By keeping silent, Ying-ying may be trying to avoid confrontation with a painful past. But by refusing to speak her feelings, she also—perhaps unwittingly—erects a kind of wall between herself and her loved ones. Thus, her family is unable to console her in the loss of the baby boy. This wall of silence, unlike the wall in the apartment, is one that no voices, no expressions of love or comfort, can penetrate.

Ying-ying does not bear sole responsibility for the emotional barrier in her home: the wall also results from problems of communication and “translation,” not only of language but of culture. Lena devotes a good deal of her story to a discussion of her mother’s immigration to America. Upon entering the country with his new wife, Lena’s father altered Ying-ying’s identity by changing her name, and also, accidentally, her birthday. She was held as a “displaced person” at the immigration station, and this image persists as a motif throughout the story. When the St. Clairs move to a new neighborhood, Lena’s father sees the shift as a rise in status, but Ying-ying judges her new apartment by different standards. She deems the house out of balance and feels a sense of foreboding, but she finds herself unable to explain her fears. In part, then, her “wall” owes not to her refusal to speak out but to her actual inability to articulate (or even consciously realize) her own worries and dissatisfaction—a dissatisfaction that stems in part from her first move, from China to the United States, and from her more general failure to keep a “balance” between both sides of her life, both sides of her identity. Like the mother in the parable, Ying-ying anticipates, but cannot express, the evils that lie in store for her and her children.