Racism is a constantly reoccurring Issue in the novel Eleanor and Park. It constantly comes up in the character’s dialogue from the very beginning till at least the 20th chapter. The reason for this could be any number of things, it could be that maybe the characters simply don’t know that what their saying is racist or it could be a product of their location Omaha Nebraska. It could even be that they just simply don’t care about the magnitude of the words they use towards one another. Either way it’s clear that race plays a big role in this novel.
In the opening scene of the novel the first instance of racism occurs when a character named Steve refers to Park’s mom as Chinese although she is Korean. “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.” This is the scene in which that takes place. But perhaps they do not know that they are being racist, because shortly after Steve says this “Shit, Mikey,” Steve said, “you’re such a fucking racist.” As if what he just said wasn’t racist itself. There could be a number of explanations as to why Steve didn’t realize what he said was racist, maybe that’s a normality in Nebraska, maybe he grew up around causally tossed around racial comments such as his own, or maybe he’s just blissfully unaware of his own ignorance.
Omaha Nebraska has a long history of racism; in the book it’s describe as a Caucasian dominated area. It’s very possible that the location itself could be what’s influencing the book with racism. If kids grow up in a racist area constantly hearing racial slurs tossed around it becomes a normality for them and soon they see nothing wrong with it. It’s likely that this is the case because in the book on chapter 12 paragraph 31, the Author Rainbow Rowell makes this statement “Eleanor couldn’t figure out what an Asian person was doing in the Flats anyway.” This makes it seem as though it’s improper for a person that is Asian to be in the Flats, but what would be the reason for that? She continues by saying “Everybody else here was seriously white. Like, white by choice.” Perhaps she saw it as unusual because the area is so Caucasian dominated. “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.” This quote strongly suggests that it’s a normality for the kids on the bus. They just freely throw around the “N-word” like it doesn’t matter, like it’s just a part of the English language. At this point the story strongly suggests that this is a product of their location, Eleanor had never heard such words openly used until she arrived at this new school
Although Steve isn’t aware of his own racism other characters are aware of the racism around them such as Park. His friend Cal says this to him “Now there’s a girl who might want a piece of you, looks like somebody’s got jungle fever.” this is Park’s reaction to his friend’s racist comment “That isn’t even the right kind of racist,” Park said, looking up.” Park acknowledges that what Cal said is racist but the wrong kind, maybe his friend used the wrong racial slur. Basically his friend is just throwing around racism without even fully understanding what he just said himself. Another instance where racism is freely tossed around without a second thought.
In the story even Eleanor has some racist statements here and there such as “stupid Asian kid” and this is on multiple occasions. This statements racist because she’s referring to him as stupid and Asian. It’s a vague statement because she could have either meant he’s stupid and Asian or stupid because he’s Asian. In this case I’m sure she doesn’t know what she said was racist. Her and Steve have both had a moment in the novel where they recognized racism, but didn’t notice what they said themselves was racist.
On chapter 20 paragraph 21 we finally find out that Park is half Irish. “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.” Up until this scene we didn’t even know what Parks other half was, we had only know that he was half Korean because it is never brought up by other characters. The characters had only ever called him Asian, Chinese, and Korean. They have never refereed to him as Irish in the book only Asian because that’s what he most strongly resembles.
It seems to be that the location is influencing them more than anything, between the racist history of Nebraska to the commonly thrown around racial slurs. The most likely reason for the racism in Eleanor and Park is location. Because of Nebraska’s long history of Racial issues, it is very likely that the characters in the book have been influenced by it. But can you really blame them? If they are constantly around it and even grew up around it how would they know that it’s wrong? Only by being told that its wrong but even then they may still choose to be ignorant on the subject and unaccepting of the ideas that they grew up around. Even though Eleanor didn’t necessarily grow up there she still has here racist comments here and there, that’s likely because no one has ever told her that what she is saying or suggesting is wrong. Although racism isn’t the biggest theme in Eleanor and Park it is clear that it plays a key role.