girl because it's all about what is owed to other people. Ji-li feels a sense of duty to her family, her country, herself, and the Revolution. You might be thinking those are all worthy causes, and we could see a case being made for that. But duty gets kind of warped in this book, too. It's not merely about owing people something—it becomes justification for betrayal as kids ditch their parents, students disrespect their teachers, and people lose sight of basic human decency. Oops.
Questions About Duty
- Who or what does Ji-li have duty to? Which of her duties does she feel the strongest about?
- Why does Ji-li have more duty in her family than her siblings? How much of this has to do with age, and how much is about personality?
- Is it fair to place so much duty on Ji-li when she is only a child? What does the book tell us about the negative qualities of duties?
- Does Ji-li want to participate in the Cultural Revolution because of duty or obligation? What's the difference?
Chew on This
Even though Ji-li is active in the Cultural Revolution, she does it so she doesn't look bad, not because she values her duty to the cause.
The Cultural Revolution manipulates people's sense of duty to their country to coerce them into doing horrible things they otherwise wouldn't.