Pao Summary & Study Guide

Kerry Young
This Study Guide consists of approximately 49 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Pao.
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Pao Summary & Study Guide Description

Pao Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Pao by Kerry Young.

This historically-based novel is the story of Pao, a Chinese immigrant to Jamaica who, after taking over his mentor's organized crime syndicate and struggling for decades to achieve and maintain a position of status, comes to realize that there are other forms of status that are more important. As Pao comes to a place of redemption for his career-long personal and professional misdemeanors, the narrative also explores themes related to the nature of oppression and the relationship between the inner and outer life.

The novel begins with Pao's first person narration of how he first became involved with a beautiful prostitute named Gloria who, shortly after they meet, becomes his lover and, later in the narrative, the mother of his child, Esther. In spite of his feelings for her, however, Pao is advised by his mentor, Zhang, to become involved with a woman of more social and economic status. As a result, Pao seeks out such a woman and eventually finds her in the form of Fay Wong, the half-black daughter of a wealthy Chinese businessman. The two marry, and over the years their relationship, while never consistently affectionate, becomes openly acrimonious and confrontational, to the point where Fay eventually kidnaps their two children (son Xiuquan, whom she calls Karl, and daughter Mui) to England.

After a couple of chapters of expository flashback in which Pao's narration describes how he came to be in Jamaica, made lifelong friends, and became first Zhang's lieutenant and then successor, a series of episodic chapters traces Pao's career over a period of forty years. He becomes more deeply involved in prostitution (providing protection for Gloria's operation and several other houses) and in extortion (making sure the local police are on his side by, in turn, making sure that he knows some of their potentially career-ending secrets). He also offers assistance to several people who come to him for help, particularly a pair of young women in trouble - twelve year old Merleen Chin, made pregnant by a cavalier British soldier and, several years later, teenager Marguerite Lopez, manipulated into a lesbian relationship and made witness to a murder by that same soldier's daughter.

All these relationships and Pao's other criminal activities play out against a backdrop of social, political and economic unrest in Jamaica, as various exploiters move in and out of the country - the British and the Americans, corporations and private businessmen. The whole while Pao, following the teachings of Zhang who, alongside Pao's murdered father, was a fighter in the People's Revolution in China throughout his life, fought for freedom from oppression of all sorts, including racism. Early in life, Pao comes to believe that his criminal activities are themselves an act of revolution, undermining the power of the oppressors and taking money from them that would otherwise go into their bank accounts and, with that money, doing what he can to ensure the people he protects are taken care of. It's only later in life, when Pao is reflecting on what his life has been, that Gloria makes him realize that in his own way, Pao has been as much of an oppressor as the people he claims to have been fighting. Pao, for his part, resolves to live a life more attuned to his new personal values of compassion and respect.

Throughout the narrative, Pao and Zhang both make reference to the teachings of The Art of War, a centuries-old book exploring and explaining military tactics written by the warrior Sun Tzu. Both Pao and Zhang use lessons gleaned from the book as guidelines for choices they find themselves forced to make when faced with both personal and "professional" obstacles. Both men, as noted above, see themselves as warriors in the cause of freedom for the exploited, but by the novel's conclusion, Pao has come to realize that a fully, freely lived life cannot and ought not to be lived on military terms, but on terms that recognize and honor respect, compassion, and full individual freedom.

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This section contains 671 words
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