Students discover the novel Waiting, examining such topics as the Cultural Revolution and Confucian values as well as tensions between old and new, rural and urban, and communism and capitalism.



Unit 6

11th Grade

Unit Summary

This unit serves as a follow-up to the Things Fall Apart unit earlier this year. The themes of identity and the tensions between old and new that were traced in the prior novel will also be developed by Ha Jin in his novel Waiting. In addition to extending their investigation of these themes, students will also explore ideas of love, loyalty, and fate as they read both the novel and the short story “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov. While Ha Jin’s story is a universally human tale that asks its readers to consider the meaning of true love and happiness, it is also a story whose plot and characters are greatly affected by the time and place in which it is set. In order to understand the degree to which the setting impacts the novel, students will read paired passages on such topics as the Cultural Revolution, foot-binding, and Confucian values. The protagonist of the story, Lin Kong, struggles with his loyalties to two women, while China simultaneously struggles with tensions between old and new, rural and urban, communism and capitalism. It is through investigating all of these tensions that students can gain an understanding of Lin as a tragic character in the center of a complex situation in China.

Texts and Materials

Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the proceeds, which supports our non-profit mission.

Core Materials

  • Book: Waiting by Ha Jin (Vintage, 2000)

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 6 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Intellectual Prep

  1. Read and annotate the novel with the key thematic questions in mind.
  2. Consider the key thematic questions in light of the novel. How would you answer them? Also consider possible plot and character-driven questions that students should investigate/debate to deepen their understanding and their answers.
  3. Take the exam, including writing an essay in answer to the prompt.
  4. Read and annotate the paired texts.
  5. Consider possible connections between the paired texts and the novel.
  6. Read the following reviews of the novel:

Essential Questions

  • Fate vs. Free Will: What determines our fate? Is it our character? Our circumstances? Our decisions? Or something out of our own control?
  • Happiness: Are human beings either happy or not happy depending on their life circumstances? Or can we choose to be either happy or unhappy despite our circumstances?
  • Loyalty/Duty: Being loyal and fulfilling our duty to others is the most important virtue in life. Agree or disagree?
  • Love: What is true love? Are there other emotions that can be mistaken for love? If so, what makes them different than love?
  • Waiting: What effect does living in a state of limbo, waiting, have on human beings? 

Writing Focus Areas

Students will focus on writing an essay in which they analyze Ha Jin’s treatment of one of the essential questions of the unit. Students will focus on developing thesis statements that offer not their own opinion, but rather an assessment of the author’s opinion. Students will then develop their analysis by using abundant evidence from the test to support their claims.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

  • Thesis
  • Evidence
  • Analysis


Literary Terms

diction, theme, motif, characterization, genre (historical fiction), allusion, symbol, foil, conflict, setting, allegory, structure, narration, dramatic irony

Roots and Affixes

comm- (communism, commune), in- (inaudible, vs. insinuate), ami- (amiable)


short story: irresolute (2), immorality (2), diffidence (4), idle (9), indignation (12), vexation (14), obsequiousness (15)
novel: reticent (6), disentangle (9), animosity (9), inaudible (11), furtive (24), reproach (24), resolute (24), despondency (25 and 80), dissuade (26), pungent (27), lassitude (29), clandestine (34), denounced (36), derisive (37), billet (38 and 43), eminent (47), melodious (50), diffidence (53), extricate (59), voluptuous (67), virility (73), taciturn (76), insinuate (77), languor (80), insipid (82), carmine (84), commune/communal (86), askew (89), unseemly (94), extricate (95), foiled (96), impracticability (99), fractious (106), profusely (109), chauvinism (113), innumerable (117), corpulent (120), exploiting (125), reciprocity, earnest (136), incongruous (143), amiable (143), avuncular (152), megalomania (153), sinewy (162), candid (166), pallid (185), unkempt (190), repressed (191), reticence (192), irresolute (193), inconsolable (197), predestined (198), nominally (216), plaintively (223), lucrative (230), anticlimactic (for discussion), carbuncular (242), capricious (254), auspicious (255), tedious (257), languid (266), vitality (277), pliable (277), passivity (295), alleviate (296), superfluous (303), resonant (308)

Idioms and Cultural References

short story: Yalta (1), groyne (5), lorgnette (5)
novel: communism (novel), bound feet (6), commune (7), filial duty (8), “production brigade” (9), Red Guard (33), Chairman Mao (49), Cultural Revolution (55), Central Committee (69), Confucianism (116), “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman (144), Mao suit (146), crone (157), yin (190), yang (194), “nervous disorder” (281), Spring Festival (283, 299)

Content Knowledge and Connections

Students will need some basic knowledge about Communism, Mao, China, and the Cultural Revolution in order to best understand the conflict and themes of this novel.

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

icon/arrow/right/large copy

Unit 5

Dreaming in Cuban


Unit 7

The Scarlet Letter

Request a Demo

See all of the features of Fishtank in action and begin the conversation about adoption.

Learn more about Fishtank Learning School Adoption.

Contact Information

School Information

What courses are you interested in?



Are you interested in onboarding professional learning for your teachers and instructional leaders?



Any other information you would like to provide about your school?

Effective Instruction Made Easy

Effective Instruction Made Easy

Access rigorous, relevant, and adaptable ELA lesson plans for free